In this digital age, you can have friends, customers and even romantic entanglements over the Internet. But starting a business with someone you've never met, in a virtual environment-can that work?
Absolutely, says Eileen Parzek, owner of SOHO It Goes!, a marketing design firm for small businesses based in Albany, New York. "The Internet set us all free," she says. No longer bound by physical location, you can have a partner in New Zealand while you're in Idaho, like Dave Lakhani and Sean D'Souza. Lakhani, founder and President of Bold Approach, a business acceleration strategy firm in Boise, Idaho, wanted to start a speaking and seminar business. He hooked up with D'Souza in New Zealand, after D'Souza read about Lakhani's original company in a magazine.
"It's not that different from doing business with someone in the next state," says Lakhani. There are issues of trusting someone you've never met, of course. Lakhani notes it took a few months of telephone calls and e-mails to feel comfortable enough to enter the new venture with D'Souza. The product, the Brain Alchemy Master Class, has been available since August 2004 and they've already held the first seminar and reaped some profits. The two hope sales for the product's first year will reach about half a million dollars. A large part of the sales are expected to come from the Homestudy Version.
Though Lakhani and D'Souza met because of a print article, many people meet virtual partners in the online world-either in business networking groups or industry groups, says Parzek. And if entrepreneurs take care to communicate, check references and histories, spend lots of time talking online and over the phone before taking the plunge, and establish set duties in writing, virtual partnerships can be beneficial. "There is a limited amount of time when we can work on things jointly [in real time] because of the 18-hour time difference," says Lakhani, "but it gives us the benefit of being able to work on joint projects 24 hours a day."
Virtually conquering geography is another plus, and both entrepreneurs-who plan to meet in person for the first time at the end of the year-now have an immediate international foothold.