I Co-Founded a Company With My Best Friend, and 10 Years Later Our Partnership Is Stronger Than Ever
We've managed to keep our business -- and our friendship -- going by following these five practices.
There's a lot to consider when you launch a new business -- especially since over half of new businesses fail within the first five years. The price of failure gets even higher when you launch a new business with a best friend.
Nearly 10 years ago, I launched a weight loss program, Noom, with my best friend, Artem Petakov. Somehow -- even though most startups with co-founders fail -- our friendship and business got stronger over the years. We both credit five startup hacks we learned along the way for helping our health app reach the top of Google Play and iTunes.
1. Divvy up the tasks.
Most aspiring entrepreneurs believe co-founders bring synergy to a company, allowing their individual parts to become greater. While this is true to an extent, we've approached our business with an alternative approach: divide and conquer.
A partner with equal, overlapping responsibilities frequently results in conflict. For this reason, it's important to be strategic about how you divide your responsibilities and carve out clear roles. I'm business-oriented and love networking, so it made sense for me to have a client-facing role in the company. Conversely, Petakov is amazing at software engineering, product development and running the behind-the-scenes.
Ultimately, Petakov and I divide our workload at Noom and conquer our own fields. We've found that doing what we like -- and doing what we're best at -- is the most productive way of working and succeeding.
2. Hire a middleman.
In business, you frequently want to eliminate the middleman to cut costs. But, when it comes to co-founders, you need a middleman to resolve conflict.
No matter how close you are as co-founders, you'll always have disagreements regarding company management, brand marketing and so forth. It's only natural. And while you can't avoid these business hiccups, it's how you take them on that counts.
This is why it's essential to have a middleman to mitigate conflicts between you and your co-founder; a third person with a leadership role who can intervene with an impartial perspective. As 100 percent impartial, this person should show no prejudice for or against something.
Additionally, it's important to have board members and a group of supportive, knowledgeable advisors who can contribute to a healthier partnership. Never underestimate the importance of help when it comes to building a business empire.
3. Make sure you're aligned on core values and goals, even if your styles are drastically different.
Co-founders must be aligned on goals and values from the start or they will fail. For example, if one co-founder's goal is to flip the company and make money fast, while the other's goal is to create a long-lasting legacy, they won't succeed. It's not that one goal is good and the other goal is bad -- it's just that they're not aligned.
When I first met my partner over a decade ago, we couldn't have been more different. He was a tech genius from Ukraine, while I dropped out of college in Korea. Yet, we clicked on the idea that exercise and fitness are not easily accessible to the masses. We wanted to create a better way to manage our health -- and create a legacy while doing so. This singular idea that we shared became -- and remains -- the foundation of our company, Noom. But, most importantly, we were aligned on our goals for Noom. We didn't want to create and flip a company. We both wanted to build an enduring business that better used technology to help people stay healthy. This shared goal continues to keep us close today, helping us overcome any minor or major difficulties we come across in our business partnership.
4. Create business commandments that can't be broken.
A business partnership always requires a set of ground rules. My partner and I don't like creating rules because they stifle creativity and lower morale. However, we do have three business rules we must follow -- and trust is the key component of all of them.
- I must trust you.
- You can't have bad intentions.
- You can't place your goals above mine.
To us, the most important thing to have in a successful partnership is trust, because without it, you have nothing.
5. Lock yourselves in a room for 90 minutes once a week.
It's hard for co-founders to make time for conversation. Startups are fast-paced, always working on new initiatives. Business partners rarely have time to bond over coffee and conversation, and it only gets worse as your company grows. It's even harder for Petakov and I since we are both constantly traveling around the world. In fact, most of the time we're not even on the same continent. This week, I'm in Japan and Petakov is in New York.
Still, communication is the key component to our successful co-foundership. In order to touch base regularly, we have meetings where we talk for 90 minutes every week, with no interruptions. During these one-on-one chats, we discuss our projects, exchange ideas and make sure we're on the same page about ... well, everything.
We consider our weekly talking sessions one of our most important meetings. And if we're not in the same place, we chat on Zoom. What's more, we even talk during weekends to work on our friendship.
I'm from Korea where this saying doesn't exist, but in the U.S., there's a popular phrase: "Never mix business with personal matters." Maybe that's true in the U.S., but there are most certainly exceptions as Petakov and I have learned over the last decade.