At the end of 2010, Aron Susman found himself frustrated with the process of finding office space for a company. He called longtime friends Jonathan Wasserstrum and Justin Lee, who both had some experience in the industry, and asked them for a tutorial on commercial leasing. Through the course of those conversations, the idea for online commercial real estate platform TheSquareFoot was born. Since then, the trio of co-founders have learned a few things about running a business with friends. Here is Susman's take on what you need to consider if you're thinking of starting a company with pals.
1. Pro: positive work relationships.
Dreading work certainly isn't a problem considering friends are friends for a reason--you like spending time with them. Not only do TheSquareFoot's co-founders take breaks to play video games or throw a Frisbee, they challenge each other to improve and dream bigger.
2. Con: pushing buttons.
The people you've known a long time also know what gets on your nerves. "Sometimes we forget the professional line in the sand and antagonize each other," he says. "If, for example, the Houston Rockets lost in five games to the Golden State Warriors, I know that bringing that up will drive Justin nuts."
3. Pro: trust.
Your closest friends are people you trust. "When Jonathan takes meetings with other CEOs and companies, we don't worry that he's looking for another job, or trying to replace us," he says. "It's not the same kind of corporate cutthroatedness as in other companies."
4. Con: knowing too much.
When you've spent years hanging out with someone on a personal level, you possess knowledge you wouldn't normally have about a co-worker. This can make separating work and nonwork difficult.
5. Pro: comfortable communication.
Friends don't have to worry about political correctness or tiptoeing around issues. You can also disagree for as long as it takes to reach a conclusion everyone is satisfied with. "I once told Jonathan that his outfit looked like Ronald McDonald and he could not wear that to a meeting," he says. "I don't know if I could tell a nonfriend that."
6. Con: lack of communication barriers.
Speaking comfortably can become disruptive, and disagreements can become feisty. "No one holds back when we talk in a professional setting, just like no one would hold back if we were chatting in a personal setting," he says.
7. Pro: sharing the same vision of leadership.
Friends tend to think alike, which can be a great thing, particularly if you're pitching an idea to a client or prospective customer. If you know what your co-worker is going to say next, it's easy to set him or her up, without looking orchestrated.
8. Con: power struggles.
At TheSquareFoot Wasserstrum is CEO, Lee is COO, and Susman is CFO, so there can be some confusion about who is in charge, particularly if the co-founders are giving differing answers to colleagues. "Ninety-nine times out of 100 we can fix this with a bit of clear communication, but there's that one time that can cause a bit of a power struggle," he says.
9. Pro: team-based relationships.
Susman says he and his co-founders are a team that works together to build relationships with other people and companies. "We all bring something different to the table when negotiating, networking, or building partnerships, yet we all share the same goals," he says. "We can portray our business as one with great teamwork and leadership."
10. Con: knowing the same people.
When you share the same networks as your friends, it can be challenging to find new connections. "I can't tell you how many times I have reached out to people and they have said, 'Yep, I know you guys. I have already spoken to Jonathan.' It would be nice if we had three totally separate networks," he says.
11. Pro: more friend time.
Susman says spending all day with his best friends is the best part of working with them. "Sometimes work feels like school or college," he says. "We get to come to work and talk about TV, sports, and whatever is going on in the world. It's pretty fun."