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Can I be business partners with my friends or vice versa?

two hands shake on top of social, possible germination of seeds

Start up founders, entrepreneurs, programmers or early stage startup and project teams considering a NewCo, building a new project team for a venture, most likely long-term venture prospects etc.

Business relationships are all about achieving specific goals. These goals can be about making a positive impact (think social good) or achieving a particular outcome (think launching a new product, hitting a revenue target etc). One key factor is that these goals are measurable. In business, we use metrics (numbers) to track progress towards outcomes, and indicators (descriptive details) to track progress towards making a positive impact.

These quantifiable elements, whether they be revenue targets, Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), daily active users (DAU), or strategies for entering new markets, form the backbone of any business relationship. They set the stage for employee agreements and partnership MOUs, ensuring that every participant is aligned towards achieving these predefined goals.

The essence of business relationships, therefore, hinges on the ability to meet these targets and realize the desired outcomes and impacts.

While it’s certainly nice to do business with people you like, it’s not essential. A strong business partnership can thrive even if you don’t consider your partner a close friend, as long as everyone is focused on achieving the goals you set out together.

Friendships are a whole different ball game compared to business relationships. Friendships are driven by things we can’t quite measure, like shared desires, emotions, a general sense of connection and much more. We’re drawn to friends for who they are as a whole, not what they can do for us.

In these relationships, titles and societal labels fade into the background; a friend known as Andrew to the world becomes simply ‘Drew‘ in your eyes — they might occasionally stay stupid stuff, but to you they are funny; Their dancing skills might be questionable and could blow up your TikTok 😂😂 if they ever did the Tshwala Bam Dance challenge with you, but in your eyes, their presence is all that really matters.

This dynamic underscores that the essence of friendship is qualitative, flourishing on a foundation of emotional connection rather than measurable transactions. While some attempt to apply a quantitative lens to friendships, advocating for a balanced 50/50 approach in give and take, true friendship transcends such metrics. Being someone’s friend stems from a place of desire, emotion, and feelings we have towards each other.

The Business and Friendship Conundrum

Now I sound like an episode from The Big Bang Theory 😂 — Howbeit mixing business and friendships can be a tricky proposition, especially if the friendship came first. Some people recommend becoming friends with business partners after the business is established; This allows you to see if your working styles and goals are compatible before risking the friendship.

The key challenge is that business relationships are inherently transactional. If things go south financially, the partnership can dissolve quickly, potentially taking the friendship with it. However, friendships are more forgiving. If a disagreement arises on a personal level, a strong friendship can usually weather the storm, and you might even find a way to continue working together professionally.

Soooo ….. Friends First (FF) or Business First (BF)?

I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all answer. To look at it from a risk perspective, What’s the worst that could happen

We were friends first before business (FF):

If you were friends before becoming business partners, the worst that could probably happen would be the risk of damaging a cherished friendship if the business fails or things go really bad, especially if either of you had a role in the negative outcomes of the partnership arrangement.

We are business partners first before friends (BF):

If you were business partners before becoming friends, what could really go wrong here? since the business comes first, you might easily part ways if the partnership doesn’t work out fine, however there is an off chance that things go really well on the business side, but you miss our on the potential for a deeper connection with a valued colleague.

This creates a dilemma: is it better to be friends first and risk losing the friendship in a business downturn, or to prioritize business success and potentially miss out on a deeper connection?

There’s no single right answer. The best approach depends on the individuals involved, the nature of the business, and your priorities. A couple pointers to help you be proactive about structuring partnerships around friends, hopefully I add more to the list as I learn more

  • Prioritize the friendship: If a strong friendship is more important, consider working with someone else in a business partnership.
  • Align your feelings: One of the major culprits with managing friendships when you are in business is trying to not hurt each other’s feelings about decisions or actions that were detrimental to the business, you need to reach a consensus that feelings will be hurt and employ some level of empathy and NVC (Non-Violent Communication) to help each other understand how they actions have been detrimental to operational success or partnership goals.
  • Focus on business goals: If achieving specific business objectives is paramount, prioritize finding a partner with complementary skills and a shared vision, even if you’re not close friends initially.
  • Open communication: If you do choose to go into business with a friend, honest and open communication is crucial. Discuss potential risks and how you’ll handle disagreements upfront to protect both the business and the friendship.
  • Backup Plan: Do you have a plan in place for how to handle a potential business disagreement that could impact the friendship?

The relationship between friendship and business partnerships can be delicate. When friendship precedes a business venture, the risks are significant. If conflicts arise on the professional front, the friendship may suffer irreparable damage. When a business partnership is established before a friendship develops, the dynamics shift. In such cases, if the professional relationship deteriorates, the chances of forming a genuine friendship become slim even if you both liked each other.

I can’t recommend any traits right now, I’m not even sure if patience, hope, empathy or communication is enough. This nature of these relationship in the dynamics and forming of teams is very intricate and navigating it demands a high level of awareness and intentionality.

Goodluck is you’re on this path and feel free to hit me up on LinkedIn or Twitter if you have any thoughts on this

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