Agreements: Fuel for the Engine of Business

Note: This is an old post. I am now a CTO and no longer offer this service.

The first person I watched run a company was Bly, the owner of a computer sales and service shop in Athens, Georgia. She gave me, a painfully young and skinny townie kid, a steady job troubleshooting PCs. I hung around her store for a few shifts each week and watched her go about the business of business, which as the child of university folk I had never seen up close.

A moment that sticks with me happened on the day that she landed a contract to install a network of PCs for a dentist. She returned from the closing meeting with a spring in her step and a smile on her face. She'd landed a big fish and now the company would be strong for another couple of months. I understood for the first time that a business is an engine fueled by agreements between people. Until that moment, I thought that money alone kept her business from going under.

A few years ago, I made an agreement with a gifted designer to cofound a design and engineering company. We made a variety of agreements with startups around Seattle to create prototypes and V1s. We made a lot of fuel for business and I'm proud of our work. Last month I made an agreement to sell my half of the company to my cofounder.

So, starting today I'm offering a new kind of agreement that I call a "Freeze Dried Argument."

Startup CTOs often have two very smart people tell them to take divergent paths. Sometimes it's two excellent engineers, each promoting a different web stack. Sometimes their two best designers fight over whether to use Illustrator or Sketch. If the CTO had enough time, they would dig deep into each option to determine the health of its community, the strength of its technology, and the training cost of each choice.

No startup CTO has enough time.

What happens instead is the CTO takes a quick look for red flags and then hurriedly tells one employee that their recommendation is rejected. With the market for designers and engineers being what it is, the rejected employee often takes one of their many standing job offers from competitors and then the CTO has even less time because they're recruiting again.

Enter Freed Dried Arguments.

I use my 20+ years of experience with technology and startup people to smooth the way for an amicable decision. I do the work that the CTO doesn't have time to do: I create a comprehensive survey of the community health of each choice. I create a quality rating and guide to each choice's documentation. To further clarify, I provide example work implemented with both choices, complete with commentary comparing their worldview.

However, gathering the information and making the decision is actually the least important part of a Freeze Dried Argument.

After the CTO and I review the information, I make sure that everyone involved understands that the decision wasn't take lightly. I first meet with the engineer whose choice is not chosen so that they're not caught off guard in front of their peers. Finally, I run a group summary meeting with an information-rich report that explains the decision and what it brings to the business.

I've mentioned Freeze Dried Arguments to almost a dozen CTOs and each time they have looked a little stunned that such a service could exist. Then, they start asking questions about how quickly I can turn them around and how many I can do each month.

Freeze Dried Arguments seem like a good agreement, perhaps even one that Bly would appreciate.

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