There’s a well-known formula for startup co-founder partnerships: one person is the technical muscle, while the other is the business lead. By joining forces, they complement each other’s strengths and skill sets: yin and yang. They’re opposites coming together to make the world a better place.
But opposites don’t always attract. Quoter co-founders Mike Walsh and Mike Polga (“Walsh” and “Polga” to the Quoter team and each other) met in an undergraduate computer science class at the University of Calgary. They shared a love for hockey and became fast friends. They both wanted to build software, so after graduating in 2007, they moved to Vancouver to start a development agency (full of “naive optimism,” as Walsh says). For their entire professional careers, Polga and Walsh have worked together for themselves.
There have been challenges: small businesses and startups come with growing pains. COVID-19 ruptured B2B sales and forced a shift to remote work. Life outside work happens, too. Since moving to Vancouver, Polga and Walsh have met their partners and had children, and in 2020, Walsh moved back to his hometown of Kelowna.
And yet 16 years later, they’re still best friends, “like brothers,” Walsh says. Their shared language in software development has become their secret sauce.
“Our technical background gives us a core foundation in how we think and how we look at the world,” Polga says.
It’s not your typical co-founder story. But if you’re wondering how to build a healthy, lasting co-founder relationship, you won’t want to miss this.
“It’s not unlike trying to find a life partner.”
– Mike Walsh
People looking for a startup co-founder usually seek overlapping or complementary skills. A developer might find someone with business savvy to help take a concept to market, for example. Walsh thinks it’s a bit simpler than that.
“It’s more important that you have personalities that align well,” he says. There’s a chemistry element to it that reminds Walsh of how one might approach deciding whom to marry. You choose your life partner because of how that person makes you feel. You get along; you understand each other. It’s not about skills.
“Polga and I went to the same university, took the same classes, started the company together at a young age, and have many of the same skills,” Walsh says. “We have things that we gravitate towards, but first and foremost, we have personalities that mesh well together.”
“The core competency overlap is great for running a software company.”
As co-founders, Polga and Walsh know that on an operational level, they must divide and conquer. They’ve figured out each other’s strengths over the years and played to those. They describe it as one being the offence (Walsh) and the other being the defence (Polga).
“Polga oversees Partner Success; he’s great at that side of the business,” Walsh says. “He also manages the technical side, but I’m also very technical, so I manage architecture and future vision for the platform.”
And while they have their areas to oversee within Quoter, the product itself, a proposal and quoting software, is the bedrock that unites them. Walsh and Polga and Senior Product Manager Ash Welsh run the product group.
“I wouldn’t say [having two technical founders] is required for running a SaaS company, but I think it helps,” Polga says.
“The way we think is very conducive to running a software company. We’re both tinkerers; we’re always looking for efficiency and trying to drive processes and get the most out of our resources, so we look at the overall direction of the company in a very similar way.”
We believe in the vision and what we’re trying to accomplish more than feeling important.-Mike Walsh, CEO & Fo-founder
Walsh and Polga are driven by their vision for Quoter, not ego. A clear, shared direction helps them resolve conflict, make decisions, and move forward.
“We have a vision for what we’re trying to build, which is an end-to-end quote-to-cash platform that helps IT service providers grow their business and solve some of the problems we see in the industry,” Walsh says.
In this spirit, appointing a CEO and CTO was easy. Polga had been building the Quoter product (then called Socket) full-time since 2017, while Walsh managed IT Glue, a long-term contract under their development agency, Deversus. When Walsh came over to Quoter full-time in 2019, he focused on growing the company while Polga continued to build the product. As Quoter grew, the need for titles emerged, and Walsh as CEO and Polga as CTO fell into place.
Their vision for Quoter also helps them realign when a conflict in decision-making arises. Ultimately, they both want the same outcome for Quoter, and it’s helpful to be reminded of it.
“It’s a good way to take a step back and look at the forest beyond the trees and identify, we both have the same mission here, so let’s find a solution that we’re both happy with,” Walsh says.
Even if one of them walks away, not completely satisfied with the decision, they both agree to commit to action.
“I got this from Jeff Bezos,” Polga says. “He’ll get into a room with a bunch of different people, and often they’re subject matter experts, and he might disagree with a decision that they’re making, and he’s able to voice that disagreement, but he’s going to commit.”
In a fast-paced startup environment, many decisions are made on the fly. Getting tangled up in ego-fueled disagreements slows growth and hinders mutual respect. Successful co-founders make decisions, don’t get too emotionally attached, and don’t get spiteful over undesirable outcomes.
“Polga would never say, I told you so, to me, and vice versa. We’ll make decisions and support it one way or another, and we won’t hold it against each other if it doesn’t work out,” says Walsh.
“I’m a huge believer that conflict strengthens relationships.”
– Mike Polga
It’s hard to imagine two guys who had lunch together every day before COVID-19 lockdowns having conflict. But in running a business, “it’s inevitable,” says Polga. “You can’t avoid it.”
For Polga, conflict is where growth happens.
“You don’t know someone until you’ve gone through conflict with them, whether it’s a business partner or a customer, a life partner, a friend, or whatever. When things get tough, and you’ve got to deal with struggles, you see what people are really made of,” he says.
By reframing conflicts as “building blocks to strengthening the relationship,” co-founders can deepen their understanding of each other and build resilience and trust.
“Go towards the conflict and work it out,” he says. “That’s the next step.”
“Every problem is solvable if you work together as a group.”
There’s no question Walsh and Polga have a lot in common. Their shared technical background is arguably the secret to their longevity and success as co-founders. And it continues to work for them as they grow Quoter because they value team members with skills in areas outside their own.
“We’re getting to that size where we have people who are focused on particular jobs, and they’re very good at those jobs which previously Walsh and I were doing,” Polga says. With more team members in place, Walsh and Polga can focus on what they do best.
Getting to where they are now, with a team of thirty that has helped them reach nearly 1500 Quoter partners, was hard won. Putting the right team together was “one of the biggest things I underestimated in the difficulty of building a business,” Walsh says. It took a year and a half to assemble the team they have today. It was worth it.
“We have a phenomenal team, so I’m excited about that,” says Walsh.
Together, they’re seeing their vision for Quoter come to life.
“It’s incredibly gratifying when we go to events and meet somebody who walks up to your booth and says, Hey, we use your software, we love it, keep up the good work,” Walsh says. “In this digital world we live in, there aren’t a lot of face-to-face interactions, so building a community of people who are trying to grow their business using Quoter excites me.”
For Polga, the excitement is mutual.
“We’re right on the precipice of great, great things, and we’ve got some new product lines coming down the pipe,” he says. “It’s going to be an exciting year and future.”
Get to know more of the team at Quoter
- Quoter’s Partner Success Specialist Shares Her Tips For Fast & Easy Onboarding
- How Quoter’s Senior Product Manager Decides What Features To Build Next
- Advice For MSPs From Quoter’s Sales Manager Jan Karlo Manuel
- How To Bring Humanness Back Into Your Quote-To-Cash Process, With Tips From Quoter Account Executive Foster Fong
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