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Last Update: Wednesday June 23, 2021

Key Idea: Find The Right Partner

Joe's partner, Ben Bahan, is a professor at Gallaudet University.  He is the perfect partner for Joe since Ben is a member of the faculty of the most important  American institution for the deaf.  This is Ben in a Dawn Sign training film.

Key Question:


Put together the right team at the top.

Joe and his partner, Ben Bahan, met in college. Today Ben is a professor at Gallaudet, the place where the two struck up a friendship, and the very place where Joe's product could be tested and varified. Perfect. While Joe creates, manufactures, sells and distributes the products, Ben is the thought leader in the community they sell to. Ben watches closely as the products are being used in the marketplace and he is close to the newest research on the subject of American Sign Language.

Q: When is it right to take on a partner?

A: If you need money or positioning, brains and talent that you can't afford to hire. Joe could not hire Ben because Joe had no money. Therefore, Ben became a partner because Joe needed the positioning and brainpower Ben brought to the table.

Ashley Postlewaite and Darrell Van Citters launched their animation studio knowing that they were a good match. They had worked together at Warner Brothers with Ashley as the executive producer and Darrell as the talent. Ashley said you must pick you partner as you would a spouse because the relationship is that complex. These two have great respect for each other and it is clear who does what. Ashley can't even draw, much less do animation. Darrell wouldn't know or want to know how Ashley gets the business in the door and how she manages legions of sub-contractors to meet deadlines and to come in on budget. If your partner thinks he or she could do your work better than you're doing it, the deal is dead on agreement.

Jon Zucchi was able to take a failing business and turn it around by "partnering" his strengths with those of artist, Linda Brunini. Jon brought technical expertise to the business and Linda brought design and sales expertise. Instead of working for Jon, Linda wanted to "buy into" the business. After proving herself, Jon sold her 50% of the company. Together they now have two small businesses, each with about 20 employees and they are growing.

Q: What are some advantages and disadvantages of a partner versus an employee?

A: Advantages include: 1. Owners are generally more committed to a business. 2. An owner normally commits her personal money to get the business started, or, "buys in" as Linda did. If an owner quits, she walks away from cash and "sweat equity." An employee merely walks away from a job. 3. Owners share profits; employees expect their salary whether or not the business is profitable.

Some disadvantages include: 1. If the business is successful, your partner will likely take more of the profits than would a salaried employee. 2. Partners must determine how decisions will be made, whereas an employee will follow the owner's direction. 3. Dissolving a troubled partnership is more complicated than terminating an employee.

We've seen amazing long-range partnerships and horrible gnashing of teeth between partners. An attorney told Hattie back in 1980, "don't take a business partner unless they have money to put on the table." This advice kept Hattie from jumping into a relationship that was probably not a good fit for her. It's not for everybody, but, with the right partner business can be liberating. You're in charge but you're not alone.

Think about it

How would your business improve if you had a partner? Do you need money a partner could bring? Do you need talent you can't afford to pay?

Clip from: Dawn Sign Press: The Pain of Starting

Joe Dannis, California's Small Business Person of the Year

San Diego: What are the most commonly used languages in the USA? Answer: English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Hindi, French, German, then ASL. Yes, ASL. American Sign Language.

No less than 500,000 and as many as 2.5 million people use ASL every day. In this episode of the show language is subtlety transformed into hand, finger, body and facial combinations.

Take away any one of the basic senses and deep-seated creative power within the human mind is enlivened and focused interiority awakens. With today's micro-technologies, the deaf and blind are teaching us all about subtleties within language and our skills to communicate it. Here we meet extraordinary people in the midst of a revolution.

Joe Dannis is an advocate for American Sign Language. The Small Business Person of the Year from the State of California, Joe Dannis started DawnSignPress in 1979. He has always been out on the edge... being the first to advocate something new. Joe and his team publish materials to teach sign language for the deaf. Although he publishes videos and books for both children and adults, his biggest customers are schools and universities that offer courses in American Sign Language (ASL).

Today you'll meet Joe Dannis. He is one tough businessman, but he remembers nine very lonely years in the beginning. If he had to do it all over again, he probably would not. Learn from someone who has been over the hot coals and whose wisdom runs deep.

Go to all the key ideas and videos...

Dawn Sign Press

Joe Dannis, Founder

6130 Nancy Ridge Drive
San Diego, CA 92121

Visit our web site:

Office: 8586250600

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1979

Find The Right Partner

HATTIE: But you have a partner. Now tell me about your partner.

JOE: My partner, Ben Bahan, is a professor at Gallaudet University, and many people say, `Ben's your partner. Why isn't he here?'

But Ben's role in this company is to recruit authors. He teaches. He is in the educational establishment. He meets people. He knows where they are, and he's the one that brings them to me and says, `This is a person we need to publish.'

And then I take over as the president, the producer, the negotiator, the contract signer.

I make it happen. I hire the people that are needed to produce this author's product. And Ben, he reviews the concept: Is it politically correct? Is it linguistically correct? He approves of the content, whereas I'm in charge more of the design, coordinating marketing and distribution. His strength is where my weaknesses are and my strengths are where his weaknesses are, so we overlap wonderfully.

When I first started, we were very small. There were many ideas that I wanted to do. But I couldn't because of the money, the money to spend for developing, researching, so I had to start very small.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) He finally hit with a book and video, "Signing Naturally." When it became the required text for many college courses, the company actually got out of the red.

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