Archive for the ‘Startups’ Category

Founders Gone FAILED

July 29, 2011

We’ve all heard of or been involved in stories about startup founder conflicts or other things that tear apart startup co-founders. They’re usually pretty fascinating because they reveal psychological differences or poor relationships or different life goals or any number of other facets of interpersonal experiences.

So, during a night of tech discussions at AppHarbor’s new HQ, I was amused by a comment from one of the participants, “In the middle of driving across the country, that’s when the startup died.”

“Wait, did you say the starter died, like the car’s starter?”

“No, the startup died.”

What followed was a smirk-evoking story of a week-long drive between these two new co-founders. Yet, along the drive, they discovered that there’s no way they could be business partners. “A guy can seem so normal online, but when there are real pressure situations, he can’t deal with them.” Midway through the together-all-the-time trip, they realized they’d have to part ways.

The story was pretty funny to me, but I could easily relate. I, too, have had a few failed attempts at getting co-founders. Despite my best efforts, people that are interested in developing the idea either find other commitments or display qualities that would be destructive to a startup. In the story above, it was pretty obvious that if his new partner couldn’t handle a little pressure during a cross-country drive that he would never cut it in the fast-paced, high-pressure startup world.

My first startup attempt was a clone of LiveChat, a site offering webchat as a service. Living in New Orleans in 2004, I met a guy who had this idea and had tried farming the idea out to be developed in India. The developers held his code for ransom, so he was trying to start over with a new partner. I agreed to partner with him and created ClickNChat over the next month. However, I found I was building this product, and he wasn’t living up to his end of the bargain, which was getting customers, marketing, etc. Eventually, I got tired of building a product that wouldn’t get used in the marketplace and gave him an ultimatum. We parted ways soon thereafter.

Years later, I had my idea for FundFill while eating lunch with my best friend at the time, also a .NET developer. We were pretty excited by the idea, and we quickly developed it into a website idea and a business plan. Unfortunately, we lived in a technologically impoverished area, and we worked for someone who had no concept of what the tech world was about. Louisiana, it turned out, wasn’t very fertile ground for building a tech startup. So, the CEO caught wind that we were discussing the idea of a startup (I had talked my friend into forming an LLC with me). LLC’s are public information in LA with everyone’s name on it, and I was fired when news of the LLC was secretly mailed to the CEO. (Ok, stop laughing, I was ACTUALLY FIRED for doing a website in my own spare time!) Unfortunately, my firing had its desired effect – my friend was too scared to do any more work on my project. We continued the flirtation of him joining the project for awhile, but it would always build up my hopes only to dash them again when when he couldn’t contribute to the project.

It was a pretty demoralizing killer to all my momentum every time I tried to recruit him again, so I eventually stopped discussing the project entirely with him. Moving to the Bay Area, I looked around for like-minded people and was delighted to find plenty of developers working in startups or interested in them. In January, a friend who knew about my project introduced me to another guy who had built up his own side-project website. I introduced the new guy to the concept of Fundfill, and he was immediately excited. I was pretty excited myself to have a new business partner to help build my project, now well on its way. Over the next week or two, I introduced him to all the concepts and future plans behind FundFill, and we had even come up with a new feature we could add to the site. We had pretty good chemistry but one big problem. Somehow, my friend who introduced us had become involved in the project as well. He had some qualities that I didn’t want to have in my future company, and I felt stuck, because it seemed it was becoming an all or nothing deal. Furthermore, there was a strong push towards moving the project into a smaller niche than I was comfortable with, given the huge potential of FundFill. I was in a real bind, because I really wanted help on the project, but I didn’t want to give up my business goals. Rather than jeopardize the potential of the project by taking on a partner I was uncomfortable with and shrinking the project’s potential, we parted ways.

So, where am I today? I put up the first fund on FundFill Sunday, and I’m working on new features and expanding my user base. In spite of my setbacks, I used the failed partnerships as new motivation to build my site up. In spite of this post’s negative experiences with finding partners, I’m still keeping an eye out for potential partners to be co-founders (interested in solving technical problems and solving the world’s problems? Check out FundFill and how it works, and e-mail me).

Got a horror story about “Founders Gone FAIL”? Leave it in the comments. (I know you’ve got some pretty good stories!)

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