My Startup Journey

Business Partner Difficulties and My First Failed Business

This post is originally from an email I wrote to a friend who was having a tough time with a business partnership where I talk about my first failed business.

Dear Business Friend,

What you’re telling me about your frustrations with your business partner makes me regret I didn’t tell you this story earlier.

I can’t say if your problem is just like mine, but I can tell you more about what my situation was like and how it played out. First, don’t beat yourself up over it. When you’re “in it” and invested in the business on multiple fronts, you have to be the optimist.

It sounds obvious now, but it’s all about people. With the key people (who we are talking about), they are the DNA of the business. They are the reason the business is where it is.  The key people are responsible for all the great things can be accomplished and for all the reasons it can fail.

The great and talented Roger

My key person (who we will call “Roger”) was creative and could “sell” and talk to people.  Roger knew his stuff and was a very personable guy, but when it came down to it, he had a lot of trouble with execution, planning, building, and managing the business as a cohesive repeatable system.  He struggled with personal productivity and motivation on the day to day execution. As much as I wanted him to, he did not have the traits of a disciplined operator.

Most of the time Roger thought everything was going great and all we needed was a few more big jobs and it would all be okay. The only hint to him that things weren’t right was when the bank account dried up, and we didn’t even have the parts to cover the order.  I found it troubling that he did not see the problems right in front of our face and it took me or the bank account to point it out to him.  In hindsight maybe it was easier for him to be optimistic and carry on to make it through the tough days.

It was so easy to get tied up in the “potential” of the business, and it was never a question of Roger’s capability. He did great work, was super creative with the cars.  No one questions that.  A phenomenal fabricator, truly an artist with a welder.  When we did deliver customers were always so happy.  Their cars were awesome, the workmanship flat out amazing. He could put on a show and pull all-nighters operating under the pressure that a customer would be there to pick up their car in the morning. Then he would pull the rabbit out of the hat, and the project would be a success.

BUT,  I think that also gave him a false sense of believing the hype.  The happy customer gave him an excuse that even when we delivered a month late on a promised date, all would be OK.  He had all the potential, but it would all come crashing down.

He wanted to change and be better.  I can’t tell you how many times he tried something new, it just always ended up the same without making any real progress.

What I was doing at the time

At the time, I handled accounting, website, online marketing, as well more financial backing then I care to admit.  I was not there day to day but went to the shop multiple days in the month while leaving my day job early.

This was supposed to be an investment and a little bit of assistance in the back of the house matters.  It turned into one of the most stressful times in my life where in hindsight this was a sinking ship that never had a chance.

I tried to be supportive of Roger.  Working with him to make project plans, ideas on how we could processes repeatable, and anything else I could think of aside from picking up a wrench. The situation was all just as stressful for him, but he couldn’t pull himself out of it.

You can talk all you want, but at the end of the day, it’s on them to shut up and color. You can only do so much.  I hung on way too long and how much stress, time, money I could have saved by cutting out earlier, is just too painful to think about.

How it ended

In the end, even if I was there day to day, I doubt I could have righted the ship, as the core business flaws of the person that could make or break the business would have been too much to overcome.

Fortunately for me, it ended as the market dried up in 2008.  It was obvious we had to throw in the towel and give it up.  The stress lived with me for at least a few more years, only now can I say I’ve honestly let it all go.

But funny enough, I don’t regret it.  I do wish it would have had a better outcome, but it has shaped me to who I am today.  It’s where I first learned Quickbooks and accounting; it’s where I quit an MBA program to work a business. It was pretty much my MBA program on fast-forward, where I learned one of the best lessons for myself.

In business, it’s always about the people.