Dancing coupleAs some of you know, I’ve spent the last six months writing The Web Startup Success Guide. One giant – and personally uncomfortable – lesson learned in all those interviews was the finding the right partner or two could make a huge difference in whether your small software company will succeed.
It’s not about getting funding – although your chances as a one-person company of getting even a smidgen of angel funding fit comfortably on the head of a pin. It’s about belief. I’ll come back toward the end of this post and explain what I mean – first it’s time for a confession.
In my professional career, first as a reporter then as a programmer, then as a microISV I’ve been something of a loner. The few times in my professional life I’ve had to manage people were terrible experiences for all involved. Like all traumatic experiences, you learn to avoid the things that cause the pain. What’s more it’s easy to go from specific experience to limiting generalization. It’s a short road from “I don’t want to manage people” to “I don’t want a business partner”, especially in this age where we can and do all sit in our own houses yet still get paid for the work we do.
I think more than a few microISVs start and stay one-person affairs because the person starting it has internalized their bad experiences managing people or being managed and wrote off the idea of partnering in the same breath.
But I’ve come to realize finding and keeping the right business partner isn’t about managing – or being managed – by that person: it’s about having someone share and believe in and work with you on your dream.
In some ways it’s your very first sale – and your most important. If your software idea is so anemic you can’t interest even passingly someone else in partnering with you – or you are so doubtful that software will sell enough to be worth two people’s efforts, watch out!
So how do you find a partner? This is of some interest to me since for the past 18 months I’ve been solo bootstrapping Project X/StartupToDo.com, and it has been a long, hard road that I finally realize would have been a great deal shorter if I’d decided at the start to find a partner for this startup.
The first step I think is defining what you bring to the party, besides a vague idea you want to turn into selling software. What are your technical, business, marketing, customer relations, content creating and social networking skills like? Me? First class content creation, marketing and evangelizing skills, hard-won more-than-a-beginner Ruby on Rails/JavaScript/JQuery programming abilities and an an utter lack of CSS make the page pretty aptitude. That’s my honest self-assessment: what’s your’s?
The second step is defining what your partner or partners should bring to the party. Do you need someone who can code a little but Community Manager a lot? Are there technical skills that given what your software will do and where it will do it, that your partner might provide? Do you need someone who can get excited about the parts of launching your startup that leave you cold? I know in my circumstances and I think for most startups you need the complement of what you have, not more of what you have. There’s simply too many different, diverse skill sets needed to build good software and sell it well to have the luxury of a partner who’s just like you.
The third step is getting yourself out there. That means everything from Meetup entrepreneurial meetings to code weekends to college reunions to IRC chat sessions to commenting on potential partner blogs to Twitter and Facebook and all the other social media, to industry events large and small. It means rubbing elbows – literally and online – with other people, one or two of them just might turn out to be potential partners. It means blogging about what you’ve got to offer and what skills you hope your potential partner has (Strong Rails/JQuery and the ability to beat CSS  into submission and a good look, in case you wondered).
The fourth step is not being afraid to talk with people about your Big Idea because you’re afraid someone they will “steal” it. For every idea that’s been “stolen” in this business there’s a thousand that died because the person who had the idea couldn’t alone execute it, or they lost their faith they could complete it. You’ve got to trust your partner, and that trust starts before they’re your partner.
Trust is half of the personal chemistry that makes for a partnership: the other half is belief. Your partner or partners have, I think, need to believe in your idea as much as you do. Belief is a very powerful thing – it can make you work untiringly , push past what you thought you could do, create something where there was nothing before. Belief makes reality in human affairs, whether you’re talking about starting a business or a nation, and two or three people who believe in the same idea are far more able to make that idea a reality than one person, no matter how strongly you believe.
So how much do you believe in your software idea? And what are you doing to find someone who’s prepared to share – and grow -that belief? For me, I totally believe Startuptodo.com will double the odds of success for the startups who subscribe to it once it’s open for business – and it’s high time for me to go share that belief with some of the people I’ve been meeting in the microISV/startup world and see if I can find me a partner to share that vision with. I’ll let you know how it goes.

3 Comments

  1. Best of luck Bob, but if anyone wants to start a pool about when Bob does the “how business partners can derail your startup and your life” post, let me know… 😉

  2. Bob Walsh Reply

    Ouch! Actually, later this week I want to do a post on just how to avoid that fate…

  3. I have a business partner. So far the tally: Him – zero sales Me – thousands of sales. Oh yea, I’m the developer too. Beware. Salespeople are inherently lazy, it’s a fact. They are actually looking at the revenue you already have as the target, not the messy work of going outside and generating revenue.

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