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Too Close For Comfort?

Partners plus, cost cutters, desk set

"They always say it's dangerous to go into business with a friend--just like it's dangerous to live with a friend," laughs Lance Brown. But Brown and his business partner/friend/roommate, Edie Lerman, have bucked traditional advice as much as possible in creating an idyllic rural home office for their Internet company,

Close enough to travel to Silicon Valley for investor meetings, yet far away from nonbusiness distractions, their location in the mountain town of Nevada City, California, gives the business partners the intensity (read: 18-hour days with no distractions) they feel they need to realize their business dream. And, of course, rooming and working in the same space saves them precious rent money. But all these positive aspects of sharing a home office have to have a twist, and for Brown and Lerman, it's in the delicate mix of the complex relationships of business partners, roommates and friends.

"The proper balancing of these roles is probably the greatest challenge of this whole grand experiment," says Brown, 27, who founded, a site devoted to public opinions, debate and conversation, with Lerman, 26, early last year.

Author Azriela Jaffe spoke with several business partners/roommates while researching her book, Let's Go Into Business Together: Eight Secrets to Successful Business Partnering (AvonBooks, $12.50, 800-223-0690), and found many have difficulty separating the personal stuff from the business. "If you give yourself the illusion you're going to have privacy, you're going to be sorry," says Jaffe. To avoid problems, she advises partners develop a social life away from their business partner and establish "no work" boundaries in time or space (as in, no work talk after 8 p.m. or at the dinner table).

Brown advises roommates/entrepreneurs to make sure their relationship can handle the pressure. "[We know] no matter what happens--if we stop being housemates and the business falls apart--we're still going to be friends," he says. "It makes you know that these aren't make-or-break issues. They're just part of the bigger process."

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