Friends are cool. They are. I strongly recommend you to have some. It’s always fun with them. Well, most of the time, unless you are sharing business.
Wait. What? How can you be that stupid to launch a startup with a close friend, don’t you know it will harm your friendship? Didn’t you hear about Twitter or Facebook? There are millions of examples that prove this shit does not work with friends, period!
Then you meet a friend, share some ideas, you have the same vision, you start fantasizing how you will rule the world with your agency. Plans always become secondary when your brain is inside a green Lamborghini, and her heart is in the Caribbeans.
Yeah, just a stupid sharing session of dreams, and bam! You establish an agency together, friends first and then Co-founders, how more beautiful it can get?
I kind of recall all the horror movies I have seen during my existence, and some of them have similar starting minutes when there’s this home, where 18 people died without any apparent reason. Somehow some dumb entrepreneur decides to move there with his entire family to live happily ever after. Scriptwriters and film directors play brilliantly with the lights, there’s always a bright scene at the beginning with a lot of green, sun, child laughter, anything that your brain can associate with happiness.
Cola puts a lot of green shit in their ads, and we think it gives us happiness, so why not?
Anything that can go wrong will unquestionably go there
We start working together, shoulder to shoulder, very concentrated, result-driven, and motivated until the day when…
Epic drum pads from afar, heartbeat sounds and flashing frames with a suspenseful distorted child scream, which makes you sense fear, but you don’t know why you feel it, because it’s distorted. Still, your body reacts because it recognizes the possible threat to your existence, which you might not have, but again, feel that “I have to save my species” instinct.
So, the day comes, and I disappear.
Life hits me, I break up with my girlfriend, change my understanding of reality, and try to go on, in a way that does not hurt the job that I’m doing. A lot of misunderstandings and mismatches come on the surface. My Co-founder and I are different, and there are moments when I want to suffocate her with bare hands.
I’m the type that plans, chooses every single detail very carefully, thinks about each step, each client, each message, and she’s the executioner type. She is more of a go-getter — it does not matter whether we are fully ready or not; she can sometimes rush the process or even close deals we can not deliver. She tries to do everything at once.
I start realizing that our roles are shaky and so I talk to her about it. We decide to have our separate spaces where we can act without the permission of the other one, like kids who draw their borders with chalk on the ground and say “this is my house, you can’t get in.”
I mean, that’s what we used to do when we were kids, but that was long ago. Kids are probably watching egg unboxing videos on youtube and bending their necks in front of some overpriced tablets now.
We sit in front of each other, talk the talk, say how much we love each other and how we can overcome everything, get the extra motivation we need, split the roles and wait for a better day. We start seeing a beautiful island from our ship, and our boat slowly slices the water without a sound towards it. As we reach the island, we find out that it’s full of pain and sorrow.
This time she disappears for a month.
I do some work alone for a couple of weeks. She comes back and tells me she had a breakup too. I start thinking that there came the time to write a book called “Startups fuck relationships” and sell it to Millenials, but I realize that this is serious, so I shut up. Ok, I don’t, I crack some jokes, then shut up.
Let me highlight several challenges that people face when founding a startup with a friend;
You always say, “Our friendship does not matter, this is business, so if you see me doing something wrong, just go on and tell me, critique me as tough as you can, so I become better.”
And then when they do so, you take things close to your heart, that’s just how your brain works, you can’t do anything about it. Yeah, you can read some books, try to be more agile, read some articles on Medium about “How to withstand the critique,” etc., but at the end of the day, that’s a friend, who said your taste in design sucks, and it’s personal.
Decision-makers with different inner timers. My Co-founder is always in a hurry, while I like to do it calm and cool-headed. So she went on to make some independent decisions. These were decisions, where I had to be present at, but I wasn’t. That’s a good reason to get your blame game to the next level. I say she’s trying too hard and failing; she says I’m slower than a sea turtle. I like turtles; they are cool. Meh.
Financial uncertainty. Talk about the finances from day one. That’s not the most pleasant thing to discuss with a friend at first, but it has to be very clear from day one, and that’s why it’s very hard. You have to specify how you split the income, who pays the taxes, how you can manage the budget, who can make decisions on spending money. If you do all of this, you won’t get mad when your co-founder buys some random poster with poor design and puts your company name on it, and you won’t go crazy. Thank me later.
“Somewhere in between” decisions. These are the worst. Every member should make decisions based on his/her expertise and not participate in the ones he/she has no understanding of. But things don’t usually go that way, you talk about it, but you never do that way. Our understanding of equality was different, so we tried to make decisions when we both agree on something, and it took months. In the end, it turned out to be a losing game for both of us because we settled on something that is “fine” for her and “not so terrible” for me. Imagine a football league, where all the games end up in a draw; I assure you you’d have hated that, no matter how beautiful the games were.
Am I losing control of the team? It seems to consist more of “her” people than “my” people, This was one of the questions I had in my mind when we were working, and it sounds very selfish. Your brain sometimes wants more authority, and it does not care whether it’s logical or not.
After some time, I decided to quit to keep the friendship.
I chose to have a friend over the money, and I feel very proud of myself because money will come and go, it’s easy to make money.
Do I think I quit? Nope. I stepped back and won something more, like the 2006 Italy football team. Some of the opponent teams dominated during the games, but who won the world cup, son?
Right, that was “Squadra Azzurra.”
Is it a good idea to build a startup with an old pal?
What’s your experience?