How To Find Your Perfect Business Partner, Even If They're 6,472 Miles Away

Love, like startups, knows no bounds. Let these innovative long-distance hookups inspire you to find the best people to work with. Wherever they are.

Josh Parkinson had a problem.

As an entrepreneur who spent a number of years working in Europe, he’d just decamped to San Francisco with a head full of ideas but not many personal connections. In addition to designing custom Facebook pages for clients, Parkinson had the itch to create apps. He just didn’t have the expertise to code.

Plenty of startups are backed by investors, sight unseen. That’s the driver behind networking sites such as AngelList, where some intrepid investors rely on their intuition to guide their decisions rather than traditional face-to-face pitches. But how to find a trusted developer (and potential business partner) in a metro area stuffed full of tech geeks and fast-talking founders?

“I didn’t know about Meetup.com,” Parkinson confesses, “But I just arrived two months before and going out and networking felt overwhelming.” Not to mention that bootstrapping necessarily included having the dough to bankroll the six figure salary common to the area. “I just had the prospect of something cool happening,” he tells Fast Company.

Turning to hiring sites like oDesk and Elance didn’t help. “I had a couple of developers tell me what I wanted to hear,” he explains. These freelance professionals would create a facade for the app with no real back end and drag the process out for weeks, he recalls. “It was a real pain in the ass.”

Start A Social Network Of Two

So Parkinson turned to a different corner of the web, this time to find someone who’d developed a similar app and see if they’d be willing to partner up. He found Slav Ivanov, founder of Socially Apps and hit him up on Facebook with a message explaining his request.

No matter that Ivanov was based in Sofia, Bulgaria rather than San Francisco, says Parkinson. After a quick exchange, the two hopped on Skype. “I couldn’t say there was any immediate chemistry between us,” Parkinson says. The real test, he maintains, was connecting on Facebook (which they did immediately). Parkinson says he looked through all Ivanov’s posts and photos of him and and his family, something he didn’t have access to with any of the contractors on Elance. “I could see he what he was about, he was a real, actual dude,” Parkinson says.

Respond To The Gut Call

Some founders rely on their gut instincts after a phone call. Jim Eberlin, founder of Gainsight, a customer management platform, is content to keep his office in St. Louis, while the company is based in Mountain View and has another location in Hyderabad, India. There are a number of people on Gainsight’s team who have yet to meet face-to-face, so they use technology to collaborate and stay connected.

As a well-connected serial entrepreneur in both St. Louis and Silicon Valley, Eberlin could have drawn from a big pool of potential candidates when he got set to hire a marketing director. Yet he agreed to give Anthony Kennada, an early employee at Box, a shot based on a recommendation by Gainsight’s CEO Nick Mehta. Rather than foot the bill to fly Kennada to St. Louis, Eberlin figured he’d let Kennada give his spiel on the phone and see where it went.

As the two alternately recount that phone interview, it sounds like a couple remembering their first date. Though he’d come with a ringing endorsement, Eberlin underscores, “You want a lot of [skills].” For his part, Kennada was suitably nervous and didn’t want to let Mehta down. So he sketched out a branding plan (which he uploaded to Box as well as printed and bound) to share in advance. During the call he referred to it to illustrate where he could take the company if hired--all the while hitting the mute button on his phone every time a car zoomed by the Starbucks he’d installed himself in to do the interview.

Eberlin admits there are some disadvantages to being on the phone, like missing visual cues. Still he says, Kennada “did more than a phone call, he had content, he handled himself really well.” Kennada sighs audibly at this point, even though Eberlin recalls telling the executive team to make the offer right away.

The two didn’t actually meet until a month after Kennada was hired. “It all worked out,” Eberlin maintains. “I wasn’t sure until recently, but he’s the real deal.”

Hangout Together

Sometimes hiring needs to extend beyond what personal and professional networks can serve up. LiveWatch, an American home security company, hires people in one office for positions that report to others in different locations. LiveWatch Security CEO Brad Morehead looks on the bright side. “This enables us to hire the best person no matter where they are located or want to live,” he explains.

Rather than rely on phone calls, Morehead says hiring managers use Google Hangouts. “It's free, which means more cost savings for us to pass along to our customers, and is fairly easy to use across many devices (PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, etc.) and locations,” he says. 

Beyond being able to see applicants’ body language, conducting the interview on Hangouts gives the manager a good look at how adept they are at using technology--a huge part of what LiveWatch does in the home security industry. To stay connected with staff, Morehead and company communicate using daily video huddles and throughout the day via phone or instant messaging, he says.

As for Josh Parkinson and Slav Ivanov, it turned out to be a match made in heaven, er, Facebook. The two soon launched Post Planner, a scheduling and content curation app for businesses on Facebook. Since 2011, the app has published over 20 million posts and continues to grow along with their relationship, both business and personal. Ivanov is now a minority equity owner in the startup and is “omnipresent” despite the 10-hour time difference. They still haven’t met, but Parkinson is quick to say that part of the reason the relationship works because he pays Ivanov on time and is quick to show respect and gratitude for his partner’s integrity.

“I cant wait until Slav and I can go out and have a beer together,” says Parkinson. “I want to make him a millionaire.”

[Puzzle: Mazzzur via Shutterstock]

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24 Comments

  • Vladyslav Solodovnyk

    Let's see how soon distributed work success cases like these will make immigration issue a moot point: who needs to immigrate, leave family and friends physically behind when work can be done anywhere?

  • Social Media "Expert"

    I was just beginning to enjoy your meaningless replies. You all are definitely a bunch of social media "experts." I have lots to learn. Yeah, right

  • Ravi Shukle

    Great
    post Lydia, particularly enjoyed Josh & Slavs story. It's often in times of
    uncertainty that we find ourselves coming out of our shells and taking those
    bigger risks. It’s the reason I got into social media in the first place as I enjoy
    building those relationships and connecting with like-minded individuals online
    as you never know where the road may take you. Having used Post Planner for a
    while now it’s great to not only hear the back story but the vision and people
    behind the idea. Use the tool on a daily basis and couldn't recommend it more
    wish both Josh & Slav all the best and let’s hope they get to meet real
    soon. 

  • JAMES COLE

    I haven't used Post planner, but have a lot of experience working with international teams. It takes a lot of dedication, both to the product and the relationship, and that is with an existing business infrastructure already in place. To do it successfully through the more nascent build out phase like you guys have is impressive. A great article.

  • Danielle Lum

    Post Planner has been a lifesaver and timesaver for me. The app is very easy to use (very intuitive) and no one really knows I'm using an app to schedule posts. They think I'm on FB 24/7, which is a good thing when you're trying to build communities (and loyalty) around your brand. I recently upgraded to their guru level and find that the extras included are well worth the price of admission. Life is just easier with Post Planner. 

    The biggest plus is that Joshua and Scott are such personable guys and it is just a lot of fun working with them. Now to read the story about how they got together makes it even more interesting. 

  • Lilach Bullock

    Awesome to read your success story.  As a regular user (and huge fan!) of PostPlanner it's great to see how you guys got to where you are now.  Keep up the awesome work :)

  • Kim Sharabura

    What a great story!  We've been using PostPlanner since February and can't say enough good things about it.  I've been even more impressed by the quick response time to any questions which is very impressive.  Responses have been so fast, I thought Josh was the developer.  Great app and partnership, guys!

  • Sam R. Shah

    Post Planner is a rocking app. I didn't believe it at first after trying other tools like Hootsuite which make scheduling easier. Post Planner takes managing your Facebook page to a whole new level with their content suggestions. It saves our firm hours per week. We also noticed how quickly we started getting comments, likes, and shares after using their status ideas - something we were struggling with. I'm really happy to see I picked a winner and that there's a great story behind the team too! Rock on guys...

  • Ian Cleary

    That's a great success story.  I use Postplanner on the daily basis and it's a great app so obviously the partnership is working really well together!  

  • Erin Monigold

    I love this article! I've been happily using Post Planner for over two years now. It makes my life of managing many client Facebook Pages so much easier. The team at Post Planner is so helpful and very quick to reply when I have inquiries. Many thanks for the spotlight on Josh and Slav!

  • Scott Ayres

    Yeah really cool story. I had no idea before coming on board with the guys that they were literally worlds apart.. But it works. Even my relationship with Josh is distant with him being in San Fran and me in Texas. But it works!

  • Kiran Timsina

    Definitely a time-saver, and ultimately a life-saver! 

    Apart from being a "Post Planner", it has lot more to be applauded. The fast evolving content engine, and "Status Idea" feature makes life a lot less painful for any Social Media Marketer.

    And Finally, the team behind Post Planner is an absolute pleasure to interact with. 

  • Joshua Parkinson

    Great article, Lydia!... thanks so much for telling our story!  Slav, myself and the whole Post Planner community appreciate it!