The Third Partner

my_cold_feet_by_jotunkid-d37l7urI recently heard of a two-person start-up firm that came undone at the last-minute.

How? It seems one of the two founding partners got cold feet at the 11th hour, and stayed put with his existing employer.

I can relate to the remaining partner’s emotional state of mind. The exact same thing happened to Ed and me in September of 1995.

As RepMan readers know, Ed and I had had our fill of big agency life at J. Walter Thomson, and were champing at the bit to launch our own shop.

What RepMan readers DON’T know about is the existence of a third partner.

This woman also worked for a large agency, managed a $20 million fully integrated, pharmaceutical account and was prepared to bring the anchor account, several of the creative and management types along with her and be our third partner.

She also played a key role in our selection of the name Peppercomm. Yes, my black lab was named Pepper. But, ironically, this lady’s family nickname also happened to be Pepper. The stars seemed fully aligned from a naming standpoint.

And, then, she developed a terminal case of cold feet. It seemed her employer made a serious counter-offer and, since she had small children to worry about, partner number three gave Ed and me a call and bowed out the NIGHT before we were set to announce a formidable new agency with some $20 million in initial client billings. All of a sudden, we had nothing.

I called Ed. After a few minutes discussion, we agreed I’d show up the next morning at his squalid, one bedroom apartment and sort things out. The rest, as they say, is history.

I often wonder what if. What if the third partner HAD brought her business along, had become the third partner and Peppercomm had been a force from day one. And, then I remember that whatever happens happens for the best.

Ed and I went on to build a fairly successful firm that’s about to mark its 20th anniversary. As for the third partner? She dropped out of the agency world entirely, had some more kids and now works in her family business.

Fast forward to the present: I’d counsel the cuckhold agency entrepreneur from paragraph one to stay the course. Stay true to your vision. The first year or two will be wicked tough (as New Englanders like to say), but the rewards will be well worth it.

As for the partner who developed cold feet, I just hope you don’t wake up one day far in the future and think to yourself, “What if?”

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