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Many entrepreneurs dream of partnering with a major celebrity. Dugal Bain-Kim has done it — co-founding his wellness company, Lifeforce, with self-help megastar Tony Robbins and celebrated futurist Peter Diamandis.
But if you want to do something like this too, Bain-Kim has some unexpected advice: Approach with caution. Rushing into the wrong relationship can do far more harm than good.
“Customers are smart and are inundated with paid influencer deals that they can see right through,” he says. “It’s critical to think about what a potential partner’s brand stands for and whether your business idea is congruent with that. Unless the answer is, ‘Absolutely,’ then look for someone else.”
Here’s how Bain-Kim formed his partnership, and his roadmap for anyone looking to build meaningful (and impactful) business relationships.
1. Take your time
Bain-Kim is a seasoned healthcare and tech executive who was looking for new opportunities, and connected with Joel Jackson, co-founder of ELM Foods. Then the two men met with the venture capital firm M13, which has invested in many notable healthcare startups, including Tonal, Classpass, and Headspace.
In that meeting, Bain-Kim, Jackson, and the team from M13 discussed an interesting white space they saw in the healthcare marketplace: They imagined a company that could serve the needs of people 35 and older, using a combination of at-home and digital health services, plus more “proactive” care through services like lifestyle coaching.
M13 had already been talking to Tony Robbins and Peter Diamandis about business opportunities, and saw a potential connection here: What if Robbins and Diamandis joined forces with Bain-Kim and Jackson?
This is the critical moment, Bain-Kim says — when you shouldn’t rush into a relationship just because it looks appealing, or because a potential partner has a lot of influence.
Instead, the group spent six months exploring a relationship. “Over those early months, we had working sessions to make sure chemistry felt right,” Bain-Kim recalls. They discussed their compatibility, business concepts, what each partner brought to the table, and more.
After all, Bain-Kim says, entrepreneurs need to do what’s in the best interests of the company — which means that every partnership conversation must be approached carefully. No matter how famous or accomplished someone is, you need to make sure that they are a match for you.
2. Identify everyone’s value
The best partnerships are built on mutual exchange of value: You know why someone else is valuable to you, and that person knows why you’re valuable to them.
If you don’t have those answers, then the partner may not be a good fit.
As conversations progressed, for example, Bain-Kim got excited about Robbins’ communication skills — and how valuable they’d be in the complex healthcare market.
“Yes, Tony has spent decades helping people live better lives,” he says. “But he’s also the best in the world at taking complexity and distilling it to the most essential insights and wisdom, then delivering a message in a way that isn’t just understood, but actually catalyzes people to take action. As a new brand that is defining a new category, that has been an invaluable skill set to have.
For example, Robbins often helps the Lifeforce team refocus the way it relates to consumers. “We’ve had key moments of Tony saying, ‘Guys, you’re missing the point: No one cares about all of these amazing things you’re doing on the back end. They want to know that you’re going to help them live a better life, so show them that,'” Bain-Kim says.
3. Make sure they’re a long-term partner
“You need to find someone who is in this for intrinsic and authentic reasons,” Bain-Kim adds. “The business should make sense in the context of the partners’ own life journey, values and passions. That’ll not only ensure that they deliver on commitments, but will also make them much more effective in activating their community.”
That’s important in any industry — but is especially critical in a space as competitive and ever-changing as healthcare, he says. Consumers are looking for less expensive options and are barraged by new startups and offerings.
That’s why, when Bain-Kim considered Robbins and Diamandis as cofounders, he also asked himself: Do these people have a track record of consistency?
“If a person seems to be solely attracted to the next shiny thing, that’s troubling,” he says. “Building a company is much more about singles and doubles than home runs, so you want consistency in terms of what their personal brand represents and that you will all continue to talk about the same things to make [the messaging] feel authentic and deep to people listening.”
But he adds an important caveat: Consistency doesn’t always mean consistently successful. Robbins and Diamandis — and for that matter, anyone of their stature — are involved in many companies, and not all of them will succeed. Those outcomes weren’t important to Bain-Kim.
“Not everything they’ve been involved in needs to have been a smash hit, but it needs to be clear that they’ve shown up and done the work over the long term,” he says. “When the early-days sexiness wears off and it’s time to really start putting the reps in — to build the business — you need to know whether they are going to show up over the long haul.”