Two best friends, six children, one great idea and lots of communication -- that's been the formula for success with Sharon Cichy & Meredith Wade co-founders of Capital City Mamas. But will working with your best friend strengthen or ruin a meaningful relationship? That's the million dollar question.
There are many examples on both sides of the fence so while it seems to be a terrific way to leverage a combination of different skill sets along with a way to spend even more time with a person you adore, business is not the same as friendship.
Started in 2010, Capital City Mamas holds events and classes for moms and moms-to-be in the Washington DC area. So far, Sharon and Meredith have done everything perfectly to remain close friends, be there for their families and build a fast growing, successful biz. But they admit that it requires a lot of effort and constant communication.
About four years ago while their kids were in nursery school together, they talked about wanting to have their own business. They spent almost two years working through ideas, details and envisioning their lives as "mompreneurs."
They discussed every aspect of starting a business including all of the touchy subjects that many people ignore such as work ethic, time commitment, money, individual goals and balancing family. They brainstormed about their strengths and weaknesses and took positions within the company accordingly. Their backgrounds combine nicely as Sharon was a pre-school teacher and Meredith a lawyer.
It's inevitable in any business that situations will arise and opinions will differ. Their policy is to "discuss things and then take time away from each other to process and consider the others' position, then reconvene to find a solution."
Their number one rule is "family first." There's a lot of juggling between the two so that each mom can feel that they are balancing family and work in good proportion. Sharon says "It would be awful to resent the business we have created and built, or worse to resent one another if we felt we were sacrificing our quality family time. So, it's a constant discussion and we are always in touch during the day, knowing the exact whereabouts of one another at any given moment, we are definitely in sync."
Meredith says the drawback to working with your best friend has been "that we talk constantly about work that we don't have enough time to talk about personal stuff or just hang out, like before. But on the bright side, we trust each other implicitly and for all of our differences, we are driven by the same core values and goals."
Their Top Tips For Working With Your BFF:
- Keep work life and personal life separate and allow some time for friendship apart from work.
- Know that no matter what happens with work and what disagreements you have, nothing matters more at the core than your friendship, which is what got us where we are.
- Give your business partner space for the things outside of work that matter to them, and always be supportive of their needs.
- Listen and be respectful.
Their Top 3 Tips For Balancing Family Time & Biz:
- Work at night.
- Take advantage of the times that your family needs aren't as great by getting as much done as you can, so that when family needs do arise, you feel okay relying more on your business partner.
- Focus on work when you work, focus on family when you are with family, and do whatever you can to remain undistracted
Heather Ramirez & Kimmy Cavallo also became friends when their first born kids were infants. They bonded talking about business ventures they could do together and they finally decided on a fragrance business called Kimmy Makes Scents.
"It all started with my sister Krista who used to treat me to a shopping spree every year at our favorite LA boutique. We would go there and mix our own fragrant oil perfumes at their oil bar. I did this for many years and then when I moved to Valencia, family life became so busy I never had time to get into L.A. to get my perfume. So I would order my own fragrant oils and mix my perfume at home. I had my unique scent that most people loved and recognized and my friends would have me make oil perfumes for them too."
Heather really enjoyed working with Kimmy and they spent a lot of time creating new and unique scents. Heather had a business background and Kimmy was a teacher but building a business from scratch was foreign to both of them. They were excited with the potential and talked about details, wrote a business plan and began to learn on the job.
Because they were both die hard Twilight book fans, they decided to ride that bandwagon of popularity by marketing four Twilight inspired scents with the release of the first Twilight movie in 2009. They sold it at the Twilight convention in San Francisco that year. That success allowed them to expand the line, selling online and in boutiques. This year, Kimmy Makes Scents created three custom scents for The Pussycat Dolls, sold exclusively in Las Vegas.
"We decided from the beginning we would never let this ruin our friendship. But over the last nine months there had been a shift. Heather had other opportunities that she wanted to pursue and felt she didn't have the time for both. At one point last year, I did ask her if she wanted to move on but she didn't want to. As time went on though she felt she was not being the partner she wanted to be to me. When she sat down and told me this, she explained she wouldn't be a good friend to me if she tried to stay when she knew she didn't have the time for the company anymore. I understood that her priorities had changed and we were both trying to put our friendship first."
In February 2012 Heather decided to move on from the company. Kimmy initially felt lost, she said "I didn't think I could do it alone. Heather was my crutch and touch stone that I leaned on constantly when things became complicated and difficult. I learned so much from Heather and working together helped both of us grow in ways we may have never experienced."
But this fragrance business was truly Kimmy's passion and she didn't want to give up even though she felt alone. She's learning to be a sole proprietor now and is enjoying the transition more than she expected.
One thing Kimmy regrets and hopes that other friends will discuss before going into partnership is this critical issue of when/if someone wants to leave the company.
"In hindsight, that should have definitely been put in the business plan and partner contract between us. We should have discussed the protocol for an exit strategy if one of us felt the need to leave. Do you buy your partner out? How will you figure out how much the partner is owed? What if you haven't made any profit yet? What if you are in debt? These are all things we didn't think about before launching."
Instead of getting over emotional about the situation, Heather and Kimmy faced it head on and remained focused on their original goal to keep their friendship in tact. They agreed on some exit terms and ended the partnership amicably. In fact, Kimmy says "She still helps me with the business whenever I ask her. Now as a sole proprietor I feel confident that I can run the business on my own and remain grateful to Heather because this would never have been created without her, she was the catalyst to get us moving."
Kimmy's Advice for Working with Close Friend:
- Make sure your friendship is strong enough to handle difficult business decisions.
- Set up priorities and goals for the business in advance in a business plan and make sure you are both on the same page.
- Split tasks up and decide what each partner will handle rather than having overlapping duties.
- Set up a detailed partnership agreement in writing.
Understanding the options and myriad details of business ownership is critical before deciding to go from friends to business partners. You can also do a written exercise together so that you each understand the other person's level of passion for the idea, perspective on financial issues, time commitment and have honest and clear expectations.
In theory, starting a business together may seem like a logical next step to a wonderful friendship (and it may be) but it doesn't always translate the same way when time, money and risk are involved. However, with preparation, thoughtful discussion, legal agreement and a positive, supportive attitude it's certainly possible to build a successful business from a strong friendship.