istock_000007229880xsmallCorey Maass, the creator of DubFiler, sent me an email he’s allowing me to share with you:

If you have a minute, here’s a quick question I’m putting to the start-up people I know. I’m going this alone. I’ve asked a few people to get involved but haven’t found the right fit. I’m wondering if you agree with everything I’m reading that says, ‘under no circumstances go it alone!’.

It’s been a question on my mind a great deal lately, it’s getting kicked around a lot at the Business of Software forum (here and here) and it came up a great deal as I was writing The Web Startup Success Guide.
Six years ago when I started writing my first commercial app, it was a no-brainer: I’d heard story after story how this partner had caused the company to implode, how that partner was lazy, how another partner had screwed they guy who came up with the idea if the first place. No way I wanted any part of that.
Now I’m not so sure.
Neither human nature or contract law has changed in six years. But the workload it takes to build a successful software business, how much two people (or more) can get done online and some of the prevailing attitudes have.
First the workload: six years ago a developer could write a good desktop app, tap the new huge eyeball magnet called Google AdWords, support their customers and life would be good. Or at least three times better – in terms of fulfillment, happiness and paycheck – than being a code monkey in corporate captivity.
Six years on, every business entity uses AdWords, the competition for prospective customer’s attention has gotten greater, and social media (Twitter, blogs and all the rest) is fast becoming the way you get that attention. It takes more work, more than most people are capable of, let alone capable of year after year.
That ever growing impossible workload and the inability to execute it are the single leading reason microISVs and startups  fail and big reason I’ve been writing StartupToDo.com (formerly Project X). I’ve come up with a way to save every startup/microISV founder that subscribes to StartupToDo about 40% of the time they spend doing what they need to do, at least the first time. (The money will be very nice too! :))
Secondly, two partners or three founders working together toward a common cause using the wealth of online collaboration tools now out there can be far more productive than in years past. It’s a lot easier and more effective to collaborate as partners than to do the traditional hierarchical business thing of managers and managed people. Put another way, two partners working online doing all of the things that need to be done for a startup is much more effective and valuable than one “CEO” and one “employee”. Collaboration goes with instead of against the Internet – something that will be having profound repercussions for decades
Third, the attitude thing is an age thing – people my age (I’ll be 52 in July) – grew up in a pre-Internet, post-Watergate/Vietnam War era. I think we find it harder to trust others than people in their 20s and 30’s; I know it’s harder to gut-understand this whole Internet-connected world. And while I’m not ready for the Old Programmers Home yet, most people in this business are significantly younger, and there attitudes about trust are noticibly more open.
In some ways, the one man microISV has always been a myth: Tina, my partner in love and life, and her steady paycheck made “microISVism” work for me; nearly every successful microISV I’ve talked to over the years has some form on spouse helping them.
As for startups, if you’re not part of a two or better person team of founders, forget it. No funding; not taken seriously.
So my advice to Corey is yes, even if you want to create a successful microISV, get a partner.
How do you find one, what do you look for, how do you make it work? All good questions which I will take a stab at next week. In the meantime, I’ve got a big push of StartupToDo.com coding to do and by the way, yes, I’m looking for a partner.

5 Comments

  1. All good points about the workload. I’ve found it easier just to pay people to do some of the work, even through elance or rentacoder, than to find a partner. I’ve also seen disagreements between partners use up valuable work time or even break up the company.
    I’m not experts on these companies but I believe balsamiq.com and plentyoffish.com are examples of recent successful 1 person start-ups.

  2. Pingback: I’m… so… alone… | Gelform

  3. I dunno Bob. I think the principle of division of labour is as valid as it’s ever been, i.e. one of the foundations of civilisation. But there’s a potential issue with partners – you risk replacing a temporary problem (current needs) with a permanent one.
    There is a place for partners. Some of the greatest businesses were created by partners. Some skills are so central to the business that partnering will solve many problems. Sometimes you just need that extra energy/money/time to get you to your goal. Sometimes you need to get there faster, because the window of opportunity needs speed. But it’s not a silver bullet, IMHO.

  4. I think the problem many people have is they select their business partner from their pool of friends or colleagues at work that they get on with when they probably should be looking outside of these circles for someone with complementary rather than similar skills.

  5. If you find a good partner you should team with him no questions asked. I’ve started alone and now, after 4 years, I wish I hadn’t. Things go so much more faster when one handles marketing and one handles the technical stuff. They go infinitely faster if one of you has done/run a startup/microisv before.

Write A Comment