Who Comprises the “Team” for a Startup?

I first met iotum CEO Alec Saunders as a competitor in the Canadian PC software market back in 1994. I was Canadian Country Manager for Quarterdeck whose QEMM-386 memory manager had been the tops-selling utility for DOS-based PC’s; Alec was Microsoft’s Canada’s Product Manager for DOS where they were introducing some memory management techniques into DOS 5 and DOS 6. (All to deal with the violation of the Bill Gates’-attributed memory maximum statement “640K is more memory than anyone will ever need.”)

But Quarterdeck’s development team kept coming up with ingenious ways to move drivers and other small utility programs outside the “640K” limit. QEMM-386 allowed users to, say, connect to networks while running multiple programs in this memory constrained environment using Quarterdeck’s DESQview. With the introduction of DOS 5 in 1991 and DOS 6 in 1993, QEMM-386 sales actually increased as awareness of memory management as a resource issue increased. Of course the introduction of Window 95 in August 1995 killed the need for a memory management utility altogether. But the point here is that Alec and I participated in a competitive environment that was actually mutually beneficial to us both; thus defining “co-opetition”.

We both moved on – Alec to Microsoft headquarters to become the original Internet Explorer Product Manager, myself to Los Angeles to work with a restructuring team at Quarterdeck. We would meet at conventions (usually Comdex) and occasionally exchange emails and phone calls for whatever business reasons. Alec returned to Ottawa in 2001 to take up product management and marketing positions with a couple of startups.

In April, 2004 I received a phone call from Howard Thaw, another acquaintance from my days involved with distribution of PC hardware and software in Canada, asking me to have a coffee with him during one of my trips to Ottawa on another project. He presented me with documents supporting his and Alec’s proposal to start up a new venture involving “applications that take advantage of the opportunities opened up by the emerging IP-based communications space”. The philosophy behind this goal is summed up in Alec’s Voice 2.0 Manifesto, pointing out that the value-add going forward in the communications space will be the applications.

After several iterations and developing some unique software, as well as winning a DEMO God award in 2006 iotum launched in the fall 2o07, initially as a Facebook application, Free Conference Call, a multi-party conference calling service which evolved over time into supporting the complete conference call process; the outcome then relaunched as CalliFlower in June, 2008. Through all this time I have also been privy to many of the financing trials and tribulations Alec and Howard have encountered as a startup.

Fast forward to the fall of 2008. iotum had decided there was an business opportunity in making an iPhone application for participants in CalliFlower conference calls.

Update, April 22, 2009: The posts previously linked here related to an issue that has subsequently been resolved satisfactorily with the developer who was the subject of the posts; the posts have been removed. However, I leave the remaining content in this post as it does make a point about how any outsourced service or outside contractor needs to be viewed as a team member even though they don’t have full “employee” status.

However, Alec sums up the situation very succinctly in the third post:

The lesson to be learned here is pretty simple.  When you bring a contractor into your organization you’re adding that person, albeit temporarily, to your team.  You expect to be able to work with them, through good and bad. To do that demands a certain generosity of spirit from all members of the team.

All across America, businesses are waking up to the reality that in this economic environment, team work is the key to getting through this crisis.  Whether it’s GM and their unions, the banks and their mortgagees, or the tech start-ups in Silicon Valley, businesses are learning that accommodation, flexibility, and sacrifice, not egos, are the formula for success.

When [a contract developer] failed on his first deliverable as part of our team, we simply worked through it with him.  But when we asked him to return the favour, he refused.   That’s why, in my opinion, he [was] not [at the time] much of a team player.

And that’s the reason I couldn’t [at the time] recommend [developer name] to my friend.

We had a similar experience at Quarterdeck when developing a Voice Over IP application called WebTalk in 1995. We needed additional resources beyond our internal development team, including a developer company to develop the codecs. Part way through the project, they tried an “extortionist” play. They quickly learned that, if you take on a development contract, it’s not about just delivering code; it’s also about demonstrating that you have the business smarts to realize that, even when you’re not an employee, you – as a contracted developer – better be prepared to play as a member of the team contracting your development expertise. And, as a team member, you work through the problems, including the financial issues, with from the perspective of being a team member.

There are many opportunities arising for developers in today’s communications markets, not only in the smartphone app store space (Apple, BlackBerry,etc.) but also with other platforms such as Skype and WordPress. If you’re a contract developer with this expertise, ensure you are comfortable, not only with the thrill of technical development but also the ride of working with startups who may be otherwise resource challenged, including financially – especially in today’s economic environment. You never know when your co-operation may result in having been a participant in that breakthrough “brass ring” opportunity.

In my thirteen years of running a consulting business, my clients have occasionally been challenged financially. Yet, in all circumstances, they brought their issues to me, we worked out a payment or compensation plan and I eventually was paid. (Some careers died in the process where a management change was involved.) But without that flexibility, I would never have received in one case, about two years later, funds that I needed to help my oldest son complete his medical degree at Stanford.

In today’s environment, rife with both opportunities yet significant economic challenges and barriers, it’s about building relationships for the long term, not burning bridges for short term gain.

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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