You love each other, trust each other and know each other better than anyone else. You share interests and often ideas – including one for an exciting business project together, perhaps. But what is it really like to launch a work venture with your BFF?
Startup culture and the exceptional success of companies like Google or Apple have helped romanticise the myth of friends turned billionaire entrepreneurs. Mixing work and relationships is always a risky business. “The rise of micro firms will inevitably lead to friends as business partners,” says Robert Blackburn, the associate dean for research at Kingston University’s business school. “The rise of social media will further enhance this mixing – friends discussing and generating business ideas and activating on opportunities they may identify.”
Many businesses fail because of a collapse in relationships, Blackburn warns: “Converting a friend into a business partner may not be easy as it presents them with a different set of challenges that they may not have the expertise or tenacity to see them through the difficult times.”
It can be incredibly exciting and rewarding…
Twelve years ago, Lucy Cohen started the remote accountancy service Mazuma with her best friend Sophie Hughes, when they were both just 23. By chance, they had found themselves at the very same place in life at the very same time. When they saw an opportunity, they went for it and have been successfully expanding their business ever since. “We spotted a niche in the market,” she explains. “We took our skills and knowledge and combined it with our tenacity and drive to create something pretty revolutionary.”
They obviously worried about money, bills, sustainability, but never really questioned their partnership: “Having known Sophie since I was eleven years old, I didn’t doubt for a second that we could make a success of the business. And what better person to have at your side than your best friend? Someone who not only wants success for themselves, but who cares about you too.”
Working with someone who can read your mood and already knows all your quirks and triggers can be a huge advantage. But that’s not an excuse to be complacent, as Lucy advises: “Inside your business it should always be the rule that if it’s negatively impacting things then you need to discuss it.”
Define your roles from the get-go!
Lucy suggests: “Things won’t work if you are both trying to do the same jobs.” And don’t worry too much about mixing business and personal life, but don’t take advantage of the fact that your partner is a friend: “We have a rule that we still have to clear time off with each other, or if we are running late to the office we let the other one know,” she explains.
Ultimately, you would both need to be professional, respectful and organised, to make things work. And have the same motivation, attitude and vision from the start, according to Dee Gibson, founder and director of Velvet Orange, an interior design consultancy of 16 years.
“Go into business with someone who brings something to the table so that combined you are stronger,” she suggests, after having set up and exited more than one venture with a friend, throughout her career.
“If you are fully on the same page then what a dream scenario!”
“They need to be as good as you are, whether it’s in the same skill set or a complementary one to the business” she adds. Basically, don’t work with someone just because you are friends, she explains: “Tough decisions need to be made all the time; friendship is important so that it’s fun and enjoyable and you can share experiences, but that isn’t enough to build something sustainable and successful, and it can be painful to exit.”
So, follow your passion but think with your head. Success takes work, and often sacrifice, mistakes and frustrations along the way. Be wise on whom you choose to share all that with. Still, Dee sums it up perfectly: “[I]f you are fully on the same page then what a dream scenario!”.
Main shot: @iamlaurajackson Laura Jackson and Alice Levine, friends, entrepreneurs and founders of Jackson & Levine.