Rob Carpenter | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Rob Carpenter

Background:  

AppIt Ventures is a custom mobile app development company based in Denver. Founded in 2012, AppIt Ventures builds iPhone and Android apps, as well as virtual reality and augmented reality software.

The Mistake:

The challenge was that my business partner and I both had such strong personalities and ideas about how the company should be run. When we weren’t agreeing on things, the company came to a standstill. It was incredibly difficult to move forward with decisions. Sometimes they were big company-wide strategic decisions. Sometimes it was small stuff like how we should be spending our time.

We met through the University of Colorado – Denver business program and we founded the company in January 2012. This was a really engaging and driven person. Our personalities matched up really well, and when we were moving in the same direction, we were unstoppable.

We won CU Denver’s business plan competition in 2012. Then the city of Denver hosted a business plan competition that fall. Almost 200 companies applied, and we won that competition too.

Winning those two competitions got us a tremendous amount of momentum and notoriety. To some degree, we got really lucky too. It got us moving forward.

When you start a business with someone, it’s kind of like a professional marriage. You spend maybe 15 hours per day together during the high-growth phase and you are potentially both liable on credit cards and loans.

I think a lot of people just dive into these relationships without thinking about how to handle them in the long-term.

Our struggle ended in March of 2013 when my partner left the company. I bought him out of the business and I’ve been running it alone since then.

When you start a business with someone, it’s kind of like a professional marriage.

The Lesson:

Be cautious about partnerships.

It’s not that anyone is bad or wrong, it’s just that being co-founders is a really personal, deep relationship. I think it’s probably pretty rare to find two, three people who are all perfectly aligned and working toward the same things.

I’ve seen a lot of co-founders go through similar situations to mine.

What made our business divorce more palatable was that we were pretty good about contracts up front. We had a solid foundation from which to work upon that helped us separate everything out. That made it fairly amicable.

We got lucky in having that contractual foundation, and I’ve made sure that’s a bedrock of our company going forward.

It reminds me of some other advice we got early on that we didn’t heed. Someone told us to make ownership uneven, to give someone a majority share. We were both strong-willed and ambitious, so we didn’t do that, but it would have made it easier when my partner left.

I haven’t done any other businesses with a 50-50 partnership since then. It makes things easier.

AppIt Ventures is on Twitter at @AppIt_Ventures.

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