Are You a Sower or a Reaper?

Are You a Sower or a Reaper? post image

Because it’s so easy to cut a crappy partnership deal, I have often quipped that “a partnership is a sinking ship.” An arrangement to be avoided if possible, and if undertaken, one to be treated like a marriage.

The problem with this advice is that co-founder partnerships have proven themselves to be extremely powerful in our community. I noticed at this year’s DCBKK event that many of the most successful businesses were based on a solid partnership. But if finding a good partner is something akin to finding a good romantic relationship, how do you do it?

I was chewing on this lately when I came across a two person blog business called Wait But Why. Here’s how they described their partnership:

Tim being sowerly and Andrew being reaperly.

Tim being sowerly and Andrew being reaperly.

Aside from being funny, and in many ways describing the relationship I have with my co-founder Ian, it struck me as an archetypical partnership style that I’m seeing in our community.

There’s one “sower” personality and one “reaper.”

In the past we’ve called this “marriage model,” but relating business partnerships to finding life partners doesn’t shed much light on how you can create a successful one yourself. The “sower and reaper” distinction helps to show one way these business unions can happen.

Ask yourself, are you a sower or a reaper? Might you benefit from seeking your opposite in a partner?

Sowers vs. Reapers

Before the sale vs. After the sale.
Marketing vs. Capacity.
Search vs. Destroy.
The Ultimate Sales Machine vs. Work The System
Writes blogs vs. Writes invoices.
Drums up interest for brand vs. Drums up interest with partners.
Going to conferences vs. Going to suppliers.
On stage vs. Behind the curtain.
Writing sales pages vs. Writing deals.
Constructing offers based on feedback from clients vs constructing processes based on feedback from team members and mentors.
Re-thinking the structure of the team vs re-thinking the structure of client management.
Top line and reach vs Bottom line and sustainability.

A sower’s job is to build long term asset value. A reaper’s job is to selectively and systematically make harvests that do not exhaust the long term potential of the market.

Sharing the exhaustion and excitement of throwing events.

Sharing the exhaustion and excitement of throwing events.

Not a division of labor, but a multiplication of results.

The promise of sower / reaper relationships isn’t that you’ll get “double the amount done.” They have the potential to deliver much more than that. Switching from sowing to reaping activities takes energy and hurts momentum. Over the years, that adds up. When you focus on one thing, sowing or reaping, your efforts can multiply and compound. Solo-founders often find themselves yo-yoing back and forth to front and back of house, trying to keep both plates spinning smoothly.

“Bloggin’ sower seeks reaper!”

Sower / reaper relationships are behind many of the blog based businesses who’ve actually made it work. Often blogger-sowers  fall in love with the writing (to the detriment of their businesses and their chops), and devolve into blogs-blogging-about-business-about-blogging-about-business, or similar. The writers simply have no time to do anything else but put out decent articles. It’s the reason many practitioner/preachers who consistently publish do so with podcasts. Many of those struggling with blogs (but who love them) would benefit from finding a reaper personality to run the backend of the business.

A marriage of sower and reaper.

The partnerships I’ve seen work consistently are like marriages– and reaper / sower is a common type of marriage model partnership that I’m seeing succeed. There is an agreed upon division of duty that is flexible and often changes because the deal isn’t fundamentally about resources– it’s about the faith that you’ll both bring your best energy to the interests of your company.

It works because building businesses is generally difficult stuff, so having somebody to share the burden with is worth it.


We often say “you can’t hire somebody to grow your business for you,” and that’s true, but, you can partner with somebody to grow your business with you, and very often the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Are you a sower or a reaper?

And if you are very clearly one, would you benefit from finding someone who could be your other?




PS, here’s some podcasts we’ve recorded on this topic:

10 Ways to Cut a Crappy Deal
The Marriage Model of Partnerships
The Bootstrapper’s Guide to Business Partnerships

Illustration: Maggie Appleton

Published on 10.28.14
  • Oliver Oberdorf

    Thanks Dan, I found this one of the more interesting and repeating themes at the conference.

    I am definitely a sower and not a reaper, but I’ve avoided partnering. I am considering leaning heavily on affiliate partnerships to help reduce my reapering. However, I definitely noticed many at DCBKK considered their full partnerships hugely instrumental in getting traction.

  • Love this post. Reminds me of a book I really enjoyed –

    (See “Don’t Flock Together”)

  • Interesting – I’m definitely a sower, and have also avoided partnering. Just haven’t met anyone whose vision aligns with mine and whose skill set is complementary.

    Here’s another thing that just popped into my head – do sowers tend to be more attached to the business niche itself, whereas reapers love the process of growing any business, whether it’s jewelry or info products or toilet paper? I’ve tried to force myself into niches I wasn’t particularly interested in, and just couldn’t drum up much enthusiasm to “sow.” I wonder if it’s different for the reaper.

  • Cheers John thanks for the link!

  • Cheers Oliver, this one just sort of popped out of me and I’ve started to notice it over and over now that … I really like the idea of using this framework as a justification to do mostly affiliate deals and focus focus focus rather than trying to do the ‘smart’ thing… speaking of smart, Pat Flynn might be a good example of somebody who’s not partnered with a reaper and largely employed partners or very low touch business models to allow him to focus on seeing the compounding effects of sowerly focus

  • that’s a great point there, it does seem to follow in my experience, in fact it’s a common trope of Ian’s (especially) that he’s interested in the process of enterprise in and of itself, whereas yeah my sowerly instincts might very well be attached to how interested in am in the space.

  • Cristina C. Ansbjerg

    Definitely a reaper here. I totally relate to your description. Now I guess I need to get myself a sower. Any dating sites for reapers seeking sowers?
    I’m kidding. I do think I would benefit from finding a sower to take care of a certain aspect of my business that tends to be exhausting for me.
    However, I don’t see that happening by now.

  • Adrijus Guscia

    Is Pat doing that great? A am a big fan, but the size of his platform is immense, yet his income is still about 30-40% from single Web Hosting affiliate deal. He is not good at monetizing and probably is in need of a good ‘reaper’ very much..

  • Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that he hasn’t put his chips down on anything “big” (relative to his audience) yet, we make the opposite critiques of corps and gurus who overreach, also I’m hesitant to say these things about Pat b/c they are just more apparent and easier to spot with him, you could with ease say the same thing about the vast majority entrepreneurs. “They could be doing so much more” and so on. In Pat’s case he very much seems to be doing the things he digs, and I respect that more than maximizing his profit. Relatively speaking, that’s the easy work

  • Also I very much believe if Pat wants to double down on Sowing, which seems to be a better long term (5-10yr) strategy than trying to do both, using affiliate deals and similar ‘reaping’ backends seems to be sharp to me. Pat’s content is better than almost anyone’s because he focuses on it, I think that’ll pay long term dividends, and if it doesn’t (in cash) there’s no downside in my view b/c it’s worth doing in and of itself.

  • ha! there’s an opportunity, at minimum, it’s a fun framework to bring up at parties, and who knows, it might help you have some good conversations!! Good reapers are hard to find ya know! :)

  • Adrijus Guscia

    Hmm… makes sense for sure..

    On the flip side, does it have to be one big thing? What about guy like Eben Pagan? He is from the ‘Gurus’ but him and even Frank Kern, always have good content. And Eben is just dwarfing Pat and most others.. Multiple Million+ dollar products, amazing live events and now investing career/mentoring. All in a similar life span online to Pat (or maybe few years more).. He’s also one of the smartest dudes around. With big virtual team around him.. Essentially he is the ultimate Location Independent Entrepreneur. While where is the long term benefit of launching FoodTruckr for Pat, it’s just another business launch.. What happens when food trucks stop being hot trend.. Is Pat just staying safe and repeating what he already did(niche site challenge and ebook launch are repeats)? Is that fear maybe of next level?

    Of course, I might just be missing the bigger picture he is going for and missing the 5 year angle he is playing. :)

  • I would love to see a tabulated breakdown of Dan and Ian’s responsibilities :)

  • ha! so would I :)

  • This might have been the most applicable takeaway of the entire event for me. I immediately booked a strategy call with my U.S. based biz partner, so we can hammer out a much more defined “Division of Labor” – I wanna get these coveted compound results too!

  • Interesting article. I hope you post more articles on Tropical MBA. It is your site, but as a reader/listener I think that a 1 to 3 article to audio cast ratio might be ideal, personally. Thanks and keep it up, please! (=

  • Rich

    Cool distinction! Are there other effective ways of dividing up tasks, or do you think there’s something about this form in particular, e.g. it’s the one you’re seeing most successful partnerships take?

    For instance, how about an Introvert/Extrovert partnership. Introvert does recorded marketing (video, copywriting, PPC) works the system, runs the numbers and strategizes. Extrovert does live stuff (talks, webinars), sales calls, talks to suppliers, customers, builds industry relationships.

    Cut that way, each does some Sowing/Reaping, but plays to their personal strengths.

    Another possible setup, Ash Maurya (Running Lean) reckons software startups need at least 3 core team members (2 or more could be founders) – Marketing, Design and Development.

    Any thoughts on those types of partnerships?

  • Zach Luczynski

    this isn’t just good content. this is freaking wisdom. bravo.

  • Bettina

    Very interesting topic! The Introvert/Extrovert partnership reminds me of Paul Grahams article about Maker vs Manager schedules ( I’d also love to see how these different ways of dividing up tasks relate to each other, e.g. Sower/Reaper vs Introvert/Extrovert vs Developer/Marketer etc. Personally I like talking to people, although not first thing in the morning ;-)

  • hey great comment, yah know I don’t but my sense is that any strong conceptual boundary could do the trick. on first glance, I actually like the introvert/extrovert distinction better than the skillset one. Skillsets can evolve so quickly, and needs change. Sometimes businesses just don’t need so much design support, for example, so choosing partners based on modalities of work or personalities seems to make more sense than skill sets, like “sales” or “design.”

  • great link Bettina absolutely barking up the same tree here.

  • thank you Zach! I’d like to get into the wisdom racket :P

  • thank you Scott, we’ll be aiming for 1:1 ratio in the coming months and see how it goes.

  • wow thanks, I really liked Jimmy and Doug’s point to of putting a system to the most important relationship in your business, IE how often you talk, what you talk about, responsibilities, etc.

  • Zach Luczynski

    just threw up one on my site, “the perfectionist’s guide to hacking happiness”…would dig it big time if you wanted to waste 8 minutes of your workday reading it. or just making it to your ‘read later’ queue.

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