Saturday, April 30, 2011

Wouldn't it be great to meet a business partner online?

I have started a lot of different businesses. Most of them have failed, in the sense that they are no longer operating. The main lesson I have learned is that it is much better to start a business with a partner than to go it alone. Risk is shared, skills are shared, sweat equity is pooled and the end product is usually superior.

The trouble is finding a partner.

I don't know a good way to do it. It seems to be a friend-of-a-friend process, or who you went to school with thing, which is remarkably inefficient. It's a big world and everyone's circle of friends is relatively tiny.

It hit me one day when I was at lunch in Springfield with one of my clients, the Federation of Women Contractors. One of the women was talking about her son who had married a woman from Scotland. They were from the Chicago suburbs. I asked how they met, and she answered (you can predict): online. She said that on his profile he was very clear -- he was looking for a wife. Nothing else. And the woman who found who was looking for a husband with similar qualities that he had happened to be Scottish. And now he lives over there, happy as a clam.

Without an internet dating site, it would be essentially impossible to find a person with remarkably similar interests and goals over great distances without any shared friends. These dating sites are remarkably efficient market-making platforms for pairing up life partners. They make every other method of finding a spouse or a girlfriend seem ridiculously limiting and self-defeating. How do you meet a compatible stranger without a platform? Chance? Serendipity? Referrals?

That's when it hit me. There isn't an analogous platform for potential business partners to meet. There isn't a dating site for business partners. And there should be.

I would use it. In a heartbeat.

So, I'll create one. The trouble is, I need to use the product I'm trying to create in order to find the business partners (like a programmer and a marketer) I need to create the product. A bit of a Catch-22.

In the meantime, I'm working on the part that I can do: coming up with the filtering questions to get down to the most important qualities for potential business partners to know about each other. I've set up a surveymonkey site where my evolving questions are -- and I invite you to fill out the survey and 'join'

I've asked for advice from other entrepreneurs, and some people suggest I keep the idea to myself until I can line up funding, rercuit the people to run the company and then emerge as the first-mover to market. I've decided not to follow that path. Ideas are nice, but execution makes an organization work. So if someone else 'steals' this idea and actually executes it into a product and a viable business, good for them. An idea that never gets implemented ultimately isn't that valuable.

This product may fit best with LinkedIn (as there really isn't a great way to communicate with other people on LinkedIn) or, perhaps, the freelance sites like that list hundreds of thousands of freelancers available for hire. Networks become more valuable with more members, so adding onto an existing large network of potential business partners like programmers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, marketers and the like is probably easier than trying to create an entirely new network from scratch. The trick is finding the most useful way for strangers to match up as business partners by filtering down to the essential attributes about themselves that they are willing to share. Maybe there's an expert out there that already knows how to do this, but I suspect it's a trial-and-error proposition to come up with the right questions. I'd be interested in your feedback.

No comments: