My partner, my nemesis
October 5, 2009 12:18 AM   Subscribe

My business partner is driving me crazy - I always and constantly have negative thoughts about him. How do I resolve this?

A guy who was my best friend for a year became my business partner. We started an online venture together, and I did the programming and he did the extra work - i.e, daily research and labelling of items. We did this for a few months. The venture did not take off too well, and then he basically stopped working. At this point, he would always draw up plans on how this site should look like, and we would argue about this, because I told him that these designs were too complicated and I could not do this. He always complained at the time that I would always shoot down his ideas, but we went along.

After he basically stopped work, I slogged on alone for a further 6 months. The site still did not take off, and we let it just sit there, occassionally discussing what to do with it. We remained friends.

Then we got an offer: someone randomly offered to by the site for about $20.000. I accepted the offer, and informed my friend. We split the money - and this is where the trouble started. After I sent him the money, all that was on my mind was that he did not deserve the money. I had worked for close to a year on the project, the name, ideas were all mine - the things he did could have been done by anyone.

I came up with a new idea for a new project, and I contacted him again, being basically the only person who I had available to work with. We started off again, and we created a reference site to test the market. It worked fine, and then we let the business idle for about 4 months. Then I created the second reference site, and the business slowly started taking off. I did all the programming, and we would discuss the strategy. We argued a lot at this point, he would always hark back to the topic that I kept on overriding him.

He would constantly come up with ideas on how things should be. His ideas were never based off numbers or analytics or anything - his ideas would completely be based off instinct. I.e, he would have an idea and want to test it, even if the numbers say no. His success rate was not good - sometimes it would work, most times not.

After about a month, I brought in someone new. Another old friend of mine lost his job, and wanted in. After I brought in this new guy, things changed - between me and the new guy, the productivity more than quadrupled - we both work very hard, and we don't spend a lot of time discussing things. Rather, I say what should be done, the new guy either goes ahead and does it, or he disagrees and explains why. Whenever the new guy disagrees, I tend to follow it, because it usually means this is important.

After the new guy was in, my resentment for the old partner increased. He is the worst in the team - he does the least work, when me and the new guy work weekends, he does not, he argues a lot with me and resents it when I take a leadership role, because he does not want to be under me. At some point, we needed to raise money, both me and the new guy were able to get money from family, he could not get any. The person who he tried to get money from, it turned out he had previously borrowed money from the person and never paid the money back.

Currently, the old partner is trying to reduce his workload, even though he is already doing the least. He speaks of certain commitments he has to do every week (studying), and that the venture is sucking up all his time.

Furthermore, when we sit together in an office (we don't usually do so), the old partner is very disruptive - he always talks to the environment while working and constantly tries to engage in conversation with others. This is terrible for work.

Also, to highlight the difference in productivity between the two partners, let me give an example:

They both had the same tasks to complete within a month. The new partner finished his tasks in 15 days. By the 20th day, the old partner had done 1/3 of his tasks, and had started trying to claim that 1 of his tasks was equivalent to two tasks, because it was complex. Never mind that the other partner had completed two of exactly the same tasks in this period.

Thats one side of the story. The other side of the story:

- This guy acts as a counter-weight to me. I sometimes make stupid decisions, and having someone like this around balances my opinion
- The new partner does everything I ask with hardly any questions
- When it comes to calling and talking to people, the old partner is the best among us threee
- This old partner has come up with some really good ideas that have made good money, the new partner so far has not. The new partner is not a creative type, he is a steady work horse. I am creative, as is the old partner
- I am a very angry person. I am rude, commanding and I micromanage peoples work
- I get annoyed quickly and I tend to obsess for long periods of time over peoples faults (like in this situation)
- I always want to change stuff - the old partner does not like to change stuff, giving us a measure of stability

The question is now - what do I do? It is going to destroy my friendship with this guy if I break up this partnership. It may even destroy the business. Also, if this guy goes, the entire business will become a mono-culture, i.e, all ideas will be mostly from me, and there will be a total lack of new ideas.

The point is that we are all supposed to own 30% of the business, but we have not signed contracts yet. Things can still be reorganised. I would like to keep the old partner in the business, but I am not prepared to give him 30% of something that I am spending so much time working on, and where he is so lazy.

How do I resolve this problem - it's eating me up inside, I just keep obsessing over and over again on the same topic, and cannot come up with a good solution. What would it be?
posted by ChabonJabon to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Would you, in fact, be in this position if it were not for the annoying partner? That is, do you honestly believe that you would have - as opposed to could have - done it without him?

If not, he's entitled to his cut, regardless of how you feel about his present performance. Even if he's only acted as the burr under the saddle that's kept you motivated, he's done you a service.

What this actually sounds to me is a classic case of engineer/marketroid miscommunication. It's perfectly normal for the engineer and the marketroid to think and operate in completely separate ways, and perfectly normal for each of them to have no clue at all why the other's contribution is necessary. But the simple fact is that every successful engineering business I've ever seen has got at least one good one of each, and that the businesses that fail are the ones where one side becomes totally dominant.

Read a bit of Woz on Jobs, and try to get some perspective.

we are all supposed to own 30% of the business

I'm tipping that you need a bookkeeper to get the remaining 10% :-)
posted by flabdablet at 12:28 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

"... I just keep obsessing over and over again on the same topic, and cannot come up with a good solution. What would it be?"

This is what lawyers and partnership (or shareholder) agreements, and business survivorship agreements, are for. You engage a knowledgeable third party legal adviser to craft a reasonable partnership (or shareholder) agreement, that specifies conditions under which the partnership (or corporation, or S corp, or LLC, or whatever form of organization seems best to you and your advisor) may be dissolved, and if dissolved, how the partnership (shareholder) shares will be valued, and how that value will be payed by the partners (shareholders) that are staying to partners (shareholders) that are leaving, and then you sleep better at night.

Then, you write some job descriptions, that fairly split the workload into the normal business functions (CEO, CFO, Technical Director, VP Sales, VP Operations, etc.) and parcel them out to to those available to do the work, anticipating that, later, as your venture grows, you'll populate the job descriptions with real people. And then you do your work, and your venture succeeds or fails, makes money or goes broke.

If it succeeds, you get the fun of hiring more people, giving them some of the job titles and responsibilities you've created, and cashing partnership (shareholder) dividend checks that are partly the fruit of their labors for your enterprise. If your venture fails, you can beat one another up, under the job responsibilities you defined, and thusly split any remaining assets or liabilities in the failure.

Like a lot of entrepeneurs, it sounds like you've got the operations way ahead of the organization, and it is biting you in the butt. Get a lawyer, get organized, quit obsessing.

You might also get in touch with the volunteers at SCORE, to find impartial third party advisers, who can counsel you and your partners, and help develop a business plan and the organization plan you seem to need.
posted by paulsc at 12:36 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

There's a lot to cover here.

But first: someone doesn't need to do 30% of the work to get 30% of the money. They need to get 30% of the money. If that means keeping you or your business in track, then they did their job.

Some rules for you:

1. You're no manager (see your bulletpoint list). Get someone who is.
2. Ideas are worthless unless you make them happen.
3. Don't mix business with friendship.

The question is now - what do I do? It is going to destroy my friendship with this guy if I break up this partnership. It may even destroy the business.

See rule 3. Make up your mind. Do you want a friendship or a business? (I'm *not* saying be a dick, I'm saying get your priorities straight)

Please resolve things once and stop going round in circles. Talk to your partner, sort it out now. The more you waste time thinking over the same things and problems over and over the more you will not be doing any business.

Oh and if someone wants to buy your site for 20k, you don't sell it for 20k.
posted by devnull at 12:39 AM on October 5, 2009

Response by poster: He is the business guy, but he is a total fool on business. He cannot market, he cannot sell, he cannot even make a spreadsheet properly. He always promised me he would "market" the shit out of our app when released, and when it was released, his "marketing" consisted of spamming a few forums to no effect.

Numbers are totally unimportant to him. He would describe himself more as an "idea guy", but when he comes to technical business, he has nothing going on.

On the other hand, he has acted as the burr in the saddle to keep me motivated. Without him, I likely would not have gone through with this.

Also, I am not planning to cut him out of the income we have generated so far - I just find it hard to work with him at the moment and the future.
posted by ChabonJabon at 12:41 AM on October 5, 2009

I came up with a new idea for a new project, and I contacted him again, being basically the only person who I had available to work with.

This was a mistake. Why start something else again with bad blood and a bad experience already out there?

Also, you sold your back-time for $10,000. The fact that your partner got that amount doesn't impact that deal. When you accepted the $20K offer, you knew you were getting half. If you'd wanted more, you would have asked for more, right?

Think of it that way.

I also agree with devnull: decide if you want a friendship or a business, then work on that. If you get the other, bonus, but you can't do both at the same time.
posted by rokusan at 12:42 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's implementation that's important, I'm sure you could find someone to come up with ideas for you for a flat rate. Or you could change this guy's roll to that of an "advisory". Give him 5% of the company to advise you, but not be responsible for any of the actual work. That would be a pretty plum gig for a lot of people, and give him incentive to try to push you guys to work on it, without being dependent on him.
posted by delmoi at 12:52 AM on October 5, 2009

On the other hand, he has acted as the burr in the saddle to keep me motivated. Without him, I likely would not have gone through with this.

Ding! That's what he's good at, and that's what you need. Maybe not from him, but it seems that in this role, he works out.

On your next venture, designate him as the burr in the saddle guy for, I dunno, 5% - 20%.

Put someone else in charge of sales and marketing and everything else. Stop fretting that the guy is no good at these things (get someone who is good) and instead focus on what he's good at. He's your burr, your muse, your annoying whatever that gets you off your ass. That's an important role.
posted by zippy at 1:09 AM on October 5, 2009

@ChabonJabon: I think we're missing some information - why are you paying him with a share in the company?
posted by devnull at 1:21 AM on October 5, 2009

I am a very angry person. I am rude, commanding and I micromanage peoples work

So don't manage him if you can avoid it, and definitely don't micromanage him. The problem here, I think, is that despite your protestations you yourself have actually gone about things in a slap-dash and ill-defined way, to whit; setting this company and its roles up.

Implement a structure with KPIs (key performance indicators) for each of you (based around your business plan). Ownership, or bonus, or salary or whatever the hell kind of money/reward you guys are getting is based around meeting KPI's. These could be targets (like sales targets for example, or securing funding), or they could be task-based (like building an app, functional prototype, whatever).

At the end of the year, or six months or whatever, check to see how you are progressing towards both plan and KPI's. Meeting or not meeting KPI's can be used to determine futre actions.

Of course, this is the business solution I would pursue. There is also the social solution.

Social solution: "Hey Lazy-Bones (whatever his name is), I know you've got lots of commitments on your plate, and I hate how this business is distracting you from your life mission or whatever. This said, we still need you around as an enabler; your presence is important to us and our success.

"So here's a list of reduced committments that focus around your strengths and reduce your day-to-day interaction with the business and the grunt work. Obviously because this kind of strategic role is not as labour-intensive as previously, and we have a third person, and the funding we've secured, we'll need a different ownership model this time around. We can either pay you as a "consultant"based on x hours, or meeting x target, or we can give you x% of the business, which is more commensurate with the time you'll be spending on work here. How does that sound to you?"
posted by smoke at 2:51 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Something to keep in mind for the next go-round: NEVER start a business partnership without a written and signed partnership contract. You've been lucky so far. Most people in your shoes aren't. Always strictly define who owns what, and what concrete responsibilities are non-negotiable. I know that nature of dot-com startups seems to hew against this. So, try to get past that initial uncomfortable culture shock, and get one or more lawyers involved *before* you start the work.

I think that this will actually give you some peace of mind. You don't have to worry about whether any partner "deserves" anything. It's on the paper, so it's decided (as long as the contract isn't breached), and there's nothing you can really do about it.

Good luck!
posted by Citrus at 6:41 AM on October 5, 2009

I can't speak to the complexity of your individual business, but I can say I attempted to start a business with a partner and became very angry with her very quickly because she always seemed to dig her heels in at any sign of progress. While I've come to understand that this is because, despite a top-notch business education, she had a serious fear of success and the progress scared the hell out of her so she just quit doing the work and threw money at me on occasion.

I wound up paying back her money and refiling the business as a sole proprietorship. Rather than taking on business partners -which is tempting in the early phases when you can't afford to pay anyone - I'm planning down the line to hire employees. I had to give up my friendship with her as she did not take being cut out well. Also not helpful is that I am by NO means a perfectionist or micro-manager; I think this will in the long run make me easier to work for - when I get to that point.

Do the SCORE consult. I suspect in your case it's the business format of partnership is the real problem, and reorganizing under a different model in the long run will be better for you. As to the $10K - it's an opportunity to practice your forgiveness skills. You need those in business and everywhere else in life.
posted by medea42 at 12:13 PM on October 5, 2009

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