I Co-Founded a Startup With My Best Friend: How to Balance Friendship and Business

Follow these three tips if you're thinking about co-founding a company with a friend.

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By Dan Saks

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From the very beginning, my co-founder Nicolas and I were very hands-on with the business. When we first secured office space, we drove straight to IKEA to purchase brand new furniture. Nicolas and I didn't have a large enough vehicle, so we befriended and convinced a fellow shopper with a flatbed truck to follow us to the office. We neglected to swap cell phone numbers in our rush and lost our new friend -- but after a few loops around the parking lot, we found his truck and made it to the office together.

Related: 7 Qualities Every Entrepreneur Should Look for in a Co-Founder

Sitting in our empty office, Nicolas, myself and our new recruit built -- by hand -- the furniture that would become seating for our first client meeting. The next morning, a party of 10 executives from a Fortune 500 company in Europe flew to San Francisco to hear our pitch. We were proud of our handiwork -- until the senior executive sat in one of the chairs and it instantly fell apart! Despite this unexpected incident, a week later the company let us know that they wanted to move forward with the deal; they even mentioned that they loved the "startup vibe" our office exuded. We learned an important lesson that day: There will be ups and there will be downs.

Luckily, Nicolas and I had been friends for years at this point; his older brother was a long-time friend of mine, and Nicolas and I grew close over our shared passion for entrepreneurship while we were in college. By fostering each other's mutual interests as friends, we developed greater respect, collaboration and perseverance when it came time to launch our business together.

If you're thinking about launching a business with your best friend, the following three tips will help you balance the line between friendship and partnership.

Establish alignment on vision and values.

While I was living in Boston, I flew out to visit Nicolas in San Francisco the weekend of the Web 2.0 conference, and was inspired by the idea of crowdsourcing. When I first pitched the crowdsourcing idea to Nicolas, he thought it was terrible, and he was probably right -- but a week later, he called me to say we should start a business together. I moved to San Francisco the following week, and over the next few months we developed the blueprint for AppDirect.

Related: Why Co-CEOs Are a Bad Idea for Early-Stage Startups, Almost Always

During this early stage, we developed a strong vision for what we wanted our company to become -- a vision we would come to refer to as our "true north." By relying on each other, we maintained a strong conviction in what we were doing. Others will constantly tell you what they think is or isn't possible when you're building a business, which can lead to tension and negativity. But, by constantly aligning on our vision for the company we were able to push forward.

Divide and conquer.

In the early days, Nicolas and I learned to divide and conquer our focus and responsibilities. Due to this, we spent a good deal of our time building the company apart -- each meeting with different executives focused on our areas of new-found expertise. Therefore, we had to rely on good intent -- that we both wanted the business to succeed -- and have an inherent amount of trust in each other. To help establish this trust and prepare, we'd spent hours practicing for upcoming meetings, rehearsing and providing feedback. We took turns pitching to each other as if the other was the client until we felt confident and on the same page. After pitching to actual clients, we reviewed and brainstormed with each other on how to improve for next time.

Having a trusted friend as your business partner has the added perk of always keeping your spirits up, supporting you in your vision, challenging you to leave your comfort zone and making work fun.

Related: Getting Through Thick and Thin With Your Co-founder

Maintain your professional and personal relationship.

As you can imagine, working closely with your best friend in a professional setting can put a strain on your personal relationship. Therefore, it's super important to maintain both "structured" time -- time reserved exclusively to talk shop -- and "unstructured" time, otherwise known as hanging out and generally enjoying your friend's company. Nicolas and I try to spend as much "unstructured" time together as we can. Before starting the business, we climbed the glaciers in New Zealand; this past summer, my fiancée and I went on vacation to Canada with Nicolas and his wife. We also spend a good deal of time doing typical weekend activities -- such as brunch with our families and hiking/walking -- to pull ourselves away from the day-to-day aspects of work.

Nicolas and I have been lucky to have the support of our families, friends and our mentors, but through the thick and thin of building this company the one constant we are grateful for is that we could rely on each other throughout the journey. Having a co-founder as a best friend grounds you, keeps you positive through challenges and able to persevere. Even before AppDirect, we always aligned on our values, including our passion for work/life harmony. We lean on and trust each other in the decisions we make, especially when it comes to our employees, clients and what's right for the business.

Related Video: Select Your Co-Founder Carefully

Dan Saks

President and Co-CEO, AppDirect

Dan Saks is co-founder, president and co-CEO of AppDirect, which provides cloud service marketplaces, billing and distribution, and reselling services for businesses around the world. 

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