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Management

posted Mar 6, 2012, 5:50 PM by Vishal Jain
I was 14. I had a next-door neighbor, another buddy from down the street, and a friend from school -- all whom i was trying to motiviate to be part of my "empire". My empire was a mix. It was part band, part recording studio, part vision of a future megacorporation. But the challenge of motivation eventually saw all of them fading into the background, and me emerging as the sole proprietor of my shop.

I feel this weird "deja vu"-like reverberation in my chest everytime i attempt to gather a team together to tackle an effort larger than i can take on alone. It can be arresting. Because i think that i failed in my first business effort. And i don't want to repeat that error.

In particular, i remember one conversation very poignantly. With my friend, who i'll call 'B', about our equity split in my childhood endeavor. I felt that i had put my life into the company, that i had capitalized it, and that therefore i ought to control ~60% of it (decision-making and revenue-sharing) and B the rest. He argued that he should earn a larger piece, and more importantly, probably had little incentive to be a part of a business where he was not the leader. Ultimately, he lessened his involvement with my efforts and never found the motivation to commit himself to it long-term.

For many years throughout school and afterward, i looked back at this experience as a lesson that trying to have a "follower" partner with a smaller share of your business is a bad idea. I believed for a long time that the only approach to a business partnership should be for a roughly 50/50 split, with equal decision-making and revenue-sharing rights. That a true partnership was like a marriage - and therefore 50/50.

But then when i tried that approach with a couple of my long-time friends, it backfired. I started a company at the age of 27 with a friend i've had for 10 years, and it became clear that our visions for an idea would never congrue, especially as time forced us to specify those visions with increasing amounts of detail. We incessantly landed into arguments that prevent our agreeing on a decision and consequently stalled progress. I could not envision myself running a business thereafter, with any person who was not essentially a clone of myself, because only a clone of myself would arrive at the exact same decision as me every time. How can you possibly agree on every exact detail of a product with another person? Will you not always feel that you are compromising on something?

And so my dilemma continued. Is it easier to run a business independently, and simply pay others for their input and have total control, or to leverage the input of other people but be willing to compromise on decisions that you see as imperfections? Or is it that there are a small number of people out there with whom you can partner and create value but with others you cannot and i had just picked the wrong people?

I still don't know that i have an answer for this. But what i do think is that one way to keep a person who is not an equal leader of your business motivated, is to give them the opportunity to build their personal brand through the work they do with you. If you have a project going on, don't approach an awesome computer programmer by saying, "hey i'm working on this product, would you like to be involved? this is how i could compensate you." Rather, approach them by saying, "hey, i've heard amazing things about your work. i'm building this product, and i wanted to ask you whether you might be interested in lending your touch to it. here are the dates we're finishing x, y, and z by. If that timeline works for you, would you take on the challenge of making x, y and z the way only you know how?"

The latter approach offers your potential partner the opportunity to focus on themselves, to be motivated by the idea of their becoming famous for their work, and possibly turning that fame into fortune later on. But the former approach only offers the person the ability to perhaps earn good money for their work, with no personal pride implied, and leaving on their mind wandering thoughts of what other opportunities might offer more emotional satisfaction.
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