When Partners Bail?16 Mar 2011
I recently received the other night what can be considered as the Dear John letter of the business world from a partner who no longer wanted to continue on one of the many projects that I’m apart of in the Tech sector. I was hesitant to go into business with the guy but the project was doable and potentially very lucrative and so I added it to my portfolio of work.
He had asked me to help build a site for a very niche industry over a year ago but in the last few months I had been expecting this email for some time and it was a tough pill to swallow. I’m now left holding the bag asking what went wrong? Below are a list of my new general guidelines when finding or dealing with new partners to avoid these kind of events from happening again in the future.
Make sure your personalities work well together, one of the lessons I’ve learned in this experience is no matter how good an opportunity sounds or how tempting it is, if you and your partner are always butting heads then that may be a sign that you’re in for a long road ahead. I have many different people I work with and get along with them great but in this case my colleague was a detailed perfectionist and I’m more of a get it done now and make it better as we go kind of person.
My philosophy has always been that perfect is the enemy of the good and when you focus too much on insignificant details and try to make something perfect it prevents you from getting anything of real value done out for a customer or client. I don’t care who you are, you’re never going to get something right on the first try so instead of trying to perfect something again and again my focus has always been to get something out the door, see if it’s worth continuing and then make it better. He was the resident expert within his industry but provided little to no guidance for me on how to start and with countless change requests and disagreements it was no wonder he bailed.
Never treat your partners like employees, one of the hardest things I have to deal with as a developer under 30 with multiple business partners on different projects is this mindset some older partners have that bringing in a younger Guy is like free labor or let them do all the work. In many cases it’s disguised with a “I don’t understand what you do” mentality thus they tend to act more like your boss than your partner or at least will try to. Many think that because they are more experienced you should agree with everything they say and it’s hard to stand your ground when a change or problem they say requires your attention is unnecessary and more a burden on your time and costing you money then it is for them. In this case the lack of initial direction forced me to take initiative and start the project the only way I could, by building it.
As requests to change this or work that this way came in the general feeling I got was that my partner was acting more like a boss at times than an equal. The fact is he came from an industry that prided itself in taking orders and making rules and remarks on everything and that made it appear like he never really seemed to want to collaborate. Your partners are not going to take orders, they are going to try to do what they do best and neither parties should start pointing fingers early on.
Be willing to learn what your partner does in order to share the workload evenly. I think its a mistake to enter into any partnership where you haven’t at least done what you partner is doing. I always say don’t hire someone unless you’ve done the job first so that you can tell where you’re partner is at and better understand their dilemmas. Also don’t just ask them to teach you but take initiative and try to teach yourself, if your partner needs help because the workload is too great, asking him to teach you is akin to doubling his efforts.
Go all in or go home early on, if your partner isn’t 100% committed he should let you know and not lead you on for the sake of hoping that he has at least a foot in the door if this thing takes off. In my case I was responsible for development while my partner handled sales and content. After months of development we finally launched a beta and started seeing bug reports come in. Things weren’t perfect but the software did what it was suppose to with a few minor things to be addressed. Again because of the perfectionist angle I felt some hesitation from my partner to bring in any customers.
As things progressed I found myself handling what few customers we had myself and every time I would forward a lead to my partner he seemed to give up on it right away and had no follow through. Though what got to me the most was when in that Business dear john he wrote that he had decided early on not to sell the product because it wasn’t built his way and led me on for months to believe that he was busting his but in sales but nothing was coming in.
Have a plan B and C incase you’re left holding the bag. If you follow the advice above you should hopefully never need this but its always good to plan for the just incase. One of the main reasons I have multiple partners on multiple projects is exactly to avoid situations like this from bringing me down physically as well as emotionally. If someone leaves I have more than enough people interested in what we are doing so that the business isn’t solely dependent on one man’s experience.
Yet considering this project itself was a niche industry it will be harder to find a replacement but not impossible. Having a backup of people you’ve met while working on a project isn’t back stabbing or unfaithful, it’s hedging your investment and common sense. I said I would leave the door open incase they ever want to return but it was less about wanting them back and it was more about being civil.
In the end I learned lessons that I will take with me on every venture I start or run, having a positive attitude even when you’re pissed as hell helps, you can’t ever really take it personally it’s just business. I hope that in the future I will take better care when picking those I work with and I’m glad I learned of my former partners attitude early on before too much money was on the line. You live and you learn I guess.