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Understanding Your Partners with Jenny Poon


For the second of our three-episode series on overcoming struggle, I’m joined by Jenny Poon – the cofounder of Phoenix’s purpose-driven coworking space called CO+HOOTS.

CO+HOOTS provides a professional, inspirational space for over 280 scaling entrepreneurs and small businesses; but by nurturing this community and promoting collaboration, CO+HOOTS has had a hand in creating hundreds of jobs in Phoenix – earning it high praise as the #1 Coworking Space in Arizona, #2 in the Nation, and #9 in the World.

Before CO+HOOTS, Jenny was known for her award-winning work in the Design Community, where she designed strategies for brands like the World Trade Center Association, Local First AZ and Grid Bikes. But as her business has grown, she’s now advising several startups, serving as the co-chair of the CO+HOOTS Foundation with her husband Odeen Domingo, and advocating for coworking as an economic development tool for building vibrant, equitable cities.

Together, Jenny and I are going to help you navigate the pitfalls of partnership by giving you clarity on the importance of understanding your partners and walking through how to prequalify potential partners.

So, let’s get after it! Click the Play Button right now to hear Jenny’s storied perspective on how face the challenge of understanding your partners!

You’re always welcome to send your thoughts and feedback to me directly by emailing steven@decisiveleap.com, but now you can leave a review for the show by going to ratethispodcast.com/IgnitionPoint. All of your thoughts, feedback and suggestions are appreciated, but please be sure to follow the show wherever you get your podcasts to be notified every Monday when new episodes drop.


FULL TRANSCRIPT

Hey! What’s going on? I’m Steven Miller and you’re listening to Ignition Point – the show that’s here to get you fired up and ready to win the week.

If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn, you probably saw me posting from PHX Startup Week. Of course, that’s why the show’s been AWOL, but it’s one of those events you really need to find the time to experience. You get exposure to great networking, motivational speakers, educational sessions, and a remarkable set of new resources to tap into each and every year. So, wherever you’re from and whether you’re in a startup or not, do some googling and get out to your local Startup Week or your local Entrepreneurship Week.

Once you’ve figured that out, grab your phone, go into your favorite app for listening to podcasts, and make sure you’re following the show to be notified when new episodes drop. Our season finale is only a few weeks away, and I’ve got some big surprises – the first of which I’ll be announcing next Monday.

But on today’s show, I’m going to be talking about how you can navigate the pitfalls of partnership with Jenny Poon. Jenny’s the cofounder of Phoenix’s purpose-driven coworking space called CO+HOOTS.

CO+HOOTS provides a professional, inspirational space for over 280 scaling entrepreneurs and small businesses. By nurturing the community and promoting collaboration since Day 1, CO+HOOTS has had a hand in creating hundreds of jobs in Phoenix and has earned high praise as the #1 Coworking Space in Arizona, #2 in the Nation, and #9 in the World.

Before starting CO+HOOTS, Jenny was known for her award-winning work in the Design Community, where she designed strategies for brands like the World Trade Center Association, Local First AZ and Grid Bikes. But as CO+HOOTS has grown, she’s now advising several startups, she’s chairing the CO+HOOTS Foundation with her husband Odeen Domingo, and she’s even advocating for coworking as an economic development tool for building vibrant, equitable cities.

When it comes to the navigating the highs and lows of partnership, Jenny’s almost seen it all; but throughout this conversation, keep in mind that these lessons aren’t just relevant to business partnerships – they also apply to your tribe and yes, also your romantic partners.

So, let’s get after it! Here to share her storied perspective on the importance of understanding your partners, this is Jenny Poon.

THE WEEKLY MONOLOGUE WITH JENNY POON

I want to start with painting a picture for you.

It was the middle of the recession. We’re in Phoenix. Tons of my friends had lost their jobs and I was trying to figure out how to re envision my future. So, I started this design agency and I was getting my first clients. I brought on these interns. I was hiring my first employee. Work was coming in. I was working from home, which was like the dream for somebody that had been in corporate America for a while, and then it kind of hit me that I was surrounded by all of my interns and nobody was pushing me forward.

In the past, I had been in agencies and in big teams where I was surrounded with copywriters and other art directors and videographers and this whole creative industry, and so I was trying to solve a couple different problems when I went out to look for space.

I didn’t have a huge budget, but also when I asked a real estate broker to help me find a place, they gave me two options and at the end of it all, it looked like about $3,000 a month at least, and I wasn’t prepared for that, right? I was a new startup, a new small business. My income at that point was like zero after hiring and all my expenses.

At that time, coworking didn’t exist and I didn’t know what coworking was, and so I said, “okay, what do I need to do to get into this thousand square foot space?” I said, “if I could take this thousand square foot space and divvy it up just like those big guys, divvy up the big floors, but I just want it on a smaller scale; and I brought in the right people that would have the growth mindset that would help me grow as a business owner; and found ways for us to help each other; then honestly, the space wasn’t the core piece of it. It was these people.”

I had never done this before. I didn’t have any connections. The fear of starting something started to settle in and I was like, “how am I going to do this?” So, on a one-year agreement I worked out this deal with this landlord and said, “can we just try this thing out? You take all of the checks, I will run it; you give me the physical space, I’ll brand it, market it, come up with the whole concept and we can figure it out from there.” I just thought I could pop this thing up and it would self-run.

Well, it was great. He was on board. We set goals and we hit the first six-month goals within the first two months. But then come the third month there was a little bit of a stall and he kind of got freaked out because I think it was the middle of the recession and he didn’t have enough money coming in to pay for his other buildings and he decided that he didn’t want to be a part of this anymore.

He honestly didn’t see the value in it and also didn’t think it would be successful, so he bailed and he said, “if you want to keep doing this, you pay a normal rent or get out,” and at that time we were barely breaking even; and so I asked the group, “what do you think about this? Is this something you believe in?” And everybody in that group said yes. And then the next month we essentially doubled that membership and hit our breakeven point.

A couple months later, the landlord walks into the building and he sees the room full of people and he just does the math on it. And a day later, he comes in and says that the deal we originally signed is no longer intact. So, I basically said, “that’s illegal. We have a lease signed; you can’t change the lease at this point,” which began this very tumultuous relationship; and over time it became so bad that he actually tried to start his own coworking concept and kick us out of this space.

Well, 100% of those businesses followed us into a smaller space in the interim until our new space was built out. And that was one incredible moment where I thought, “what a gift to pour yourself into something and in those moments when you feel like the game is over, that the people that you’ve helped along the way come forward.”

To that story, I say really pay attention to who you partner with.

So, a few years later we’re in our new space, we built this really great ecosystem. When anyone starts a business, they say, “go to CO+HOOTS. This is where you start, this is where you’ll have a cheerleader to push you forward.”

And there’s a lot of things that we wanted to do, and a piece of it was how do we create more economic opportunity for people who really need it. Like, the resources that are available to somebody that comes from an immigrant background or an underrepresented population do not get access to these same opportunities.

Tomorrow, the biggest challenges that we face are solving these bigger world problems. And so, if those people that are closest to these problems would never be able to access entrepreneurship, we’re going to continue to have these problems as we move into the future. And that meant creating this nonprofit arm that we’ve created called the CO+HOOTS Foundation. And the CO+HOOTS Foundation is really looking at how do we expand this resource center that we’ve created? How do we give these opportunities to people of color and to low income communities so they can build a path to wealth?

So, we looked at how do we do that while running the business that we run? How do we morph these two things together and create a space that’s welcoming to all so that in a few years we can look across this space and see 50-50 men and women, but also see a diverse population because ideas aren’t segmented into zip codes.

We had saved essentially $100,000 and we said, “we’re going to pour $100,000 into this nonprofit to get it off the ground. That would fund one full time person for a year and some change.”

Well, things were going well, and it had been a long time since I’d had somebody who could run as fast as I could run towards a goal. We were seeing all this success, we were bringing in great people, we saw gender equality – 50-50 gender ratio in our space within a year, year and a half; but she was the type that would shut down and ice me out.

And I was working really hard to overcome that, but I’m five years in as a manager now and I had learned that that was not the way that I wanted to communicate with people. And so that spiraled into something that was really ugly and really destructive and to this day I like have heartbreak over it.

To make a long story short, it all became this crashing down because it had been six years of our savings that we had put into this and the communication had broken between us. And so, I think she tried to torpedo the organization and it was unfortunately done all over email, but she ended up exiting and the one saving grace that we had in that one – which I learned from the first one – was to develop a contract really early on and talk about what divorce looks like.

This is a person that you spend more time with than your own family, right? So, you have to make sure that you’ve created very clear expectations. Your partnership agreement should be incredibly clear, and they should be able to understand where your priorities are, what you truly believe, because honestly that helps in the partnership.

If you were to no longer work with each other, what do you want to leave with? What does your partner want to leave with? What are the things you hold most valuable?

As you move through, if you know that I’m most protective about my brand and the vision for it, then you will keep that in mind as you work through your piece of the puzzle and it also helps you predict some of what might happen. If titles start to shift and that’s something they’re sensitive about, then don’t screw around with titles, right? Like give them the title that they want, and for me, don’t try to screw around with the branding and messaging because that’s what’s most important to me.

Those little things while they seem small and basic are such core elements to a great partnership and honestly immediately addressing a situation is the best thing you can do rather than have it fester and become this monster of a thing.

It’s a value of giving. It’s a value of supporting each other. It’s a value of doing really honest good business.

If you think about those great opportunities where other people have given something to you and you think about what you felt in those moments when people gave you something just because they saw that you needed it, but you never asked; you can do that to so many people every single day.

So, you think about what your skills are and what you have to give. And they don’t even have to be difficult things, they can easily be these simple things.

Ask me to build like a complex app and you will kill me but ask me to give you five minutes of my time to review your logo and strategy; and those are easy things for me to do. I would just think about what you have to give as you walk through your different adventures in life and think about what are your skills.

Be open to asking for help when you need it because what you get out of it is bigger than anything you probably would have even imagined in the beginning.

STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS

First off, I’d like to give a big thank you to Jenny Poon for contributing to this week’s show.

CO+HOOTS has had its fair share of growing pains; but over time Jenny and her team have learned to embrace adversity and they’re stronger for it. Whenever you walk into their space in Midtown Phoenix, you can tell their roots run deep and you immediately sense their purpose.

So, if you’re looking for a place where your business can thrive, where the community is empowered and collaboration is encouraged, you should definitely check out CO+HOOTS. You can schedule a tour of their space in Midtown on their websitecohoots.com – but if you’re located in Phoenix’s East Valley, there’s a CO+HOOTS opening near you this summer! So, for information on how you can become a founding member of CO+HOOTS Mesa, go check out cohootsmesa.com to learn more.

When I think about what it takes to end up in a great partnership, I think about the process of filtering through all the quote-unquote candidates. You have to know – right off the bat – what are the pre-qualifications that matter to you?

For example, think about the people you’re closest to. You can probably come up with ten to fifteen off the top of your head, but if you’re looking at those people as potential partners, you need to determine if those relationships are kind of one-sided or if there’s equal give and take.

In truth, that may not be the best way to articulate it, but the idea I’m getting at here is that your relationships – and those that evolve into partnerships – should be mutually healthy – which in this case, isn’t the same as mutually beneficial.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great if you’re both getting something out of it, but that’s more of a transactional relationship than it is a partnership. Remember, in a Partnership you’re building something together, so you’re both empowering the partnership, then subsequently you’re empowering each other.  

Now, that’s not to say if the relationship seems one-sided, that you can’t get to the point where its mutually healthy. It’ll take time, but so long as you talk it out and level set with each other, you can restore balance and build on the relationship, but how about we focus on the idea of your inner circle.

I like to think of these people as your most influential group of partners, but here’s the million-dollar question – are you surrounding yourself with the right people?

You’ve probably heard someone say that, “you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” and for the longest time, this was seen as a polarizing opinion on interpersonal connection, but now it’s gaining traction and getting a lot of attention from Social Psychologists because there’s data backing it up.

At the most fundamental level, as you grow from adolescence into your teenage years and then into adulthood, your motivation to connect with people shifts from trying to play nice with everyone to being more strategically selective in forming your inner circle.

So, as that core group of friends and peers narrows over time, those people are inadvertently shaping your interests, your personality, and yeah, even your success.

Not a lot of people think about this, but just by being more aware of it, you can influence the outcomes.

For example, let’s say you determine that one or two people in your inner circle aren’t aligned to your core values, or that they’re not building you up as much as you’re building them up. That doesn’t mean you’ve got to kick them to the curb, but it does mean that they may not be a great fit as a partner in your inner circle.

Who knows, maybe there’s someone waiting in the wings just outside of your core group who’s a better fit as a partner. What I can tell you, is that without that level of awareness, you’ll never consciously take the initiative to go find out. 

Another important thing to keep in mind is that when you’re looking for a partner in a different context – like a business partner or a co-leader – you don’t need to exclusively consider the people who make up your inner circle.

In a way, this goes back to being resourceful. If you’re looking for a partner who’s got specialized skills or training and the people in your inner circle don’t meet your qualifications, you shouldn’t be trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

Whoever you partner with needs to meet or exceed your qualifications, so if you’re really fired up about developing your big idea and you don’t have the skills to bring it to life, you need to stop talking about how you don’t know the person and go find the person.

It feels like Gary Vee talks about this sort of thing all the time, so if I can find a link of him talking about it in a video, I’ll make sure to put it in the Show Notes; but the point he always drives home is that if you’re looking for that partner you’re going to have to shake the trees to see what falls out.

Don’t be afraid to ask your mentors for introductions, see if your network has any referrals to give, and if those trees don’t produce what you’re looking for, you can always use search tools like Meetups.com, Facebook Events, or LinkedIn Events, to find upcoming events that bring together the people who have the skills you’re looking for where you can make the connections firsthand.

Let’s say you’ve invented the next must-have household appliance and you need a partner who’s an expert networker and strategist to help you take it nationwide. Do you remember Tisha Marie Pelletier from Season 1? She puts on a quarterly event called Social Connect, that’s always great for meeting high achievers who love networking. Maybe someone you meet at Social Connect will be a perfect fit, or maybe you’ll meet someone who can introduce you to the partner you’re looking for.

So, here’s what you’ve got to come to terms with: there’s no formula for landing the perfect partner, but you can minimize the risk of partnering with the wrong people. So, prequalify what you’re looking for, look for partners in the right places, figure out if they’re actually qualified or if they’re full of shit, and before you partner, be crystal clear on understanding each other.

You need to know what’s important to your partner, they need to know what’s most important to you, and in that partnership, your actions need to come from a place of support and trust.

Again, I’d like to give a big thank you to Jenny Poon for joining the show. If you want to learn more about CO+HOOTS or you’re looking for links to any of the resources mentioned during the episode, they’re all available for you in this episode’s Show Notes up at DecisiveLeap.com/IgnitionPoint.

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Now, if you want to raise the bar for your Personal Brand or you want to develop a comprehensive Brand Strategy for your business, that’s what I do at Decisive Leap. To learn more and hear from some of my clients, just visit DecisiveLeap.com, but if you’d like to reach me directly and begin your next leap forward, just send an email to steven@decisiveleap.com.

Well, that’s going to do it for this episode, so stay motivated and keep moving forward.

If you put in the hard work right now – one day – you could be the one motivating the world with your story.

I’ll look forward to speaking with you next time on another Ignition Point.

Now get on out there and win the week!

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