So, you’ve had a brilliant idea for a start-up but need a hand getting it off the ground. Who better to ask than your friend? Not so fast. While it might seem like a no-brainer to get your buddy on board, you should know that many businesses started among friends don’t survive. Sure, you might get on brilliantly and share all the same interests, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a sound business partnership. “The right co-founders will have skills and expertise beyond the scope of what you know,” explains CEO and Founder of SquadUP, William Litvack, “which is what makes you a formidable team.”
“You want co-founders who can push you, who can make you nervous – the sort of people whose intelligence and drive make you feel as though you’ve got to operate beyond your limits just so you aren’t playing catch-up. You also want them to know something you don’t.”
Getting the balance right may be tricky but it’s definitely possible. “When it works, it’s magic,” says Hannah Bundy, who co-founded fashion label Bundy & Webster alongside her best friend Suki Webster. After quitting their jobs in PR and retail respectively, the girls, both from South London, launched their brand together. Now, four years later, the pair count Kylie Jenner and Ellie Goulding among their fans. Their success, they say, is down to the friendship that underpins their business. “Starting and running a business has it’s serious ups and downs, so it’s a huge comfort knowing you’ve got one of your best friends there by your side through it,” says Hannah.
But before you dive head first into your own friend-based start-up, ask yourselves these five questions first to ensure your business – and friendship – has every chance to thrive:
How much do you trust them?
Trusting your friend with your favourite leather jacket is one thing, but would you trust them with your livelihood? It’s uncomfortable to imagine a friend doing the wrong thing by you, but now is the time to address this issue, not once you’ve already signed on the dotted line.
“When you choose a business partner, you have to make sure it’s someone that you instinctively trust,” explains Noah Goodhart, who co-founded Moat and RightMedia alongside brother Jonah. “You want a partnership where you’d be comfortable moving forward without even having a contract in place (though you should still sign a contract!).”
Do they offer something you can’t?
This is the time to recognise what you lack and be strategic about what you need. Does your friend bring something to the table that you don’t? “When selecting partners, it’s great to find people who bring different skill sets and perspectives to the table,” says Goodhart.
For example, if, like Hannah and Suki, you want to launch your own clothing line, one of you will ideally have a strong background in design, while the other might boast invaluable PR contacts.
Do you have the same work ethic?
Sharing a similar work ethic is crucial. Before embarking on a business partnership, Jonah advises you “ensure that your incentives are aligned,” adding that “this will create an environment where you all work together toward the same objectives.”
Moving forward in your business, you want to know that you’ll both share the same vision for the growth of the company. How will you foster the right work culture for those you hire in the future if you’re both on different pages?
This is a sentiment Hannah agrees with. “Do you both share the same work ethic?” she suggests asking. “Are you in it for the same reasons?”
How will you resolve conflict?
Sharing a business and sharing a friendship are two entirely different beasts. While disagreeing within business isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s how you resolve that conflict that matters.
Resolving emotional arguments and business arguments are two separate matters but not when you work with a friend. Anticipate that there may be aspects of your personal relationship that crossover. Here, it’s important to not allow that to happen in the business context.
For Hannah and Suki, they know each other well enough to recognise that when disagreements arise, taking a breather before approaching the issue again is what works for them. “We are both very good at knowing when to give each other space,” says Hannah. “If there ever is a disagreement, which is rare, it’s only ever situational and something that we move on from quickly.”
Can your friendship handle it?
You’re about to spend almost every waking hour with this person in (probably) stressful circumstances. Is your friendship up to it? “When you start a business with someone, you’ll be communicating with them twenty-four seven,” continues Jonah. “If you are not looking to have someone in your life that much, they are probably not the right business partner.”
“You really need to think about whether or not your friendship is one that can take the heat,” warns Hannah. “It needs to be a real partnership and honesty plays a big part in that. So if you can’t envision having to be brutally honest with your other half, then forget it!”