Jobs and Wozniak, Hewlett and Packard, Procter and Gamble, Ben & Jerry… there’s a reason these famous business partnerships resonate with us. These companies (and many more) were founded by friends.
And it makes sense. We hear of the inventor who single-handedly had the bright idea to do x or y and change the world, but when it comes to business, we often hear stories of friends experiencing something together, or waxing philosophically, when one of them says something along the lines of, “Hey, what if we did this?”
With Friendship Day coming up this Sunday, we at HostGator reached out to entrepreneurs who had started businesses with their friends. We wanted to know: What’s unique about having a friend as a business partner? What are the pros and cons to running a business with your friend?
Overwhelmingly, the entrepreneurs responded positively, eager to share the advantages that make co-founding a business with your friend an unparalleled experience.
1. Your friendship defines the office culture
When you’re working with friends, work simply becomes more fun. Shared laughter and inside jokes are invaluable as you’re working on the monumental task of building a business.
Mallory Musante, co-founder of Bold & Pop with Anna Osgoodby, says it’s the best of both worlds. “Not only does having a friend/business partner make running a business easier with the support they provide but it also makes it fun! We may get stressed but we’re there to pull each other up and then celebrate with each other later!”
Granted, there are those who tout the importance of having a work/life balance, but many co-founding friends embrace bringing their life to work.
“[As] an entrepreneur, it is hard to balance work with a healthy social life as I am constantly trying to promote and develop my business. Having a friend as my business partner helps make the balance much easier,” shares Ravel Charles, who started Game Learners with friend and college classmate Samantha Gignac. “It makes for a fun working environment. The ‘office-culture’ is dictated directly by our friendship.”
2. You have each other’s backs
It’s not rocket science – of course it’s easier to trust your new business partner when it’s someone you’ve been friends with for years. This foundation of trust allows you to focus on the task at hand of building and growing your business.
BonAppetour is a startup founded by Rinita Vanjre and Inez Wihardjo, who met at university and came up with their business idea when they were backpacking around Europe and couldn’t find a restaurant that was open. Having that trust established allowed them to move forward towards growing their business, rather than getting bogged down in some of the legal particulars of founding a company.
“It’s easy to trust each other, and not doubt the other person, especially in the early stages of the business when the most important thing is the growth, rather than things like getting equity papers sorted out, and the shareholding structure… Of course, that is important, but when there is a comfortable friendship already, setting up those structures takes a backseat in the face of growth.”
3. You know each other’s strengths and weaknesses
Part of what makes friendship great is that we are aware of our friends’ faults, but we love them anyway. Lifelong friends also know what their friends can do better than they can.
Successful business partnerships often involve founders who complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You have this with Walt and Roy Disney. Walt was the unbridled creative, and Roy was the sensible financier.
Aron Ezra and Keith Michel are childhood friends and have co-founded two businesses together, the most recent of which is OfferCraft, a software startup in the hospitality industry. Having worked together for nearly a decade, they can provide a unique perspective.
Their advice for new entrepreneurs? Find a co-founder who loves doing the things you hate doing.
Dan Grech, VP of Marketing and Public Relations for OfferCraft, says this is why they work so well together. “Aron loves talking about the business to new people, whether it’s reporters, sales prospects or recruits; Keith prefers working intensely with members of his team. Aron enjoys coming up with new ideas; Keith loves figuring out ways to turn those ideas into elegant pieces of code. When you are friends, you understand each other — both your similar values and your different preferences. By understanding your differences, you never step on your co-founders’ toes. In fact, Aron and Keith are always incredibly relieved (and a little incredulous) when the second person happily steps up to tackle the tasks that the first person is dreading.”
4. You’re more accountable
Going into business with a friend has a tendency to raise the stakes.
When their best friendship turned long-distance, Michael Noker and Jessica Cadena launched the Get Two Fit fitness blog to stay in touch. Michael shared, “The emotional attachment you have to your business doubles, triples, explodes through the roof. It’s not just your baby – it’s the product of your relationship. The stakes are high because failure could mean fallout. We have to compartmentalize pretty much constantly, because it needs to be clear when we’re talking business or friendship, work or play.”
Michael attributes their productivity to their devotion to their friendship. “As an entrepreneur, you’re married to your passion. You invest all your time, money, and energy – everything you need for a social life, health, and sanity. When you’re going into business with a friend, you’re married to your passion and to another person. You have someone to bounce ideas off of. You can cheer each other on. You’re accountable to somebody. You each have strengths and weaknesses, so you can split the workload. You can’t fail because you don’t know what it would mean for the friendship, so you work that much harder. It’s scary, it’s precarious, and it’s not for everybody, but when it works, it works perfectly.”
5. You know how to support each other
The saccharine phrase “that’s what friends are for” holds true in business, too. Friends can tell when you’re feeling down, and they know how to give you a boost when you need it most.
Dave Hartshorne and Olly Mooney were friends for over a decade before they started the digital agency Dijitul. “We know when the other one is having a bad day, when to try and cheer them up, and when to stay well clear and let them have their moment! Basically, we know what makes each other tick,” they shared. “This has meant we’ve managed to work together for over ten years now and stay really good friends despite all the stresses that having a business brings.”
Yuri Khlystov, co-founder of Laowai Career job board, says the dynamic between business partners is more like a friendship than people may think. “Businesses run for years and require stable and trustworthy people to work side by side, just like a good friendship. To be an entrepreneur, you have to love what you do. Having a friend through thick and thin who is going through what you are going through provides stability (and is fun!).”
6. You already have experience solving problems together.
If you’ve been friends for some time, chances are you’ve already solved problems together, whether it’s as simple of a decision as deciding where to go out to eat, or assigning chores as roommates. When Felicia Schneiderhan founded 30SecondstoFly, she recruited her best friend and roommate of nearly five years to lead the marketing team.
“Now we are dividing our time between New York, Bangkok, and Berlin, and are balancing the friendship and roommate situation with a work relationship,” Schneiderhan shares. “I think it is important to consciously work on maintaining a healthy relationship, both in business and personally. In our case, we even entered into a hierarchical asymmetry, which complicates it further. Against all odds, I think this setup works so well for us, because we learned to develop a bulletproof conflict-solving mechanism early on as roommates, even before we started working together. Whenever we face a situation in which we disagree or misunderstand each other, we care a lot about understanding the other’s perspective. We then look for a way to avoid similar conflict in the future.”
7. Your friendship will survive, even if the business doesn’t.
It’s sad, but true: eighty percent of new businesses fail within the first eighteen months. With the deck seemingly stacked against new businesses, having a friend as a co-owner can help tip the scale a bit back in your favor, as the six points above demonstrate. You know how to work with your co-founder, you trust them, and best yet, you’ve solved problems together before. Unfortunately, though, sometimes businesses just don’t work out.
The silver lining here is that if your business fails, you’ll have a friend to lean on who knows exactly what you’re going through.
Ryan Robinson has written extensively about starting a business with a friend, having done it himself a few years ago. He now advises entrepreneurs on starting their own side business. Robinson and his best friend experienced rapid growth after starting their business, but eventually the revenue “began to flatten out at a level that would only provide either two people with a mediocre income or one person with the type of lifestyle we both aspired to obtain. Despite experimenting with new growth levers, it was becoming apparent that our business was really best-suited to be ran by one person, which created some tension around whether one of us should continue with the company or if it should be shuttered to avoid damaging our friendship,” Robinson shares.
After much late-night discussions, he decided to sell his half to his friend. They’ve remained best friends through it all, Robinson notes, but it did take a few months for them to be able to move on and return to being just friends. Based on his experience, Robinson recommends that new entrepreneurs “have very candid conversations about what your course of action will be in the event the business fails, one of you needs to be bought out or in the event of other negative outcomes that you’ll want to plan for ahead of time.”
Are you thinking of starting a business with a friend? We hope these entrepreneurial insights have inspired you!