The Value of a True Partnership

Michael Kelly • Mar 20, 2015

As a partner at DeveloperTown, I’ve worked directly and managed relationships with hundreds of clients. If you don’t know exactly what DeveloperTown does….our company is more than just a vendor—we seek partnership with those that we work with. In many cases, we want to have skin in the game in the form of an investment. But, even without venture, we strive to play a leadership role when it comes to technology and determining product-market-fit.

This idea of “partnering up” can get a little foggy. Many times, it’s been hard to define exactly how much of an advisor our client is expecting and/or looking for, and how much we are prepared to provide. When things are informal, there’s a chance for missed expectations. I hate mismanaged expectations. So, sometimes you have to formalize the relationship to make sure everyone is on the same page.

You need to make your expectations clear and express them in writing. This doesn’t always have to be a formal document… it can be as simple as an email stating: here’s what I think I can do as part of our existing relationship, and here’s what I think that means you (the entrepreneur) need to do. In other cases, it makes sense to draft up a formal document and make the relationship a formal advisor or board role. But what does it mean to be an advisor to an entrepreneur or a business? And what does it mean to be a board member? If you're the entrepreneur what should you expect? As with all things, there’s no “right” answer. It depends…

Here’s my story:

Back in my college days, I thought short-term (as most 20-somethings do). I was hired to crush targeted problems in your software, or fix issues with a team/process. I didn’t care about long term implications or where the company was trying to go. I wanted to get in, deliver a ridiculous amount of value (so you would hire me again), and get out before the honeymoon ended. The honeymoon always ends. I had a tremendous luxury of short-term focus.

After my partners and I started DeveloperTown, I’ve started to really see the value from shifting to a long-term focus. I’m no longer trying to solve a small bump in the road, or providing temporary pep-talks for teams. When I think about clients now, I think about a five to seven-year relationship. Sure, it’s more intense in the first two years, but they aren’t choosing me because they want to render an application screen in a browser—they can do that much for dirt cheap overseas.

They are choosing DeveloperTown (and me) because they feel like the partnership will yield a long-term determinant shift in their outcomes. They want a partner.

Someone to hold them accountable. Someone to tell them when they are making a mistake. Someone who can help guide them through decisions around open-source licensing, terms and conditions, cloud hosting, security audits, and long-term maintenance costs. Someone who is an expert and can tell them when to take a risk to build or leverage bleeding-edge super-cool technology.

They know we will be wrong sometimes, but they know as every year passes, we are getting better too. Most importantly, they know how much better off they are in the long run with DeveloperTown by their side.