Lessons Learned: Starting a Business With a Friend October 6, 2016 05:00
"Should I start a new business with a friend?"
Mary Beth and I have been asked this question multiple times because this is exactly what we did with UPstudio. We are in a unique position, since we work together in our day jobs, so in actuality, we had been working together for years prior to the founding of UPstudio. We knew we worked well together because of that, and because of our friendship. But, we have given a lot of thought to this question since we've been working together. Our short answer is yes, start a new business with a friend - with the huge caveat that it has to be the right person. Starting a business is kind of a big deal, and there are a ton of factors that go in to it - more than we realized when we started out. During a 'Real Talk' interview that we did with Earn Spend Live, we discussed a bit about what it's like to work with a friend and if we would recommend it. The article touches on a few points, but here are some more in depth thoughts that we highly recommend considering before you jump in with a partner:
Do you like this person?
Seriously. This seems like a silly question, but you have to take into account how much time you'll be spending together... even when you're not together, you're still communicating all day long. MB and I often text early in the morning, talk on our lunch breaks at our day jobs, and then text / call / skype again in the evenings. We have meetings on nights and weekends, and we go to festivals and shows together where we sell our products. You're basically committing to a level just below marriage, so make sure you actually like your potential business partner.
Do your goals align?
What does the idea of this business mean to both of you - is it a hobby? A career? A creative outlet? If you're not on the same page with where your business is headed, then it could be an awkward and unfair division of responsibilities. In addition to your business goals, you need to consider your overall life goals (this sounds intense, but hear me out) - for example, MB and I both have families with small kids, and it's extremely important to both of us that even if we dedicate a lot of extra time to UPstudio, our families are always still our top priority. If you start a business with someone who has kids and you don't, then there's the potential for things to feel a little one-sided on occasion. MB and I are also both Christians, so we know that our top priorities outside of working together always align.
Do you work well together?
This is another one of those questions that seems silly to ask yourself, but it is a legitimate question. You might like someone, but not be able to work with them. If you don't agree on something, will you be able to work it out and make a compromise? We make all kinds of decisions for UPstudio on almost a daily basis. Most of the time we agree, but sometimes we don't. In those instances, we take the time to understand each other's point of view, and are able to make an informed decision from there. In the end, we're always both on board with whatever decision is made. As mentioned above, MB and I have the unique advantage of working together in our day jobs. I am an architect and she is a structural engineer, so we've coordinated a number of buildings together, and we knew from that experience that our communication was open and we are able to solve problems together.
Do you have the same financial goals and responsibilities?
Starting a business isn't free. There are a lot of legal things that need to happen before a business is official (but that's all for another blog post!) but even if your business is something like running an Etsy store, there is generally always some sort of cost associated with what you're doing. Who purchases supplies for your product? Marketing and promotion materials? Money is a sensitive area, so you want to make sure that you and your partner are either 100% equal on what is invested, or that you are both 100% comfortable with the division of financial responsibilities (but we recommend the 50/50 split!)
Do you both have passion for your business?
This one is pretty simple. If you aren't both willing to give it 100% most of the time, then you probably shouldn't start the business. It's pretty obvious that if one person feels 'meh' while they other one is 'YES' then whoever is less enthusiastic will continue to be less enthusiastic, leaving majority of the work left for the other person. You have to love what you're doing for there to be a future, or for starting a business to make sense in the first place.
Do you have a balance of responsibilities?
When we were first kicking around the idea of creating UPstudio, MB and I sat down and talked about what each of our responsibilities would be. MB shared that she was much more interested in the business side of things, including accounting, determining which website host would be best, writing code, etc, while I was much more interested in the design and creation of our products. This does not mean that the other one of us is not interested in the other side and that we don't invest effort in those things too, but it gave us a pretty clear division of responsibilities that just happened to work out perfectly. One of us will generate an idea, whether it's business or design related, and the designated person will run with it, then we'll meet again to talk about it, make changes, and finalize. Basically, it's a huge team effort with our main roles defined. Another note about working with a partner is that life happens. Sometimes you just can't make things work with your personal schedule, and that is to be expected. When you're working with someone that you can count on, they can help pick up your slack when you just can't do it. MB and I have each had babies in the short time that UPstudio has been founded, and during those times, one person is clearly doing that majority of the work - but we're happy to do that for each other, because we know that we'll get that same effort in return when something comes up for us, no question.
All in all, working with a partner is great. They can inspire you, challenge you, and share all the joys and struggles of running a business. You're also held accountable when someone is counting on you - I believe you have more of a chance of being successful in a business with a partner - the right partner. I know I have the right one for this! (awwwwwww)
Awesome outtakes from a photo session earlier this year