Should you start a business with a friend?
Posted February 5th, 17:00
4 min read
Imagine starting a business alone. It can be scary, intimidating and a right slog to do something alone, with no support other than the people whose ears you can bend.
Now imagine starting a business with a friend. Collaboration, partnership and someone to bounce ideas off all sounds great, but what do you do if things go sour? Not only could you lose a business, you could lose your friend too.
We speak to two businesses that grew from friendships to see how the dynamic can impact on business decisions and businesses themselves.
‘Make sure you’re in business for the right reasons’
Ros Protheroe and Rachel Arnold started Panda Education, an education and training business in 2016 after working together for 14 years.
“Rachel was my manager for many years, so it was sort of a strange dynamic to want to set up a business,” says Ros.
“We were both leaving the place where we worked, and instead of going off on our own and doing two different things we thought we’d be stronger together.
“I was going to be a freelance trainer and Rachel was going to be a training consultant. We both have very different strengths that together work quite well. I know that on my own I’d be rubbish at organisation and going and getting work, but Rachel is brilliant at that.”
Rachel says that while starting a business with a friend is great, it’s important to make sure that you know what your friend is like in a work setting too.
“We’ve got the benefit of having worked together for the last 14 years, so we know how each other works. I think if you set up with someone who’s your friend, you only know them as a friend – you have to know them inside out,” says Rachel.
“We made sure we were in the business for the right reasons, and this is another problem you might get with friends – their reasons for starting a business might be different, so we made sure our reasons for starting, and what we wanted to achieve, were the same.”
Openness is the most important part of working together, says Ros: “The key is that we talk a lot and it’s better out than in – you don’t want things eating away at you.”
‘A strong partnership makes a strong business’
Best friends Solar Buddies co-founders Kelli Aspland and Laura Griffin invented their child-friendly sun cream applicator together.
“I cannot think of anything better than running this business with my best friend,” says Kelli.
“We did this out of a joint concern as parents and we are both equally as passionate about what we are trying to achieve. It’s why we work.
“Outsiders told us that being in a partnership is bad. There could be conflicts of interest, conflicting ideas about ways of running the business or finances. It can all have an impact on our working relationship and could be our downfall as friends, but I don’t think it will.
“We have symmetry in what we do, we have different roles to play and we do them well and we have each other as a buffer/backup.
“A strong partnership makes a strong business. I think a good partnership is a great driving force.
“We want our business to work and succeed and there are no big egos in our work or personalities. If we want it to work, they take a backseat.
“A healthy working relationship is all about healthy debate on what works and what doesn’t.
“Do we see eye to eye on all things? No. Do we let it affect our relationship? No.”
Could going into business with a friend help you to get investment?
Solar Buddies received investment from Hayley Parsons, who founded Gocompare.com with a group of friends and colleagues. Her own business experience informs who she invests in.
“I created Gocompare.com with my mates, and they’re still mates today. The businesses I’ve been drawn to are all two-people teams,” says Hayley.
“I like the whole team dynamic; the combination of a few people working together and making things happen.”
If you are looking for investment, starting a business with a friend could give you an edge. Investors can be more attracted to businesses with co-founders, as you’re perceived to be less risky and have more skills together than either of you would have alone. This applies to any co-founder dynamic, however, not just friends.
While her experience of starting a business with friends was positive, it can lead to problems for some warns Hayley.
Hayley says: “You might start a business with your friends and they turn out not to be the right people.
“Founders struggle with separating business and personal life. I could separate the two – we could have an argument about something and then go to the pub afterwards.”
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