Working with Friends: 5 Tips to Consider When Starting a Business with Your BFF

Working with Friends: 5 Tips to Consider When Starting a Business with Your BFF

Freshly graduated, sadly inexperienced, and just stupid enough to think we could actually pull it off. 

“Groupon for college students.” That was our big idea. It was 2010 and everyone seemed to be in love with the new coupon website that offered ‘group pricing’ on everything under the sun — from facials to gym memberships, sushi to smog tests — all for 50% off. So how could students from our alma mater not love a similar coupon website just for them? We thought it was a no brainer.

So we set out to build it. Just me and Noah, my best friend from college.

I had gotten to know Noah like a brother. College sports, dorm parties, late night jam sessions. Of course, we had our fair share of disagreements, but we never let those petty fights affect our friendship. Who could be a better business partner than someone you’ve grown to respect, trust, and love?

So we went all in. And sure enough, one year later, after many late nights, thousands of cold calls to local retailers, dozens of on-campus marketing ploys, big failures and small triumphs…

We called it quits. 

And honestly, we had little to show for all our efforts. In fact, it got so bad that Noah and I stopped talking altogether, and it took us nearly two years before we started talking again. The business had put more strain on our friendship than we had ever anticipated. And we both needed some time to reset. 

Thankfully, Noah and I are great friends today. Even stronger than before. And we now have the luxury of looking back on all the mistakes we made along the way. (And we made a lot of them.) 

Here are 5 crucial things I wish I had known before deciding to work with a friend — #5 was the most important for us to finally realize. 

  1. Remember the Roadmap  —  Maps are quite useful.  Especially when you have a clear destination.  What does your partner expect from your journey together? How does she/he define success? Does that line up however you define success? Each of you needs to go through the exercise of writing it down. Make it explicitly clear. Each of you may have already done this on your own. But it’s easy to get excited about setting out on a new adventure with a friend and totally forget to bring a roadmap and the coordinates of your final destination

  2. Own Your Weakness — You already have an idea of your friend’s weaknesses. And you can be pretty darn certain that they have an idea of yours. These are likely things that you have never discussed in your relationship before. Are you both being honest about where you need help?  It takes courage to be vulnerable. Faults make us human. So use the strong foundation you’ve built as friends and explore how you’re both human. Lay it all on the table and be open to feedback. You’ll be surprised what you discover.

  3. Keep the Books Open — Often, one partner is more ‘financially-savvy’ than the other. So it’s natural that one friend would take on the role of managing the financials. But money makes people act in weird ways. Ways you’ve never had to worry about in your friendship before. It makes some people act selfishly. Or suspiciously. Others may feel anxious or worried . Some prefer to avoid any conversation about money altogether. Regardless of how you both respond to the topic of money, I strongly urge you to have regularly scheduled meetings to touch base on all things financials — including the overall health of the company and individual compensation — to ensure that you both feel there is a safe and dedicated space to bring up concerns and questions. Make the financials everyone's responsibility.

  4. Celebrate Together  —  Building a business is hard. Really hard. And often lonely, even when you’re doing it with a friend. The good times can be few and far between. That’s why it’s important to celebrate each other’s wins. Small wins and big wins. But always together. Don’t overlook the real importance of truly enjoying the process. Those are the moments you’ll long for when it’s all said and done.

  5. What Will You Say When You’re 90? — Unfortunately, the odds your company will succeed are slim. So remind yourself to come back to how you want to feel when it ends, however it ends.  Because it will end, one way or another. If you’re lucky, as you grow your business, you’ll build tremendous relationships with all sorts of new and exciting people. And if you’re wise, you won’t allow your business to jeopardize your current relationships. In my opinion, no business is ever worth losing a true friend.

Nearly 10 years after launching my first business with Noah, I’m extremely excited and grateful to be relaunching StorkStand with another great friend. This time, with a bit healthier perspective. 

Keep building your dreams with people you love. If you do it right, you’ll both be celebrating at the end, together, wherever that may be.