This is part of my Series on Entrepreneurial Culture.
Lots of people worry about partnering with friends when they launch a startup. This is mostly because there’s an old saw out there, deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness about how the best way to ruin a friendship is to get a friend involved with anything having to do with money, business and the like. I’ve heard this meme repeated ad nauseam throughout the years in the form of “advice”, mostly from non-entrepreneurs, parents, grandparents and others who have never actually been involved in business. I actually think this should take its place among the annals of the most commonly dispensed worst pieces of advice given to entrepreneurs. In my view it’s just a gross generalization based on some seriously flawed views about business and friendship alike.
Obviously if you are thinking about partnering with anyone, let alone a friend, it should be because you believe that person will add a great deal to the business you intend to build. You should never partner with someone for the sole reason that you trust them and feel comfortable around them. Nevertheless, if you are considering partnering with someone who will bring enormous value to the new venture who also happens to be a great friend of yours, you are actually incredibly fortunate. Now you won’t have to spend any time worrying about your partner's character, capacities or loyalties and you both can focus 100% on building a thriving enterprise. To boot you'll have a trusted friend in the same foxhole as you embark on one of the most challenging aspects of human endeavor- a startup company.
There’s a slight catch, though. One thing you’ll absolutely have to do before making such a momentous partnering decision is to ask yourself whether this person is really a true friend of yours. As we all know, the word “friend” is a catch-all and can mean almost anything, as in "My good friend, the Congressman from the great State of ....". You get the picture I'm sure.
So let me replace the old saw above with abetter one: “Know who your friends are”. If it’s someone you’ve relied on for years through thick and thin, someone who’s loyal, unselfish, fair-minded and puts your interests right up there with his or her own- you are talking about a friend. If it’s someone you started following on twitter last month who tweets about the same cheeseburger you like at Shake Shack- it might be time to take stock of things.