The pros and cons of founding a startup with your best friend

best-friends-startup

Good friends who share an entrepreneurial mindset often end up talking about business ideas (especially after a few beers), and sometimes this even leads them to become co-founders of startup.

You’ve probably heard those stories about successful entrepreneurs who co-founded a business with their best friends and achieved success, for example Warby Parker, Ben & Jerry’s, Airbnb, and many others.

But there are also many stories about businesses that ended up being a failure, tearing apart long-time friends in short periods of time. This is why it’s important that you pay attention to the pros and cons about starting a business with your best friend/s. Here’s a shortlist of what to consider.

The Pros:

  • Friends often share the same interests, general beliefs and similar traits, like leaves from the same tree, friends who start a business together usually find it easier to agree on important decisions, despite having different perspectives.
  • Starting a business requires trust in the founding team, friends who have been together for a long time most likely have developed trust between them. Trusting that everyone is capable of delivering, managing and supporting the project together is key to achieving your goals.
  • Bringing years of experience understanding how your co-founders react to certain situations, and having the knowledge about triggers of tempers, it’s extremely valuable when facing difficult situations entrepreneurship brings to the table and solving problems becomes easier.
  • Empathy is one of the most important abilities we should develop for starting new businesses, towards your team, customers, contractors, etc. Years of a genuine friendship increment dramatically the ability of empathetic communication. Not having to worry about political correctness and being able to comfortably disagree and move forward.
  • Brainstorming sessions are helpful with several activities in the entrepreneurial journey. Developing ideas to move the business forward and solving problems, brainstorming is a powerful approach entrepreneurs use in their everyday. Brainstorming with friends gives you the power to think and speak freely, allowing for new and undiscovered ideas to develop.
  • Entrepreneurship brings a lot of hardships to face, one of the solutions to navigate them is to bring fun to the workplace, most likely you and your friends are already having fun, so bringing them makes the journey enjoyable.
  • Knowing the team’s strengths and weaknesses when starting a new business is key to navigate the company towards the right direction, best friends usually know and understand each other’s traits, giving an unfair advantage in comparison with co-founders that aren’t best friends.
  • Different personal values can often create time consuming discussions between co-founders, commonly most of our friends’ values and ours are aligned, reducing the friction in these types of discussions making the team more efficient.
  • Reaching important milestones is an exciting part of the entrepreneurial journey. Sharing that feeling with our friends makes the experience much more enjoyable, it allows you to celebrate with your closest friends and the excitement feeling is boosted.

The Cons:

  • Relationships between friends usually breed contempt, knowing too much about one person can sometimes erode mutual respect, similar to the struggles between marriages and family. This can become a potential issue for the business which can, in the long run disrupt and affect the viability of the business.
  • One of the problems that potentially disrupts a business is the power struggle. Unless roles are clearly defined, there is a big risk of who’s really in charge leading to leadership ambiguity. It’s harder to take orders from someone who’s a friend, potentially creating uncomfortable situations that could break the business and the relationship between friends.
  • Having a strong and big network of peers helps in the process of starting a new business, this is why if you choose to start a business with your friends, your networks may overlap and give you a disadvantage in comparison to starting a business with less related co-founders with different networks.
  • We all know things can take unexpected turns and when this happens, it’s harder to have difficult conversations and take tough decisions if you’re dealing with a friend, emotional feelings can easily get in the way and this potentially triggers uncomfortable and negative situations.
  • Trust between friends could become a double edged sword, it can be difficult to handle when you know and trust too much, and because likely you are embedded with each other’s personal life it could be difficult to separate work from personal life, creating a risk of mixing personal problems with business problems, making them harder to solve.
  • Communication barriers are often invisible between friends and this could turn simple disagreements into heavy, time-consuming discussions, in a professional setting barriers help set the threshold for triggering those discussions.
  • Sometimes it’s harder to pressure our friends to work harder, the same way it’s easier to unintentionally slack while working with friends, potentially creating a vicious circle, in which the slackers are not pressured enough in fear of messing up the friendship, and continue to feel comfortable slacking.
  • Founders could sometimes abandon the journey due to personal reasons, and not having a clear exit strategy when this happens, might leave the leaving founders with a significant stake in the business, potentially creating discomfort between the remaining team members.
  • The entrepreneurial journey is filled with stress, hardships, failures and demoralizing moments, the same way excitement feelings are boosted when shared with friends, negative feelings are also boosted when shared with friends. 
  • A broken friendship is a common situation when businesses co-founded by friends fail. Handling failure requires a lot of emotional effort and when not done properly, co-founders could end up blaming each other for the failure leaving bitter feelings and breaking friendships apart.

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