If Ben and Jerry can do it…
It all started on a normal Sunday afternoon. Juan and me, Lucas, close friends for years, typically hung out on Sundays before starting the work week. Juan realized it was his girlfriend’s mother’s birthday the next day, but he had no gift. Not wanting to disappoint, we all scoured online throwing out ideas, but nothing we found on Google seemed appropriate.
Quickly our friends Marcos and Jose jump aboard, and thus, our company, Fligoo, a gift recommendation platform, was born. Not only are we friends, but we’re all 24 and 25 years old, which means we had to go that extra mile to convince our friends and family that this was real…not just some idea to get us out of corporate life. Things really fell into the hands of Marcos, our developer, as he had to create an algorithm that could analyze Facebook profiles. With things taking off quickly and investors calling, we ran into our first problem: our developer was calling all the shots.
We realized that none of us understood as much as Marcos, so how could we fight a point when we really had no idea how the backend worked. So, though we had marketing and business backgrounds, we realized we needed to understand the programming. We learned pretty early on that all team members should have an idea of programming. Though we had defined roles, it’s vital that no one on the team is in the dark about anything.
Tip #1: Always understand what everyone else does. It’s to have an idea about the capabilities and what is expected for each person on the team. This way, you don’t ask ridiculous demands from anyone, because you know what is feasible.
And then another roadblock – this time, I was to blame. I’m a bit bossy; I’ll admit it. And with friends you can be honest…very honest. The niceties of working with a stranger are thrown out the door when you work with someone that witnessed you going through puberty. So when I became a dominant force, my team had to shut down my competitive and overbearing self…which they did so very honestly – maybe a little too honestly.
Tip #2: Be open to criticism. Everyone on the team will be wrong at some point, so if you everyone must be able to accept advice from the group. Calmly accepting each other’s positions will ensure smooth planning and execution of your idea.
Friends that are business partners is a very dangerous game. We’ve seen other companies fall apart and friendships lost because they disagree about a logo. Especially young, energetic youth such as ourselves find it hard to pull back the reins when the whole team hates your best idea. Our solution? When we disagree, we take 10 minutes aside to fix each problem before moving forward.
Tip #3: Have a plan for how to resolve conflict. For us, we put away phones, computers, and all distractions to take 10 minutes to talk about the problem. Some people have other ways, but you’re guaranteed to run into problems, so have a gameplan on how to solve them before things get out of control.
We’ve been managing each other’s emotions for over a decade, so adding in a business aspect was not difficult for us. The guys know I’m bossy, so when my competitive nature starts to rear its ugly head, it’s not something new – it’s something we dealt with playing soccer 10 years ago. We keep some things professional and other things playful. There is a time and place – so when we’re in business mode, we don’t complain about girlfriends, we complain about slow Internet.
Tip #4: When you’re at work, you are working. Period. Of course we want to talk about last night’s soccer match, but it has to wait. With friends it’s easy to procrastinate and go off on tangents, so when you’re in the office it’s all work. Save the sports talk for the bus ride home.
The best part of working with friends is that you’ve already dealt with a lot of the emotional problems. It is good to have a moderator on the team – someone that can condense all ideas and fairly call each person out when they’re wrong. We, luckily, have Jose, who can balance us all.
Tip #5: If possible, start the team with a friend that is a good mediator. Someone who can hear both sides of an argument, put emotion away, and make the best decision is a vital part of any team.
Starting a business with a friend that you already fight with is a big mistake. Starting a business with a friend that you easily get along with could be your favorite working environment. We are seeing more and more businesses like us, as startups are the latest trend. So if we had to give any advice to people in our situation, we’d say define clear roles for each person and make sure everyone tolerates new ideas. You must help each other to be better, not compete to be the best.
Tip #6: You’re never going to get higher if you knock each other down. If the non-techie guy needs help, give him a training, instead of leaving him in the dark. Don’t forget that you are only as strong as your weakest link.
We were lucky to learn all of this — all the while living together in the same house and working in the same office. That, for many startups, can be a bit too much, but we have somehow made it work. Knowing our own and each other’s limits and personality, and being able to navigate our way through that, makes the process a lot easier.
Lucas Olmedo is the CEO and Co-Founder of Fligoo, a platform that uses a unique algorithm to find the perfect gift for any Facebook friend. With a background in finance and marketing, Lucas handles all of the business development and strategy for Fligoo.