Making Sure You Mesh, Partnership 101: Make Sure You Get Along, Turning a Friendship into a Partnership/Business
With mobile technology on the rise, new development companies like this week’s Blue Label Labs, have to work hard to make sure they can compete. The founders of this app lab made sure that they could work together well, instead of focusing on what talents and skills the other could bring to the partnership.
Who are the principals in your partnership and what is the name of your company?
My name is Bobby Gill and my partner’s name is Jordan Gurrieri. Our company is called Blue Label Labs and we’re an app development lab.
How did your partnership start?
Jordan and I met at Microsoft and had been good friends even after I left the company to attend business school. In the Spring of 2011, I finished school with a post-MBA plan to bootstrap Blue Label Labs as a mobile app development lab. At the time Jordan, who was still working at Microsoft, was looking to move from corporate life to a startup. The timing of my graduation and plans to start a business coincided nicely with Jordan’s desire to seek greener pastures. And, shortly after I graduated, I convinced Jordan to quit his job at Microsoft and join me full time in launching Blue Label Labs.
What are your respective roles and how do you share responsibilities?
Our roles are very complimentary to each other’s skill set. As the CEO, I set the strategic direction of the company while also playing the role of technical architect on our team. I make sure that all of our products are well designed from a technical aspect and set the direction for our app developers. Jordan is the COO and he takes care of the day-to-day operations of the business. This includes everything from accounting, legal and hiring, to managing the end-to-end sales pipeline of the business. Furthermore, Jordan serves as our lead designer setting the overall visual identity of every Blue Label Labs product while managing our creative design team.
To what do you attribute the strength of your partnership?
The strength of our partnership really comes down to the fact that we are both very good at different things. Jordan is an excellent visual designer with a great mind for taking a client’s idea for an app and creating beautiful visual experiences for the mobile phone, whereas I have a deep technical knowledge and experience in leading teams of engineers to deliver software. In other words, Jordan creates the visual look and feel for our products and I take care of making sure all of the technical plumbing behind the scenes fits nicely into the user interface.
What habits do you cultivate that support/strengthen your relationship?
We do a few things that help us run this business even though we live on different ends of the country. We continue to carve out around 50% of our efforts working together on Blue Label branded projects. From our Windows8Templates.com e-commerce business, to our own Dani’s List and Bahndr apps, we try to consistently have one personal project running in addition to our client services work. Working together on our own products, and continuously brainstorming new and creative mobile ideas amongst ourselves helps us deliver well thought out and original client apps.
We are big believers in using products like Office365 (for email and calendar sharing), Evernote (for note and idea sharing), Remember-the-Milk (for task management), Stride (for CRM) and Dropbox (to share company files) to help us stay in sync and know exactly what the other person is working on. These tools keep us organized and let us help support each other when it comes to pitching new client work, developing specifications and mockups and prioritizing bugs or other issues that come up when developing software.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as partners and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge we face in our partnership is the fact that we live on two different ends of the country. Jordan is in Seattle, while I am in New York. Initially, this was a big issue as the physical separation made it hard for us to learn to work together when we launched the business. Before we took any client work as Blue Label Labs, we needed to know how to work together and build apps while far removed from one another. To combat this challenge, the first year of Blue Label Labs was spent almost exclusively working on our own apps. Over the course of our first nine months, we learned to work together in app development by creating our app Bahndr. Through the trials and tribulations of getting our first iPhone app to market, we were able to develop the methodology and experience we now use to build other people’s apps. Building Bahndr taught us how to communicate and speak the same language when it came to building apps, something that has proved invaluable when we take on client projects.
What was the biggest disagreement you have had to resolve?
Our biggest disagreements generally revolve around how we think people will use and view our products. Beyond our skill sets, Jordan and I are also quite different when it comes to how we use technology. And our disagreements usually stem from these differences: I like to think the people who will use our apps are more prone to the Twitter-verse and sharing via any other social media channel (which at times can be satirical, humorous and occasionally inappropriate). Jordan, on the other hand, is more conservative and feels that our apps would have greater appeal to a wider audience if they weren’t treated like Twitter or Facebook. So we get into little spats on how we think our products should be designed and what type of content/user base we want to foster in the app. The benefit to these disagreements is that we tend to temper each other’s more extreme views and our final product tends to straddle both ends of spectrum.
What advice would you give to new partners?
Our advice to new partners would be that you need to trust each other. You can create all the legal frameworks you want to define your partnership, but at the end of the day if you can’t trust the other person to do what’s best for the company and the partnership, then it’s not going to work out. So when looking for a partner to launch a company with, I’d focus less on the specific qualifications the other person brings, and more on your ability to mesh and work together as a team. We were good friends long before we became business partners, and it’s that friendship upon which our business relationship is built.
Did you and your business partner work so well together that you decided to let your specific roles work themselves out naturally? Share your story or lessons learned in the comments or tweet me @furiouslymandy with the hashtag #committed.
This is part of a series of interviews with real business partners who open up about what makes their partnership tick. Do you have a partnership that is thriving? If you’re willing to share your story, fill out my questionnaire and I may feature you in a future column.