Aaron Perlut | Crain's St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Aaron Perlut

Background:  

Elasticity is a St. Louis-based integrated marketing agency providing services such as digital marketing, social media management, media relations and content marketing. Its client list includes H&R Block, Capital One, GoDaddy, MasterCard and Charter Communications, among others.

The Mistake:

Underestimating the importance of the relationship between startup founders.

Until nine or 10 years ago, I'd never realized or thought I had an entrepreneurial bone in my body. I'd always been more comfortable working at large organizations, doing things the way the business community deemed to be the right way – the traditional way – to do things. So, when I started an entrepreneurial venture with two other people, I didn't understand really what it took to be successful.

In retrospect, it really all begins with relationships. In particular, it's the relationships between partners. I’d never equated it to a marriage, but the success of our partnership relied on treating it very much like a marriage. It takes continual nurturing. More than anything, it takes time to really understand one another, to develop that necessary chemistry that ultimately helps bring a collective vision and drive toward success.

I think the mistake was simply ignorance, at least on my part, in not understanding how essential that chemistry between my partners and I was to success.

Once our founding partners had developed that chemistry, that's when everything began to click.

The Lesson:

I think it was fall of 2011. We had a very difficult, but productive, conversation where we got all the baggage on the table. From that conversation, there was this refreshed sense of purpose and the start of really focusing on how important our relationship was to organizational success. We'd been going through a number of challenges with the business. I think, more than anything, it was stress.

Any startup founder knows you have your ups and downs and a tremendous amount of stress. That stress can manifest itself in a number of ways. Often, it manifests as tension between those you work with. Some people manage it well. Some people don't. I think it brought to the surface the reality that we hadn't worked on the relationship between partners as a component of the success of the company. We had focused on the work, the products, hiring smart people.

Ultimately, we got to a point where we were seamlessly in lock step. We had a shared vision and a deeper appreciation for one another's strengths and weaknesses and how we complemented those strengths and weaknesses. Once we hit that groove and really started to understand one another, that's when, as an organization, we started reaching profitability and started achieving success. It's when we started doing really great work and building a great team. Once our founding partners had developed that chemistry, that's when everything began to click.

I think the primary realization was that we were all focused on what was best for the business. If someone is out of the office for four days and we have no idea where they are, I think we trust that, whatever they're doing, they have the best interest of the business in mind and they're taking care of what needs to be done. I don't think we had that trust prior to that difficult conversation. That was really the beginning of a very solid foundation of trust which, again, if you think about it like a marriage, you know a successful marriage is very much about trust.

A huge piece of it is communication and trying to step away from the business at times to talk about the bigger picture of how the business is run. And, as trite as it might sound, it's about demonstrating love for one another. I have great love and admiration for my partners because they've always been committed not only to our company and its collective growth, but to me as an individual and partner. And I feel the exact same way about them.

Aaron Perlut is on Twitter at @AaronPerlut and Elasticity is at @goelastic.

Photo courtesy of Elasticity.

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