Starting your own business isn’t easy. Which is why many entrepreneurs choose to partner with a friend. Although this may seem like a slam dunk idea, many factors come into play when building a successful business -- especially with a friend. Choosing the wrong person to partner with can be catastrophic to a business.
Aaron Kirley and I were friends in high school and roommates after college. While roommates, we started our luggage shipping business, Luggage Forward. Here are insights from our nine-year journey for other entrepreneurs interested in following suit:
Related: How to Find the Perfect Co-Founder
Choose a co-founder with a different area of expertise. Select a partner wisely. Don’t start a business with a friend just because of that relationship or because spending time together is enjoyable. Find a partner with a different area of expertise so each person can carve out very specific roles. That way both can equally contribute to the success of the business.
I have a background in business development and marketing, while Aaron has a background in technology and business-process optimization so we manage and direct different parts of our business. This allows each of us to “own” part of the decision making and pull our weight. When something new or unexpected comes up, it naturally falls to the person with expertise in that area.
It's impossible for one person to be an expert in everything or do everything.The saying “two better heads are better than one” is very much true. Release some control to the partner and allow him or her to focus on the area of expertise. Be sure to have a strong mission so both partners are working toward the same goal. If both founders consider themselves experts on the same topic, disagreements can evolve that can be detrimental to the business.
Have a trusted advisor. Inevitably, the two business partners won’t agree on important business decisions at times. This can really hurt progress in a fast-paced, high-growth startup. So use an outside, third-party perspective to help work through strategic issues.
Even without setting up a formal board of directors, have an agreed-upon advisor or mentor who is willing to help in tough circumstances. Assuming this person has more experience, he or she can provide information that the two co-founders might not have considered and can help them reach a better 360-degree view of the situation.
Deciding when the exchange is business or pleasure. For Aaron and me, the division between our relationships on the job and outside work are very blurred. When two friends work together, they should try to have fun with each other -- grab lunch or have drinks at the end of the day -- so the friendship doesn’t vanish.
When not at work, try to steer clear of important strategic conversations. Talking about the industry or the business isn’t completely out of the question, however. We genuinely enjoy talking about work and find it interesting, but we know that some strenuous conversations should wait until we are at the office.
Over time, relationships will evolve and it's possible the business partners will spend less time together outside of work and that’s OK. When people are around each other other all day and constantly striving and working to achieve the same objective, it is healthy to have some time apart.