Finding a tech-savvy business partner in Chicago
June 26, 2009 9:56 AM   Subscribe

InternetEntrepreneurFilter: Help me find an internet marketing savvy developer in Chicago to partner with.

I'm 26 and was recently laid off and since I was a good little squirrel stashing away my nuts, with unemployment and ARRA I can last for over a year on my current savings.

Based on that, I've decided I want to devote my time and energy to trying to get various web business projects off the ground to build additional passive revenue streams for myself and hopefully be able to leave the rat race for good. I have a bunch of ideas saved up but have not had the time/energy to move beyond initial research until getting terminated.

That might seem like a tall order, but here's what I have going for me...I worked as a digital strategist at a top digital agency, I designed and built (and later outsourced redesign) an affiliate website that brings in a couple hundred a month without me touching it (which I'm going to be improving to hopefully bring in more), and in my last position I did lead generation for a software company, primarily by managing their websites, analytics, paid search, email campaigns and other misc. lead gen programs.

I have a VERY strong understanding of how to do things online the "right way" from a marketing/business side and know how to run a business. What I don't have is the level of technical knowledge needed to bring many of my new ideas to fruition, since many of them would probably be heavy on scripting/database work.

I've had some experience with outsourcing development work locally and around the globe, but I don't like working like that and what I REALLY want is to find someone I can develop a long-term business relationship with locally who also is interested in transitioning to doing this full time and knows the technical side of things and is a competent developer. Ideally they would have an understanding of how internet/affiliate marketing work online but I can teach them that too.

I want to go into this 50/50 (or more likely 51/49) and have a true partner who I don't need to pay out of my pocket but who gets paid based on the success of the project, like I will. Given the unemployment rate, I'd be surprised if there weren't many developers in Chicago who are in the job market who might be interested in working on some of their own projects to make some money. Help me find them! Are there groups that meet on this stuff? Are there directories or forums for people looking for business partners for this sort of thing? Am I looking for a needle in a haystack?

I've exhausted my personal network on this so I need to start looking externally here and I'm hoping the hive mind can point me in the right direction. Thanks guys and happy to clarify on anything.
posted by Elminster24 to Work & Money (8 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: This seems less like a question than it is a job posting for an unpaid equity partnership -- mathowie

So you want somebody to build your sites for you, for free, in the hopes of getting paid from future revenues?

Good luck with that.

Everybody involved with the web has a list of great ideas. If a developer is inclined to work for free, it'll be on his own ideas, not yours.

I don't mean to be harsh, but looking for somebody to implement your ideas, for free, is a waste of time IMHO. Equity in a non existent business is the same thing as zero. Potential doesn't pay the rent. I think your time is better spent in a crash course on php and MySQL, or Ruby on Rails, or whatever. You can pick up enough to build a functional demo fairly quickly, and maybe with that you can attract some investment, whether it be in cash or time. Or maybe you'll pick up enough to build the site yourself and keep 100% of the equity.
posted by COD at 10:28 AM on June 26, 2009

Check the tech cocktail site and see if any networking events are coming up. That would be a good place to meet people who might be interested. Also, you might find the partner you're looking for, or at least people who will point you in the right direction, in the TC community section.
posted by necessitas at 10:31 AM on June 26, 2009

Every third Sunday in other cities unemployed/independently wealthy and idea-hungry developers meet at the Green Dragon to seek out your kind. There might be something similar in Chicago ... not sure, I've never been there.

For reference, this is the kind of post you should be making when asking for business advice on metafilter. Or of course, just post on craigslist where there are no standards of etiquette.
posted by shownomercy at 10:48 AM on June 26, 2009

Oh, seconding what COD said. I hadn't considered it till I read that reply, when I posted my first reply, it was based on taking the question at face value.

Speaking from experience (feel free to memail for the gory details), this sort of "equity partnership" rarely ends well, and almost NEVER ends well when the initiator is the "ideas" and not the developer (unless by 51/49 you meant the developer will get 51%). It often doesn't even end well when the "ideas" partner and the "dev" partner come up with the plan together!

Even if you did find an out-of-work dev, it's not going to go the way you imagine it in your head because, based on the details in your post, you are looking for an employee, not a partner. The latter requires a completely different mindset because there are many issues you don't seem to be considering.

If I were you, I'd look for a recent grad or a hobbyist who wants to build up a portfolio to then get actual paid gigs. They will be much more willing devote time to working on your ideas on a "free but there might be some equity benefit later" type work-for-hire agreement than someone who is just unemployed (what happens when they become employed and can't devote the same time to the project, yet now own a sizable chunk of the decision making process and you two can't agree upon the equity each will give up to get another "equity partner" developer?). Granted, you'll have to deal with some flakiness and slowness, but getting it done on a work-for-hire basis will turn out better in the end.

After it's completed, you can decide whether or not the "hired" dev will make a good long-term partner, or whether you need to look for another partner to manage the tech side of things. But I promise you, it's not pretty when the ideas person "owns" more of the project, has an "employer" mentality and the dev partner becomes disgruntled because they realize that their contribution was the only tangible contribution. Ideas are a dime a dozen.

You might find the type of portfolio-needing dev in the tech cocktail community (tech cocktail is based in chicago). You might even find the right person through a post on mefi's jobs section. You can also post an ad/flyer/post in the relevant department at local schools, universities or community colleges, or their departmental bulletin board equivalent on facebook.
posted by necessitas at 10:53 AM on June 26, 2009

Response by poster: Ok, I want to clarify something since there seems to be the impression that I'm looking for an "employee" who will do my bidding while I sit back and throw ideas at them.

Let me reiterate, I bring the business skills to the table. I know how to make the money online, I will be doing the design work, setting up the business aspects of the programs, and doing all of the marketing for them (which I'd say is a lot more involvement than the initial development based on my experience), doing all the analytics, etc.

I'm not looking for a lopsided relationship, I'm looking for something where we both contribute equally and hoping to find a developer who wants to do something similar but lacks the skills/knowledge that I bring to the table.

*To COD: I want someone to code (not necessarily design) the websites for US, not just me. And I'm not limiting it to just my business ideas either...I'm more than open to taking their ideas and figuring out how to properly monetize/market them.

*To Shownomercy: I'm not sure what you meant by your last comment...that link was just a post on a specific development question and I'm not sure how my post was in breach of any sort of rules of etiquette...

So, to recap, I'm not looking for something for nothing. I'm planning on putting just as much into this (if not more) than they are. Surely there must be people out there who are looking for complimentary skillsets (like, they are coders who don't know the business side of things) to get their business ideas off the ground. All I'm asking for is resources on locating people who are interested in something similar in Chicago. Thanks for your suggestions thus far, I'll definitely check them out.
posted by Elminster24 at 11:31 AM on June 26, 2009

Post on craigslist in computer gigs. That's about the only spot I browse around for interesting programming gigs. If I lived in Chicago I'd schedule a meeting with you, but alas, I'm in Nebraska.

I disagree with the comments so far. As a programmer, direction and feedback are useful (I'm speaking for myself, not for every programmer). I have so damn many ideas that I can't fall asleep at night. However, I have trouble focusing on one idea because I don't always have that feedback mechanism available. When I see flaws in a site, game, whatever--and every idea has flaws--I keep brainstorming in search of something better. That's bad. I know it. But without that "you're doing it right" feedback I lose focus. For example, right now I'm caught up on making an iPhone game. I've went through about a thousand ideas since I bought my first Mac two (three?) weeks ago. I've prototyped a few of my favorites and then trashed them. I'll prototype a few more games this weekend, and then inevitably trash those too. If I had another voice there to constructively counter my destructive thoughts, I'd take my ideas further instead of giving up on them.

I'm sure there are other programmers besides me who believe that the benefits of having a partner outweigh the income cut, but I can't help you find them.
posted by trueluk at 12:03 PM on June 26, 2009

For the record, I wasn't suggesting that you were looking for someone to do your bidding while you sat back. I was just trying to point out that there are a lot of developers out there who also have ideas and business skills, though their dev skills are way stronger. It is difficult to avoid a lopsided partnership when the partnership is based on them developing your ideas. I'm speaking in generalities, and based on my own experience and that of many people I know who were in your role in the scenario you laid out. The lopsided issues are cracks that can start forming while the development is going on. It is often difficult for someone in the developer role to not lose sight of the fact that your role will be more hands-on and more tangible after the site is up and running. For a while it WILL seem lopsided, particularly so when the developer is working on a project in which s/he was not originally invested (to dev: "here's my idea, here's the site, here's the outcome, want to get on board as dev partner?" dev: "ok, sure"). As the business part of the partnership, it is very difficult when your partner, brought on board after the idea was developed, begins to have a slightly different vision for the project, yet it's now half their project, and concessions need to be made. It's HARD to let go of things when it's your baby.

Sometimes it's hard to accept that, when it comes to development, the right/best way from a business perspective isn't always the same as the right/best way from a development perspective. I'm talking about a difference of opinion about things like UI or site flow, various features that are equally important to, but mean different things to the business side and the dev side. You might be right, you might be wrong. The dev might be right, might be wrong. It's just a difficult situation made even more difficult by a lopsided level of emotional attachment.

Don't forget to factor in the fact that for every person who rocks his/her area expertise, there's at least one person who hates/hated working with them. That goes for ALL of us. You never know when personalities will clash, even if it doesn't seem so from the start. What happens when you've handed over half your baby to a highly skilled person you don't know very well and you end up with two strong personalities that clash beyond the point of productivity? If you sever the partnership, the developer can continue on with the project on his own, he might fail on the business end, but he'll still be able to finish the product quickly. You'll return to this frustrating process of finding someone to create the product, or at least complete what the first dev partner created.

This is why I suggested you approach it initially as a work-for-hire (where the reward is some equity or some percentage of revenue for a reasonable period of time), and then make decisions about strategic partnerships after you already have something, if only the bones of something, in hand.

I didn't point these things out in an attempt to be condescending or make assumptions about your character or motivations. I pointed them out because I HAVE been in your position, more than once. I took the same route. Both times, it was a miserable mess. This isn't just my own experience, it's not like I am uniquely difficult, this is a story I hear repeated over and over by almost everyone I know who had an awesome idea and all the kick-ass skills for a successful project, except the technical/development skills. They all had the exact same experience.

I finally decided to go a different route, the one I suggested to you, and it worked out perfectly every time. Having something, even a technical "rough draft" in hand that needs to be vastly improved and managed by a skilled dev is, in my experience, the key to finding the right technical partner, and creating a productive, successful partnership and project. I only wish someone had shared this suggestion with me from the start.

I'm more than open to taking their ideas and figuring out how to properly monetize/market them.

For a variety of reasons, that's actually a better plan for the parnership-from-the-ground-up scenario that you presented. If you're not completely attached to your idea, and more attached to the process, instead of looking for developers who want to partner with you to give life to your idea, maybe you can developers with ideas who lack any of the other know-how to bring the idea to life and monetize it.

Again, wasn't trying to be insulting, just trying to show you the darker side to, and an alternative to, the scenario you suggested. Just wanted to shine some light on the down side to being the ideas person who doesn't really get to start getting their hands dirty till after the product is developed.
posted by necessitas at 1:09 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding necessitas. Look at it from a simple risk - reward POV. You have this idea that may or may not be worth something commercially. The only way to know is to actually implement it. So you are asking a developer to give away his work product in the hopes that you can monetize it after the fact and pay him, maybe him a lot. It's a huge risk for the developer because once he gives you that time he can't sell it to somebody else. It's not that much risk for you. You are out nothing if it doesn't work, other than maybe the opportunity cost on some other idea you could have been working on.

However, ideas are a dime a dozen. We all have them, which is why I'm valuing your idea (or any idea) at zero until proven otherwise. It's a bad deal for the developer if he is doing it for the money. However (random example following...), say your idea is related to making pet adoptions easier, and the developer is a dog lover. Now there is value in working on the idea with you outside of the unlikely cash flow. If you approach it that way and find people that might have a stake in your idea beyond cash, I think you have a much better shot of getting somebody interested in working with you and bringing your idea to market successfully.
posted by COD at 1:35 PM on June 26, 2009

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