As soon as my friend Claire Mazur and I started tossing around the idea of starting a company together, we were inundated with advice from anyone who’d ever read Who Moved My Cheese or Good to Great. Some of it was invaluable (don’t wait to bring on lawyers or accountants, for instance), but some we chose to ignore—namely, the advice to never go into business with a buddy.
A decade of friendship and year and a half of business partnership later, neither of us can imagine it any other way. And, we think our company, Of a Kind—a website that promotes emerging fashion designers—has benefitted from our relationship and history. A history, I might add, that includes theme parties at University of Chicago, brunch outings with each other’s crazy families, and even an ill-advised spring break trip to Fort Lauderdale in 2003.
Starting a business with a friend is not something to be taken lightly—but if you have the right partner, it can also be the best decision you ever make. Here, we give you our six pieces of advice for anyone looking to mix business and, you know, leisure.
1. Use Your History to Your Advantage
Having known each other for 10 years, we know a lot about one another. And that’s been immensely helpful in our business. Claire is much better at asking for what she wants than I am, for example, and she always says that I have a strong sense of propriety. Knowing each other’s strengths and personalities inside and out shapes the way we interact in meetings, how we pitch the company to others, and who handles what part of the business. And coming to the table with that understanding behind us made us more productive and efficient in assigning roles and getting things done. Who doesn’t want that?
2. Learn How to Fight
Before Claire and I started working on Of a Kind, we never really had a major disagreement. Guess what? That’s completely unreasonable—undesirable, even—when you’re trying to build a company.
Now, we debate things and get all fired up on the reg. But, we try to compartmentalize those feelings and conversations to the specific topic at hand. You have to isolate the argument, hash it out, and try to move on—and definitely keep work discussions from getting personal. It’s hard, and it sometimes requires stepping away from the conversation for a bit, but that’s okay. We spend so much time together that if we let every disagreement take hold of our moods, we’d snip at each other all day long.
3. Take Time Apart
Schedule it in if you have to. If we can help it, Claire and I avoid each other like head lice on the weekends. The risk of becoming a single entity is high.
4. Let People In
All founders probably struggle with this to some extent, but when you have a preexisting relationship with your co-founder, you have to try extra hard to make sure everyone else on your team feels “in”—like they’re sitting at the Plastics’ lunch table, too. This is a constant struggle, and we typically attack it with booze.
But, in the beginning, working from our apartments really helped create this sense of we’re-all-in-this-together-ness. As painful as it was to have our (small amount of) personal space invaded by our team members all the time, it forced everyone to connect, interact, and get really close more quickly.
5. Don’t Get Offended When People Confuse You
It’s gonna happen. No one means anything by it. We respond to Clairica or Éclair, too.
6. Just Be Friends
It’s really hard to find time to focus on the friendship (as goony as that sounds) when there are a million things going and we use even five-minute cab rides to cross things off our to-do lists. But if being business partners starts to usurp what came first—well, that’s not the point. Make sure you carve out some time to just have some fun. Most of the time, our efforts to get back to the roots of our relationship revolve around shoe shopping. And hey, we’re cool with that.
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