How to start a business with a friend
When you launch a company with a friend - if you're a woman, at least - people tend to think one of two things: That it's either an endless slumber-party ("That sounds like so much fun!") or that you are completely insane and are destined to have a falling out that would be worthy of a reality TV show.
But four years into starting Of a Kind, a site that sells the pieces and tells the stories of emerging designers, my business partner Claire Mazur and I have had neither experience.
In fact, we think that our partnership is one of the strongest, most impressive things about the business we've built.
Below, eight of the tips and tricks we've picked up along the way.
1. Harness your shared history
Having been friends for the better part of a decade before starting a company, Claire and I had experienced a lot together, from the inevitable drama that comes with being a college girl to the more grown-up weight of family illness. We know how the other deals with stress and emotion. And while this comes in handy in countless settings, from presentations to hiring sessions, I have to say that I find it most comforting when we're sitting in what feels like the worst meeting of all time, and I know the person sitting next to me is equally miserable.
2. Define roles
Though we share a couple's desk and bounce ideas off each other all day, we have clearly outlined our responsibilities so that a) we don't both write responses to the same emails and b) we don't step on one another's toes. Our who-does-what breakdown lives in a spreadsheet that we revisit regularly as our company and our priorities evolve.
3. Accept that people will confuse you
They will! And there's nothing you can do about it. In fact, we have not one but two portmanteaus of the Brangelina/Kimye ilk: Clairica and Eclaire. But when people ask us if we live together? That's when we laugh in their faces.
4. Schedule time apart (and don't feel badly about it)
The amount of hours we clock together is almost obscene - in addition to our time at the office, there are drinks, meetings, dinners, after-work events. Our rule: We don't see each other on weekends (unless a mutual friend's wedding or birthday dinner thwarts that).
5. Take time to be just friends
Be gossipy. Talk about Scandal - or the World Cup if that's your scene. Do the things you did before you had an inkling that one day you'd have a professional relationship.
6. Let other people in - but also make time for just the two of you
For us, this has been one of the biggest challenges of growing our company: We want each new hire to feel like he or she is part of Team Of a Kind, not some supporting character in the Claire-and-Erica show. But, now that we spend a greater portion of our days managing and delegating than we did back when, we inherently have less one-on-one time to check in on each other, brainstorm, and workshop bigger projects.
This year, for the first time, we've started scheduling weekly closed-door meetings that pull us out of the office's open floor plan (and, just as imperatively, out of our inboxes) to think big-picture together and walk through our week's to-dos.
7. Learn how to fight and what's worth fighting over
The more confident we've become in our business and in the roles we've carved out (see #2), the better we both have gotten about letting the little things go. This means we only devote energy and emotion to hashing out things that we deem to actually matter - and, in doing so, we give them the weight they deserve.
8. Own your individual brands of crazy
I am completely brain-dead from, oh, 3 to 5 pm every day, I love reading things aloud for no real reason, and I get outraged about really inconsequential stuff, like two-page-long resumes.
Claire has to be fed every two hours, is allergic to mornings and sometimes starts conversations 30 per cent in with no context.
These are the type of things are not going to change. So they have to be what we can joke about - and cater to. Claire will listen to me read three paragraphs of an article before telling me to shut up, and I don't schedule anything that requires enthusiasm before 11 am.
And we wouldn't have it any other way.