For a technical founder, choosing the right business partner is the most critical early decision that you can possibly make. The only exception to this is if you have a significant business and sales background and will be taking this role on yourself.
The right business partner has many criteria that will help you kick-start your business. A successful business partner will have as many of these as possible
- Sales experience – your business will need to know how to sell your service or product initially, but will then need to be able to build a sales organization. Managing, leading, and incentivizing sales people is significantly different than other business groups, particularly technical groups. Salespeople are quite competitive by nature and respond much better to targets and relative rankings than engineers and technical people – your business partner must be able to hire people and set up this organization to maximally drive sales.
- Can make business decisions with confidence – as I have talked about in previous posts (, ), your business must provide a service for which people will pay. This will mean that your company will have to kill certain ideas to focus on others – this is the responsibility of your business partner. He or she must be able to make these decisions and assume responsibility for such – to explain why when possible, and to declare by fiat when not.
- Integrity – one of the biggest causes for breakdowns between business and technical groups is lack of respect. This can arise from many sources – neither side understanding what the other does, neither side understanding or accepting the goals of the other, competition for budgets – but one of the worst offenders is disrespect. This can take many forms but on the technical side, it often boils down to the developers and QA folks not understanding how people are using their service or product, and dismissing their complaints or concerns. On the business side, one of the biggest causes for this is failure to take responsibility for business decisions. Business folks have often been accused by the technical side of blaming them for business failure, by blaming a poor or failed implementation. The truth is that even poor implementations of a good business will succeed, at least to the point that the next iteration can be released; however, even fantastic implementations of a failed business idea will fail completely (if anyone ever doubts that, I have two words for you – “New Coke”). A real business leader will assume responsibility for his or her decisions and move to make changes when needed.
- Respect for the technical side – this encompasses some of what was talked about above; however, this is critical for any startup to understanding. Everyone must work together and respect one another’s abilities, passion, and dedication. This is true for both side but your business partner must be able to talk to your technical side, to respect what they say especially when they disagree, and sell the business vision to everyone in the company.
How about all of you – what critical criteria have you found for your senior business leaders? Business folks – what criteria do you wish that you had, or your boss or people had?
Image courtesy of Georgie Pauwels / flickr.com