Ask Dr. Dana: Distance Learning

SAN FRANCISCO (01/04/2000) - Founding a Web company with partners is the same as getting married. You're entering a long-term relationship that will include the joys of victory and the agonies of defeat. Not all roles will fit all people. Many good-idea people are not effective executors. They lack a "whatever it takes" attitude and can't handle the pressures of 24-7 schedules and fundraising. The romanticism surrounding the Internet startup dream can quickly become a nightmare if you haven't chosen your mates wisely.

Before you start, define your roles up front and put them in writing. I always suggest that founders seek outside counsel to serve as an ongoing adviser or mediator. This person can be an investor, a consultant, a lawyer, a counselor, an accountant or just an objective friend of the company.

These roles can always be amended or altered later. As the company grows, keep the dialogue open. E-mail works in the heat of battle, but be sure to schedule regular sessions together. These will serve as a reality check on the partnership. If there is not open and honest communication, things can get quite complicated as others enter the company and you are all pulled in many directions.

In your situation - if one of the critical founding partners is in Australia or Bali while the other two do all the work - you need to understand what the attraction is "down under." If the partner is there to raise money from an Australian media baron or to develop a line of rare Balinese wall hangings for your e-commerce mission, I guess it's OK. On the other hand, unless they are the checkbook behind the opportunity or this is prearranged, sanctioned time away, it will be impossible to do the job necessary to grow an Internet company with absentee management. You may want to reconsider your partnership - divorce may be your only option.

(Dr. Dana Ardi heads up the Internet practice at TMP Worldwide in Los Angeles.

Dr. Dana answers questions about working in the Internet Economy. Got a question? E-mail askdrdana@thestandard.com.)

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