In The First Day I told the story of leaving Creative Strategies and going out on my own to write books and, as it turned out, build my business planning and market consulting business. I was recently reminded of an offshoot of that story, valuable to me as a lesson in running a business right.
The lesson came from Larry Wells, who was the founder of Creative Strategies, president of Creative Strategies when this took place, and was later a venture capitalist in his own firm and then Citibank Venture Capital. I don’t know where he is these days. It’s been a long time, and I moved from Palo Alto to Eugene, but if you’re out there Larry, send me an email. I just Googled you and it didn’t work, there are many Larry Wellses out there, none seem to be the one who started Creative Strategies.
Larry and I remained friends during and after my exit from Creative Strategies. He kept me on retainer for more than a year, passed some business over to me, and made sure I got all of my accumulated vacation pay. I stayed on an extra nine months longer than I wanted, because my original exit date was awkward. Larry was trying to buy back the company from Business International and wanted me to remain until after the deal was done.
There was, however, one thing he wouldn’t do: help me build a business to compete against him. That’s exactly what he said when I asked him to cosponsor a newsletter that became Infotext: the Strategy Letter (and died many years ago).
“Sorry Tim, that would be helping you to build a name to compete against us. I never do that. That’s always bad business.” Larry looked me straight in the eye and answered as simply and clearly as possible. I got it.
It’s a good lesson. Don’t build the competition. Even if you’re friends, or allies, you have to be able to look into the future and see where that leads.