Asking for a Friend: What Does It Take to Build a Successful Partnership?
During the nine years Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo ran the design-minded e-commerce business Of a Kind, they learned a lot—and a lot of it the hard way. To spare you some of the head- and heartaches they experienced, they’re answering a couple Qs about creative entrepreneurship to help you on your way. This is the first installment of a two-part series. You can follow their weekly newsletter and podcast for more intel—business, design, and otherwise. *** Q. I’m thinking about starting a business with a friend because now, weirdly, is feeling like the right time to go for it. We’ve known each other a long time, but we’ve never worked together. Before we dive into this uncharted territory, what should we know about building a successful partnership? First things first: We’re so excited for you! About a decade ago (during a recession, it’s worth noting), we were contemplating making this move ourselves, and taking the plunge was one of the best professional and personal decisions we’ve ever made. We feel so strongly about the partnership we’ve built and the life-changing magic of solid business partnerships in general that we wrote a whole book on the topic called Work Wife: The Power of Female Friendship to Drive Successful Businesses. That said, we also very much understand that teaming up with a pal doesn’t always work out the way it has for us. There are plenty of friendship-to-business breakups to look to—Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner come to mind—and probably at least as many people in your life advising you to never go into business with a friend because you’re putting the relationship on the line. The fact of the matter is that we can’t imagine starting a company with someone who doesn’t know us in the way we know each other. How different would it be if we couldn’t glimpse across the table in a meeting and say a thousand words with just one look or if we didn’t have the context to help one another navigate the family drama that inevitably weasels its way into the work day? But making the transition from friend to partner takes a ton of trust and plenty of work. Below, our checklist for getting it right. Kick the Tires on Your Relationship Before You Make Anything Official You might not have worked together in an official capacity, but have you planned another pal’s birthday together or coordinated a big group trip? If so, were your communication styles similar? Did this potential future business partner do things during that process that made your eyes bulge or your head spin? Because you better believe the same is bound to happen in a high-stress work setting. Be honest with yourself about the clues your friend has given you about the ways they operate in the world—and the ways those things affect you. If your would-be partner dominated the conversation during a Zoom baby shower and you wanted to shout “MUTE!,” trust that the same is likely to happen during business calls. Also remember that if you find yourselves professionally incompatible, it says absolutely nothing about the value of your friendship. Make Sure You Both Feel a Sense of Ownership If you do decide to move forward with this pursuit (hey, congrats!), discuss who’s in charge of what early and often. Having clarity on this will keep you from stepping on each other’s toes and also ensures that you both feel like you have authority. » Read More
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