Expert advice on how to build a business and still be buddies

Kate Jones

Getting into business with a buddy comes with obvious risks. Mixing business with pleasure can result in a complementary dynamic or a complete disaster.

Alex Hsu owns online shoe retailer The Next Pair and an IT company, Sonix Technology, with three good friends.

Hsu, Andrew Wong, Kristopher Hunt and Ryan McClelland have been best friends since primary school.

“It’s every kid’s dream to work with their best mates and we feel pretty lucky that we’ve actually made that dream a reality, and that we all still like each other having done so,” Hsu says.

When personal and professional worlds merge it can be a major challenge to maintain friendships at the same time as driving an effective organisation.

Defining boundaries is essential for workplace productivity and social harmony.

“Working with such close friends, it's almost impossible to separate the two modes,” Hsu says.

“Interchanging between friend and colleague mode can be challenging at times when it means challenging someone's work or output.”

Communication is key to success on both fronts. Friends may assume they are on the same page when it comes to business decisions only to find their assumptions were completely wrong.

“Talking things out is essential,” Hsu says.

“I can honestly say there are times when the friendships have been strained, but it really is about communication and not bottling up your anger.”

Choosing a friend who is going to drive you, support you and still be your friend at the end of the day is imperative.

Finding the right friend with whom to build a business relies on selecting someone with similar goals and work ethic as your own.

Discuss how committed all parties are to seeing the company succeed and don’t be afraid to drill down to the details. Delineate working hours, company hierarchy and funding.

Make a record of your agreements so it can be referred to later to avoid confusion and any lingering resentment.

Hsu says there’s nothing better than working with friends, but it hinges on holding each other accountable and sticking to the organisation’s vision.

“The business requires commitment, and if you are running it with friends, then it requires identifying which friends have a commitment level similar to yours,” he says. “Choosing a friend who is going to drive you, support you and still be your friend at the end of the day is imperative. There needs to be a willingness from each party to strive and reach a goal.”

Kate Jones

Kate Jones writes for the business and money sections of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. She also writes for The New Daily, TAC, RMIT and is a news writing tutor at Monash University.