My best friend and I started and ran a club in college, and it was a resounding success. Our skills are complementary, and we’re both very driven and entrepreneurial, having each run our own side projects.
However, our underlying friendship suffers when we disagree about product and company decisions, as we’re both very stubborn and hardheaded. In college, this led to a lot of painful compromising, but resulted in a fantastic club that truly represented both of our strengths. It also broke up our friendship for a while.
Today we’re on good terms again, and our friendship is stronger then ever - and we want to start a startup together. We think we’d be fantastic co-founders, and we have lots of ideas. But I worry about the repercussions.
How do you manage being best friends and co-founders? How do you separate the personal from the professional? We’re finding that we’re not very good at it.
Dear Almost Founder,
This is a great question. In my first company we definitely had this problem, and it took many years to figure out a solution. In fact - I’m not sure if we ever did. Only after working on my second startup did I realize the answer.
You need to divide responsibilities. You have to agree upfront which parts of the company you will be working on, and which your friend/co-founder will be working on. Most importantly, you have to be comfortable with that person getting the final say in those areas. Even harder, you have to be comfortable with that person deciding how those decisions will be implemented.
Once each of you feels like you have an area that you manage, you will feel more comfortable accepting feedback - and more careful in giving it. You will also work hard to make sure that the parts of the company you’re in charge of succeed, because it will be clear where the responsibility lies if they don’t.
At my second startup this is how we divided responsibilities:
- Founder 1: Website, database, analytics, and Android
- Founder 2: Video, technical recruiting, and iOS
- Founder 3: Product, press, fundraising, and biz dev
On the personal side - it will still get very tough sometimes, as you have already experienced. Just remember, never take that action or say that thought that pushes the relationship over the edge and can’t be undone.