The challenge of startup partnerships

Yesterday, I said I don’t like blogging about the “transactions” of magazines. That declaration, of course, leads to one of the rules of blogging I’ve discovered during the past six or so years: Whenever you say you don’t blog about a certain topic, you’ll spend the next month blogging about that topic.

Longtime readers of this weblog know that for over two years, I’ve been over-the-top with my praise of the concept of JPG Magazine. On so many levels, the magazine and the people behind it have provided those of us who are firmly rooted in both the magazine/print and online/community worlds with a glimpse into how the two do not compete, but, rather, compliment one-another. I rarely speak publicly on the topic of the future of magazines without using JPG as an example of one-or-another lesson.

As I often speak and write about small business and entrepreneurship, I am sad to learn that they now are providing an example of some of the harsh realities of that topic, as well. They have discovered that when a shared passion becomes a business, the dynamics of the relationships among those involved can alter greatly — and lead to trainwrecks.

In some heartfelt posts today, Derek Powazek and his wife and co-founder, Heather Powazek Champ, talk about their departure from the company they helped to create. I’ve heard many stories like these. I’ve even participated in a couple.

Jason Calacanis (as quoted by Dave Winer) once said, “If a deal is worth doing, it’s worth documenting with a good agreement. If it’s not worth that, then don’t bother.” Last August, I found myself with Jason and Dave in an impromptu conversation with a young web entrepreneur who was going through a high profile start-up business divorce. Despite not always taking the advice myself, we were pretty unanimous in our advice for the young entrepreneur to move on: that the controversy and strife of a business relationship breaking up was merely a temporary setback — that the opportunity ahead was too grand to be absorbed with the failure of a single transaction or attempt — it is inevitable that conflicts will occur when strong-willed, ego-driven human beings are involved. (Again, I only wish I would follow such sage advice that I freely extend to others.)

Other than as a fan, I have no personal knowledge of the business of JPG magazine or 8020 Publishing, the company it spawned. I do not know personally its founders or investors. I do know this: they are pioneers. Their work will lead to many great things. Whether or not it is with that specific company and that specific magazine, I have no idea. But I can say this with some degree of certainty: They all have a great deal of opportunity ahead of them. The quicker they move through the current crap, the better off they’ll all be.

As for those of you starting businesses with partners, remember the Jason (and many others) rule: If it’s a deal worth doing, it’s worth documenting with a good agreement.

Update: On Techmeme, there are many posts that focus on who is right and wrong. I’m not suggesting in this post that the parties are not correct in airing their differences or pursuing whatever course they desire to settle their differences. My focus, rather, is on a universal lesson — not my personal opinion of, as we’d say down south, “who shot John.”

Later: CEO Paul Cloutier posts a polite but oblique announcement on the 8020 weblog. Excerpt: “Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t come to an agreement and parted ways though Derek remains a shareholder in 8020 Publishing. We recognize Derek’s contributions to JPG Magazine, past and present, and wish him well in his future endeavors.”