Popular imagination, with the help of some Hollywood magic, has made very clear that the journey to entrepreneurial success is full of highs and lows. Nowhere can the lows be lower than when the relationship with a friend-turned-business partner goes bad. The falling out between Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Sanchez is but one high-profile example of the strain entrepreneurship puts on even the strongest relationships.
As founder and CEO of fast-growing IT company Synechron, Faisal Husain is living proof that starting and growing a company with friends is not only possible, but also beneficial--and even life-changing. I spoke with Faisal about the unique company culture he and his team have built--resulting in a multinational IT financial services outsourcing firm with more than $285 million in annual revenues. Here are Faisal's tips for making the friend/business partner dynamic a big plus instead of a huge negative in your business.
Tip 1: Check your ego at the door
Sure, the stakes will get high and you will find yourself in situations where you're convinced that your route is the route to take. But it is imperative not to forget that your co-founders are your peers with different, equally valid points of view and life experiences that inform them. Healthy competition on concepts, innovation development, and strategy can be an important part of the business decision-making process. Actions taken--or not taken--out of fear of hurting the friendship will ironically 1) Hurt the friendship, and 2) Hurt the business.
Tip 2: Keep lines of communication open
Says Faisal, "Despite how our company has grown, and despite the myriad locations throughout the world to which my co-founders and I now travel, we discuss at least twice a year the health and direction of our company." The openness the team shares is a function of the respect they have for each other as business partners and friends. Better to be open and transparent than to be less than forthcoming on something as important as your business for the sake of the friendship.
Tip 3: Designate one leader
Although clear and effective communication can overcome the majority of disagreements, occasionally an issue arises in which mutual consensus cannot be achieved. When this happens, it is important that the buck stop with one person's decision. One person must be designated the leader, and that person must carefully weigh each of their friends' arguments and counterarguments. However, at the end of the day, everyone must agree that the designated leader will make the final decision based on what he or she thinks is best for the company.
Tip 4: Don't hold grudges
Grudges are unhealthy in any friendship, and are equally unhealthy in business. In the error-prone early days of a startup, it's easy for grudges to develop and fester, hindering the group from moving forward. Air out grievances when they occur. Friends, like business partners, need to either move on or move out. It's easier to move on when all friends/business partners learn from each other and the mistakes that they've made together. Ultimately, this will create a stronger and more successful company, as well as a more wholesome and transparent friendship.
Tip 5: Build good companies like you build good friendships
Good companies are built upon the same principles as good friendships: Communication, collaboration and transparency. Just as friends value and respect each others' personal interests, business partners must do the same--putting the company's interests above their own.