When you start a business with partners, the natural inclination is to join up with people your own age and in the same life stage. Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are both 37 for example. Bill Gates and his Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen started the software giant when they were 25 and 27.
However, according to Chilliwack-based Casey Langbroek, partner of Langbroek, Louwerse & Thiessen LLP, assuming you don’t have the next Google or Microsoft, you’re better off starting out with partners at different ages and life stages.
Fifty-eight-year-old Langbroek has four partners ranging in age from 28 to 46. As Langbroek approaches exiting his accounting business to focus on coaching, his younger partners, in the growth stages of their careers, are keen to buy his equity.
“I often see companies where the founders are a similar age,” he says. “Not surprisingly, they all start to think about retirement at a similar time, and it can leave a company weakened if all of the partners want out at the same time.”
Langbroek started out owning 100 per cent of the shares of his company and, over the past 16 years, has steadily sold shares to his younger partners, who now own 75 per cent of the company.
The benefits of starting a business with partners of different ages are not limited to professional services firms. Smaller businesses are often hard to sell, but if you have a stable of partners who want to buy your equity, you have a built-in market for your shares. However, this plan works only if you and your partners have different timetables for getting out.
Special to The Globe and Mail
John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He writes a blog about building a valuable – sellable – company. Follow him on Twitter @JohnWarrillow.