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Is your co-founder your best friend? Here’s how to ensure your business and friendship flourish

Cliff Ho /

co-founder best friend

The Commons co-founders Cliff Ho (left) and Tom Ye (right).

Let’s face it, we have all schemed with friends over a few beverages about starting a business together, dreaming about escaping the daily grind to be our own bosses.

However, for those that follow through, it is important to make sure the venture is not only successful financially, but sees the survival of the friendship which came before the business.

Like any business journey, there will no doubt be trials and tribulations, however, this doesn’t mean there can’t be highs either. What’s better than sharing in entrepreneurial triumph with close friends?

So if you have decided to take a leap of faith and start a business with friends, it is imperative to keep a few key things in mind.

Define your roles

Like any business, every employee (and boss) should have a clear and defined job title. Take into consideration each other’s skills, strengths and weaknesses. You might want the status of chief executive officer, but if your dexterity when it comes to leadership is not great, it’s probably best to admit this and take on a role that better suits your natural abilities.

By clearly defining each other’s roles, you’re able to build on your mutual trust the other person is an expert at what they’re doing so you can stick to your lane.

Further to this point, in the beginning each person is going to need to be able to adapt and wear every hat in the business. At some stage, you will all probably need to play the role of receptionist, web designer, marketer, accountant, cleaner and the list goes on.

However, as the business grows and you hire staff, the feeling of hard work paying off is insatiable.

Set your boundaries

From the get-go, it is smart to put some ground rules in place. Having a relationship prior to business means it is going to become inevitably emotional at some point. Try to understand each other’s triggers, and don’t attempt to have serious conversations if you can tell that person is not in the right mind frame.

With any conversation, it is imperative to keep emotional responses out of the equation. As part of your ground rules, include a point about avoiding raising your voice, yelling or walking away.

Also, remember respect as a key rule. Appreciate each other’s opinions and ideas, don’t shut each other down, and try not to give attitude.

Most importantly, don’t bring your personal lives into business. No personal insults should ever be used and don’t relate any personal situations back to the work at hand. No ‘normal’ colleague would do that, so you shouldn’t either.

Boundaries also include setting up an expectation of each other, and working together to understand the values and goals you want from the business. By having this type of document in place, you can keep one another accountable in a professional manner.

Keep up communication

While it can occasionally be difficult to avoid some level of conflict, the best way to prevent tension is by ensuring open communication. Referring back to the rules above, if communication is lacking that is when it is likely issues will arise.

Just because you’re friends, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to keep up dialogue. If anything, you need to talk more. Never stay silent, if you are concerned about something, have a great idea or a general concern, just speak up. Stewing and mulling over situations is likely to cause issues — more than being honest will.

When you do have these hard conversations, it is also important to remember not to take things personally. It’s just business and not about you as a human being. Sometimes you will do things wrong, or your ideas may not be viable, that’s just the way it goes.

Maintain your friendship

This is probably the most important thing to consider: you were friends before you were business partners.

However, when you’re considering starting a business together, reflect on whether you both have the same work ethic, as well as an overarching set of morals and values. Undoubtedly, this is the key to a friendship surviving the throes of business. Everyone wants to know they’re undertaking an equal workload and that they operate in business and everyday life with the same beliefs.

While in principle, owning a business with friends may seem like a great idea, it is important to ensure that you have all your ducks in row, and know that there will be tough times to weather together. With all this in mind, there is no reason why you can’t have an amazing experience and an incredibly successful business.

NOW READ: Setting your business apart: The Commons co-founder Cliff Ho on how to stand out in a crowded market

NOW READ: How 50-year-old founder Megan Avard launched her contract management startup, despite being told she “needed” a male co-founder

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Cliff Ho

Cliff Ho is the co-founder and chief executive officer of The Commons, one of Australia’s most creative coworking spaces. Cliff is also co-founder of The Commons Campus and end-to-end management startup Oreka.

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