Partners should join the venture based on their ability to participate in it. We are not looking for investor partners who will not be involved in the operation of the company and its projects (although if one should stumble in, we'd be glad to talk). The principals of MSL are devoting their full time to this venture, limited only by ongoing commitments to MSL customers and prior consulting arrangements. Potential partners must decide for themselves how much time they have to devote to MSP. The basic quantity you should try to calculate is hours per week. We need an ongoing, reliable commitment of time by all participants. Whether you work two hours per day or in one fourteen-hour mad gonzo session each Saturday does not matter. If you have a job, however, which may randomly require your full absorption for a week at a time and leave you with stretches of idle time at random, that employment is not compatible with MSP partnership. We must be able to quote schedules and meet them, and we must be able to coordinate work from several implementors into final products. I know from experience that this cannot be done unless reliable time commitments are made.
The basic time commitments that participation in MSP entails boil down to the following three categories. First, the basic time devoted to company work which can be scheduled as you see fit. The time you have available for this work is the factor that determines the extent of your participation in the company. Second, each partner should be available for telephone conversation at some time during business hours on a daily basis. This is required for coordination of projects, passing on bug reports, or response to customer questions. If you can be reached at work, say, in the afternoons, that's all that's required. At an absolute crisis maximum, this would represent 15 minutes per day. Normally, one call per week would suffice. This refers to calls between headquarters and partners only, of course. If you're collaborating with another partner on a project, that time would be counted in the first category. Third, each partner should budget the time to attend partnership review meetings. These meetings will initially be held monthly on a regular schedule so that you can plan around them. We will alternate meetings among the various geographic areas where partners reside. If MSP includes partners not in the San Francisco area, we will make cassette tapes of the meetings available to those partners and accept written project summaries from them. This is not an attractive option, and remote partners should plan to increase the time for telephone consultation as a result.
Remember, this industry is now at a point where virtually all our competitors are ongoing operations with full-time technical employees. We're going up against them with less capital, a distributed operation, and less personal and financial commitment from the majority of our participants. We may very well fail. If we succeed (and I wouldn't be getting into this unless the odds looked good to me) it will be because we know more about what we're doing than most of them technically (this I know for sure), because a partner always out-produces an employee, and because we have and will develop the contacts to aid us in product definition and marketing. But we're going to have to think lean and hungry for quite a while and target our products with precision. And most of all, we have to look, we have to be, a serious business venture, which we only marginally are. Most of the people who've succeeded in this game are those who sold their houses, quit their jobs, borrowed every penny they could scrape up, hired 5 or 10 people and hung their balls out over the abyss hoping their product would make it and bail them out. Making it while risking less is very very hard. I do not want to minimize this, but I want to point out that the risks in getting involved in MSP are probably less than any other serious business opportunity you're likely to find with anything like the potential return if it works.
I think we have a chance of making it with less than full-time commitments from partners only if their time commitments are utterly reliable. We're going to have to try to turn multiple part time people into the illusion of a full time staff so we can react to the market and bring out products as good as our competition and faster. That ain't easy. The people we're contacting as potential partners are the best computer people I know of in this country today, and are far better in both knowledge and productivity than the staff of most microcomputer software houses. That is what makes this possible at all.
Editor: John Walker