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What happens when two friends decide to start a business? It's a question that Lynn Harris Medcalf and Susan Apgood gave some serious thought when a client suggested the co-workers at a PR company made a great team. They shared the same vision for a company and brought different skills to the table, so, in August 1997, the friends decided to launch News Generation , an Atlanta-based PR services company that specializes in radio. Last year, Medcalf, 37, executive vice president, and Apgood, 35, president, made $1.3 million in revenue.
"Susan is one of the funniest people I've ever met. She always makes people laugh, and I truly enjoy being around her," says Medcalf. "I respected Susan's work ethic and thought she was a dynamo who would go far in life."
Sarah Eck and Brook Jay, both 34, were also co-workers at an event planning company before becoming co-presidents of All Terrain Productions , a $1.5 million events-marketing firm in Chicago, in September 1998. Jay, a self-proclaimed "single party girl," says she and Eck, who's married with two children, "contrast and complement each other well." Jay admits it took time for them to recognize and appreciate each other's strengths as well as their weaknesses.
All four women agree that trust is a key benefit of working with a friend. "I trust Sarah implicitly," Jay says. "We have learned firsthand that people can be petty and dishonest, but I would bet my life on anything she said to be true."
"If you've got that personal bond," says Eck, "it's easier to appreciate and support the whole person, to put their actions and challenges into the greater perspective of their lives."
Medcalf sees an additional benefit to being in business with a friend. "Always having someone there who's going through what you're going through-good or bad-is a huge support system that many solo entrepreneurs don't have. I think it would be extremely difficult to start your own business solo."
Running a business with a friend can also be challenging. "We have to remember to keep work and personal items separate, which can be tough, since work makes up such a great part of each of us," says Apgood. "When we're frustrated personally or professionally, or both, we have a discussion to hash out items that bother us and start with a clean slate."
"There are always going to be times when one partner feels they may be pulling the load," Jay says. "You need to trust that the relationship is solid and the partnership is an equal one, and those feelings will pass."
"Sometimes we need to make an effort to talk like friends instead of just business partners. In a small-business environment, it's so intertwined," Eck adds.
Since starting companies, both sets of business partners say their friendships have strengthened. "We're closer than some friends who don't work together," says Medcalf, "Having a common goal has created a stronger bond." Proving their friendship is solid, Medcalf reveals she has invited Apgood to be her maid of honor when she gets married next year.
Jay looks at the big picture: "No matter what happens, Sarah and I will have spent over a decade working on one of the most important, challenging and rewarding things I have ever accomplished. I would never have been able to do it without her."