borrowed solace,  Medium

How to Keep Your Friendships Intact When Starting a Business

Microsoft, Apple, and Google were all founded by friends so it can be done, but there’s a right way to do it

In 2017, my college friends and I were set to graduate and go our separate ways. The end of our last school year loomed (well, at least for those of us who chose not to tackle graduate school at the time). We were all hanging on for dear life to the last few meetings of the Writer’s Guild, a writing club we had all started together on campus. These club meetings would be the last couple of times we were able to solely focus on creativity and bouncing ideas off of one another.

We knew our lives were going to change and, while we would undoubtedly remain good friends, we weren’t going to see each other on campus multiple times a week anymore. Some of us were moving out of state for jobs or moving back home after being away for four years. Some of us were preparing to take on full-time careers in the writing world (or in the decidedly-not-writing world). Things were changing, but we didn’t necessarily want them to. We loved the Writer’s Guild — as a group of students studying English and creative writing, it was the perfect environment for cultivating friendship, great writing, and motivation to keep going.

During those last few weeks of our collective senior year, we decided to take the Writer’s Guild with us after graduation in a new way. No longer just a club, we brainstormed what we could turn the Writer’s Guild into and settled on a literary journal.

And our small business, borrowed solace, was born.

Friendship is often ground zero for amazing business ideas

borrowed solace was (and is) no exception. Some of America’s most well-known businesses were started by friends. Companies like Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Apple, and Google were founded by pals. Having a partner (or two) to walk alongside you as you navigate the ups and downs of a business venture provides invaluable support. That’s what friends are there for, after all, right? To ride life’s ups and downs with you. Starting a business with a friend follows the same principle. The trustworthiness and already-established relationship with those you’re close to is the perfect backdrop for a successful business.

Friendship can also make business more difficult

While there are undoubtedly benefits to starting a business with a friend, there can be some unexpected hiccups, too. Companies founded by friends are actually less likely to work out long-term according to some statistics. Starting a business with a friend means your relationship will change — there’s simply no way around it. You’ll have to learn when — and how — to put your business hat on and when to put your friend hat on. Emotions are always at play when starting a business, but that is even more so the case when starting a business with a friend. Work problems can much more easily bleed into personal problems when the issues you face day-to-day revolve around the same people in both worlds.

While I wouldn’t say we have handled everything perfectly over at borrowed solace, we have managed to maintain both our friendships and our business over the past four years. Here are some tips that have worked for us as we’ve navigated the sometimes-treacherous world of friendship and business:

1. Establish a hierarchy

This one might make you cringe right off the bat, but I’m not necessarily talking about the traditional hierarchy of CEO, CFO, and the like that businesses typically follow.

When I say “establish a hierarchy,” I really mean figure out who is doing what when it comes to your business and, conversely, who has control over what.

borrowed solace is a literary magazine, so the domain each of us editors controls is a little more cut and dry. I, for example, am the poetry editor. This means I have pretty much total and absolute control over the poetry section of our journal. One of my friends, who is also an editor of their own domain, can’t change how I do things or the poems I select for the journal — just like I can’t interfere with how they are running their respective ship. We can all step in if one of us is getting carried away, but we have processes for when that happens — it’s not just willy nilly.

If you’re starting a more traditional company and not a small press, you might have different domains that have to do with certain departments or groups of employees. Regardless, you need to establish the hierarchy in your business as it relates to the control each of you has, and just how far that control reaches.

2. Create guidelines for resolving disagreements

This one is important. Don’t kid yourself thinking you’ll never have disagreements because you never fight in your personal lives. Going into business — and all that entails — adds extra strain to everyone, so there will be disagreements.

Before you have a disagreement, figure out how you will resolve whatever comes up. Obviously, not everything that comes up can (and should) be handled the same way, but there are simple processes you can put in place that should help find a solution to any disagreement, whether big or small.

Will you have a board of directors or others within your company to go to for a vote if you can’t agree on which way to go? If, in a partnership with two friends, you both come up with a proposal and neither wants to budge, will you mesh the two ideas together and go with a revised proposal? If there are more than two friends going into business together (like with borrowed solace), does majority rule?

Figure out some ground rules for resolving conflict before you run into any disagreements, and put them into writing. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did later.

3. Don’t get too bogged down in the money

Money, money, money — the root of all problems, as it sometimes seems. There’s no doubt money will play a big part in your business — it’s usually the point of going into business, after all.

Don’t let the money side of things bog you down too much. There’s always going to be something coming up in regards to money — how much you’ll each put into the company to start with, how much of a salary you’ll be paid when the time comes, how much you’ll pay vendors and employees, how you should utilize leftover revenue, etc., etc.

Try not to let money become your only focus, and, most importantly, have someone from the outside help you manage your money. It’s best if you don’t have to check up on how your friends are managing the company’s resources. Let a third party help.

4. Decide your own personal hills to die on

This one is probably the most important thing to do! Try, at least to the best of your ability early on, to figure out what things are important and what things don’t matter as much.

Yes, everything matters, but at what cost? Things will come up that you won’t agree on — it’s a given — but if you make your priorities a priority and try to be flexible with everything else, your friendship won’t suffer when arguments start to boil.

So figure out right now what things matter to you personally as well as to the company, and, again, write them down. Keep that list tucked away so when conflict arises in the future, you can pull it out and decide if it’s really something worth fighting with your friends about, or simply not a hill worth dying on.

Going into business with friends is an enticing proposition full of possibilities. While there are undoubtedly benefits to entrepreneurship with a built-in support system you already trust, that doesn’t mean your journey to success will always be smooth sailing. Nevertheless, If you go into it with your eyes wide open and some boundaries in place, your business, as well as your friendship, can continue to thrive!

Previously published in The Startup

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