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Cancer, hardship, and the f*ckery of being a SaaS founder

This is a short write up from the talk that Patrick Campbell, CEO of ProfitWell (formerly Price Intelligently), the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, gave at SaaStock18. ProfitWell also provides free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over eight thousand companies.

Stepping away from typical for Patrick subjects, he touched on an issue you have probably never heard about before: the dilemmas and pitfalls of having part-time SaaS co-founders.

Some numbers for you – turns out the lifespan of startups with a part-time co-founder is less than 9 months. Patrick had not one but two co-founders and was the only founder working full time. His co-founders had full-time employment elsewhere.

This dynamic ended up causing extreme hardship for the business and his own well-being.

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Patrick Campbell, CEO of Profitwell, on the Scale Stage at SaaStock 2018.

Structural pain points:

  • The part-time founders were fully vested; Patrick was not.
  • The two part-time guys could essentially overrule him on any decision — even fire him! — despite the fact that Patrick was the only one full-time.

Morale pain points:

  • They were bootstrapping, and he basically felt like a solo founder.
  • He got paranoid that they might scheme against him or had ulterior motives.

Ultimately, the imbalance of work commitment among co-founders meant:

  • Misaligned expectations
  • Different incentives
  • Breeding ground for resentment
  • Distractions from the business!

What to do about it?

In hindsight, Patrick sees how this terrible situation forced his decisions into different directions:

  1. Say “fuck these guys!”
  2. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Follow what he calls the…
The Charitable Interpretation Principle
  • Assume that it’s misaligned expectations, not ill intent.
  • Assume naivety, not manipulation.
  • Instead of breaking it off, talk it out.
  • Handle it directly.
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Patrick suggests this framework to all SaaS founders, and all humans in general.

Patrick and his two co-founders began to talk through money, expectations, and how to grow. The conversations were difficult, rocky, and uncomfortable. The issues took four years to fix, but the gradual success of the business kept them committed to the solution process.

“Don’t put it off. Problems only get bigger.”

That, however, was not the only hard part of the last few years for Patrick

How cancer brought clarity

Next, Patrick turned to a personal experience that illuminated many parts of his life and his business. He had cancer twice while trying to get his company off the ground.

A cancer diagnosis at such a young age forced him to “face the ticking clock” long before most people ever have to. This brought about important existential questions and reflections, which he graciously shared with the crowd.

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In short?

“We waste a lot of time because we put up with bullshit.”

We avoid addressing things in our interpersonal relationships or in our business. Let’s stop doing that!

Patrick’s existential ruminations also produced one super pragmatic step for the business.

“Get proper documentation to transfer your role!”

7 out of 10 founders don’t have documentation of their role or how to run the company. If they disappeared, the business would suffer and potentially disappear, too.

Final thoughts from Patrick

If you take a hard look, there’s discord between what you say you want and what you are actually doing.

  • Know yourself and what you want.
  • You can’t be everything to all people.
  • You can choose your friends.
  • You can choose what you want.
  • Be what you want, but be honest about it.

Do you want hyper-growth, or financial security with some hobbies on the side? Both are GREAT, but you have to find the clarity on your own.

And once you do, embrace it.

You can see Patrick Campbell full talk, as well as 40 hours of actionable and tactical content we recorded at SaaStock18 by getting our On Demand pack.