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In the early days of my company, a big partnership blew up in my face. Whole Foods was stocking our product. It was a huge win, not just for the distribution, but also because our water was flying off their shelves. But then I got the call: “We’re discontinuing you.” We got bumped for Coke, which was entering the water business. Our hard-earned shelf space was going to them.
And when Coke discontinued their product, Whole Foods came around again. I had to make a tough decision: Do I burn this bridge, or do I trust them and give it another go? I ended up doing the latter, and it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
This kind of story is common in business. You think someone has your back or is giving you great advice, and then — boom— you’re looking for the fire extinguisher because things just exploded. It’s not easy figuring out who should be allowed in your inner circle.
Here are some of my top tips for gauging when you can trust someone in business.
1. You have proof that their values align with yours.
Back in 2006, I pitched my product to Coke. We were struggling with distributing Hint on a large scale, so I reached out to an executive at the company. His response? “The rest of the world likes sweet. Everybody wants sweet. Sweetie, Americans like sweet.”
Even though it was enraging, I learned a lesson: If your values don’t align, move on. If I’m selling water with no artificial flavors or preservatives, why would I partner with Coke? Or, for that matter, anyone who doesn’t value healthy living?
According to a survey from employee-engagement platform Reward Gateway, 98 percent of employers and 94 percent of employees say it’s important to them to align with a company’s mission.
Partnering with anyone who shares your values is also great for business. According to Euclid, a data platform for offline attribution and store-visit retargeting, 52 percent of millennials and 48 percent of Gen-Xers say it’s important that their values align with the brands they like.
Related: How Establishing Core Values Drives Success
To start, you should know your values like the back of your hand. Then do your research: Does the person or company you want to work or partner with have a track record of making business moves that line up with your own? Do they have testimonials or references that show they’re delivering on their promises? Another tell: Anyone living out their mission statement will appreciate your investigation because it means you genuinely care about what you do.
2. They’re passionate about your brand.
One “aha moment” I had early on was when I realized that other companies were selling drinks, but I was selling something else entirely: a healthy lifestyle. At first, I thought this meant I needed to exclusively hire highly experienced beverage-industry folks, but they turned out to be some of our worst hires. They were used to staying in their lane and not thinking outside the box.
I decided to recruit people from areas outside the industry. We brought a full-time nutritionist onto our staff. I wanted to work with people who lived and breathed wellness.
That’s how Hint drew musician John Legend to invest in the company. He has long been an advocate of healthy living. His work requires him to stay in top shape when he’s recording or performing, and he also wants to set an example for his family. Because he is always on the road, staying hydrated is top of mind. And when he saw our product on the shelves at Starbucks a decade ago, he decided our brand was a solid fit. But he wasn’t just interested in investing to make a profit; he lived our philosophy. He keeps a bottle next to the piano when he’s performing.
Related: Why Having a VIP Backer Like John Legend Can Boost Your Business
3. Your gut tells you this person has your back.
I know that telling someone to “go with their gut” can sound flippant or glib, but trusting your instincts is a way of navigating the world that’s backed by research. It’s one of the critical lessons I learned early on when starting my company, after disregarding red flags.
And according to research from Harvard Business School, your intuition draws on both objective and subjective information that is already available. Intuition is based on both your awareness of your surroundings and your learned experience. Translation: You have a highly honed Spidey-sense that will alert you when something (or someone) “feels wrong.”
Research shows that overthinking can hinder our decision-making capabilities. As reported by the Washington Post, a recent paper published in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics finds that people who “second-guess themselves make considerably worse decisions than those who stick with their instincts.”
Ultimately, if you don’t have enough information to go on when it comes to a potential business partner or deal, listen to your gut. It’s one of the most powerful tools you have.