Michael Conner

COMPANY: MCICK2 Inc. is an Internet and network solutions provider in Fresno, California.

BLUNDER: not doing his homework on the people he went into business with

Michael Conner,34, was just a mild-mannered Web architect when he went to work for a new software development company shortly before his 30th birthday. "They went on a big spending spree," says Conner of his employers. "They were spending their IPO money, and after about a year, it started drying up. My crew and I weren't getting our paychecks."

Conner quit before he couldn't afford to work there any longer. Wishing he'd known something about these employers before he had started working there, Conner then partnered up with two businessmen, and in 1996, the three of them formed a company called MCIC. And guess what happened? Conner didn't know enough about his partners. They didn't have the well of money that they had indicated they had; they didn't have a deep desire to work; and because he had given each partner 25 percent of the company while he had kept 50 percent, when the two men disagreed with Conner, they were often left at a standstill.

On top of it all, "It was my first year of marriage," recalls Conner, "and we had just found out, when I was starting the company, that we were having a baby." He eventually bought out his partners and built his company into a powerhouse, which recently merged with K2 Microsystems, forming MCICK2. The company now makes several million a year, has 18 people on staff, and creates and/or improves entire e-businesses.

Conner's advice? He now pre-interviews his employees and partners. Before you snort "Big whoop," realize that Conner's pre-interviews are FBI- and Pentagon-worthy. We'll let him explain:

  • "Always ask for things that you'd be willing to give-financial records, for instance, because they're going to want a salary of some sort that you'll need to pay them. Have them show you why they deserve this salary."
  • "Get personal references. Check out their portfolios. I have a partner who is into Web development, and I looked at that. I talked to the clients he serviced-he has a wonderful reputation; I talked to his parents; I talked to his family and friends; I talked to his girlfriend."
  • "I have a partner to whom I said, 'Tell me your life story.' He said, 'I've been through a divorce.' " And so I asked, "Well, what's your ex-wife's name? What kind of relationship do you have?" And he replied, 'Not a bad relationship.' And I talked to her." Turns out, it was family problems, not a major character flaw, that led to the divorce. This check verified him as an OK guy.

Isn't all this a bit extreme? Not to Conner. "When you're talking about going into business with someone, you've gotta realize there is nothing too personal you can ask-because you aredealing with a company that feeds my children," Conner explains. "You better believe I'm going to be focused like an eagle on you."

After all, why do you go into business? "You see a future," Conner concludes. "You'd better take that future seriously. If I knew then what I know now, it would be a totally different story. I like where I am now, but at the same time, I know that I would be much further along if I would have done my homework on all these people."

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the August 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Gotcha!.

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