Some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurial ventures have been started by friends. Steve Jobs and Steve Wazniak were friends who started the story of Apple in the home garage. Many other business legends also chose the same route. Entering entrepreneurship with a close and trusted friend is not only a good option but also makes the transition easier – two are always better than one.
But for every venture that works out, there are also the ones that don’t, which is why you need to sit down and review the cards on the table before venturing out with a friend. Friends do make good business partners but you have to evaluate what is in store for both of you before you do.
Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor, co-founders of hip label Juicy Couture and good friends later sold their business for US $ 195 million. The two women made excellent business partners and found that although there were highs and the lows in their friendship and partnership, the end result was good because they could work together.
Others who have started a business with a friend feel that it is a little like a marriage. There must be give and take – there will always be areas of concern but the 50-50 policy works best when the communication lines are open and ideas are shared and opinions conveyed. Once you enter into a close partnership, you may see faults, albeit little ones, that you didn’t see in your partner before. Can you look past them into making the venture a success? If there are areas that need to be addressed, can you share them?
One such woman who started a successful business with her long-time friend found that her friend didn’t particularly care to dress well when meeting clients. Impressions are important, she knew and especially the first ones. She wanted to tell her friend to dress well but didn’t know how to put it across. In the end, she says that she was grateful her friend was open and was willing to adjust when she shared her concerns. If she had not shared it, it may eventually have become an issue between them. She and many like her believe that communication is vital for the survival of any partnership.
A troubled marriage or relationship issues can affect a person’s ability to contribute towards making the business grow
Issues of trust
Once communication lines are open, you need to address issues of trust – are you willing to trust your friend in total? Sometimes problems crop up when the business grows. At the incubation stage, a business needs attention and nurturing and there’s no time to engage in issues outside that scope. But once it grows and starts to bring in funds, you wonder whether trust experienced at the beginning can actually work. Will your friend outgrow the initial terms discussed and agreed or will he or she like a bigger slice? You need to be able to answer those questions honestly and directly.
Does your friend speak the same language as you when it comes to what the business stands for? Do your friend’s behaviour, attitudes and beliefs damage your brand authority? Are there topics you believe that may be off limit to your friend when making presentations to clients? Does the lifestyle he or she lead have an impact on the business – keeping late hours may affect early morning meetings. Also, it is imperative to ensure that your friend understands and appreciates the values the business represents, outside the immediate workings.
Does your friend bring skills that you don’t have to the business? One woman who is techno savvy says she teamed brilliantly with her friend who can crunch numbers. What skills and talents can your friend bring – do those skills enhance what you have or compliment your own? These are questions that must be addressed before you enter the partnership.
Just like in a marriage, clashing personalities between partners may affect the business. Nurturing a business is a lot like nurturing children – everything counts -- especially personalities. Is your business partner and friend in a stable place in life or is he/she in complicated relationships. Is your friend able to concentrate on the business without having to worry about personal issues? A troubled marriage or relationship issues can affect a person’s ability to contribute towards making the business grow. Are they able to give their time and effort fully without having to worry about other aspects?
Study others. Look at how friend/business partner relationships have thrived for others and brought results. Review the possibility of you doing the same - we can always learn from where we have not things right. Maybe you too need to change in certain areas, not just your friend. Give and take is a policy we advocate to others often but maybe slow to adapt to ourselves. Evaluate yourself too – when you make the transition from friend to business partner, the perspective does change even though you may not always want to acknowledge it. How adapted are you both towards the new goal?
As they say, do the Beta Test. Do a trial run together before you venture out into the big one. Choose a project that you both can work on – if it brings good results, then you can venture out into getting into business together.
Friends do make good business partners but you have to evaluate what is in store for both of you before you do
Don’t forget to keep the spirit of friendship alive in the business. Once the business grows, some partners tend to drift apart into new circles of friends. Which is a kind of sad – the best are those who don’t change despite the money, the success, the years. After all, it was friendship that brought you together and friendship is what you need to keep alive beyond the business, the success.
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)