The Horrible Story Of Jack And Bob

or, What It Means To Be a Partner…

Many service-based companies, and all of those I work with, get a large amount of their business from referrals. If you don’t have a formal referral partner program in place, consider this your wakeup call. Create one, right now.

Being a partner means more than simply referring business, or having business referred or sub-contracted to you. It means caring about your partner’s clients as much as you care about your own. It means adding them to your CRM system, and performing the same detailed research, profiling, surveying and relationship building you do with your clients. And it means doing all of this on behalf of your partner, helping them grow their business as much as it can yours.

This one simple mindset shift can make a world of difference for the strength of your partnerships.

If you aren’t interested in helping someone else’s business, don’t take on partners. Being a partner is a great responsibility. The level of service you provide directly reflects them. It can have a positive or negative impact on their business.

The reverse is also true. Take on partners wisely. Always get references. Always have a first, low-impact project to test the relationship out. My wife told me a long time ago that the true nature of someone will reveal itself within 3 months. This has turned out to be a law of nature. Unless the person is a sociopath or psychopath (and they are out there), they can’t maintain a facade for much longer, especially in high-communication environments.

One such event happened to me many years ago. It’s something I will never forget…

The Horrible Story Of Jack And Bob

When I had my web development business in Orlando, FL, I partnered up with someone from the local developer community. Let’s call him Jack. Jack helped me land a new client, and the contract was put under my company. Jack brought on another budding Rails developer, we’ll call him Bob, and the two of them got to work.

Fast forward a few months and we were well into the project. Things were going well.

My company had gained quite a bit of notoriety, and a blog post from Bob got really popular. Soon after I was approached by a large development firm on the West Coast to buy my business. What they wanted was talent. I approached Jack and Bob with the deal. At first they were interested and wanted to hear the plan. Then something, I don’t know what, happened – they pulled out.

I was still considering selling and helping the West Coast firm set up a local office and recruit more talent. Then something I never thought would happen, did.

I got an excited call from my client saying that Jack had called them, saying that I was selling the business, and they might be left in the lurch. However, they had been told by Jack not to worry as Jack and Bob would continue working on the project no matter what.

I was hurt, and seriously pissed. Not only had Jack done something unethical – going to my client behind my back, without all the facts – but he hadn’t even given me a chance to do the right thing. Now let me assure you that there was no way I was going to leave this client in the lurch. In fact, what neither Jack nor Bob knew was that in my negotiations with the other firm, I had stipulated that they were to get the contract. Before I could tell them this they went to the client.

Needless to say my relationship with both Jack and Bob was ruined. However I think I spent more time thinking about the situation then they did, which tells me something about the extremely low quality of their character.

I also didn’t sell my business. I went on to grow it to 9 employees with $500K+ yearly revenues over the next year, and hold a regional Ruby on Rails conference two years in a row. To his credit, Jack built a large Rails firm that is still in existence today, though he and Bob no longer work together and haven’t for years.

The Lesson & My Advice

The lesson I learned in that incident is to choose my partners much more carefully, and not do too much with them in the beginning. Having said that, it’s hard to fully know someone until you work with them. If you do find yourself in a situation similar to mine, where a relationship is breaking down and all trust is lost, cut ties, recover what you can, cut your losses, and move on.

So remember, if you are going to be a partner, or are taking on partners (referral or otherwise), choose carefully. Get references, start out small, and move on from there. And always, always be sure to have a contract in place. Trust, but have them sign a contract.


  1. It’s okay for business partners to be different as long as each of them shares the same vision.

  2. Hi Robert,
    That’s so true, find a business partner is not an easy one. Excited to launch a new business, you have to think about future, about values and vision. If you dont share these elements it could be hard to keep a trusted partnership. I had one business with a very good friend of mine, sharing the same values, but the vision was finally different, a partner agreement was written down since the beginning and helped to split.

    •  @sbusso great point about having the partner agreement. Writing down clear expectations from the relationship can help, especially when you don’t know the person. Some recent events have shown me that it’s as important with friends to write things down too. When it comes to business, friendships sometimes play second fiddle.

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