We’re starting a new company! I want to shout it from the rooftops, or maybe run up and down an Austrian mountainside twirling around like Julie Andrews. If everyone who is starting a company today did that, that hill would be alive with about 140,000 people. The startup world is a crowded field.

But that doesn’t stop me from being excited, and it’s because I feel we’re doing a few things right. Some things we’re doing right are because we lucked into a great partnership and live in a supportive area for tech and business. And some of the things we’re doing right are because we’ve done a lot of homework. And some things, well, they feel right, and I guess time will tell whether they were right after all. That’s part of why we’re doing these blog posts: so we can look back and see what we did, right or wrong.*

helen-keller-quoteStarting with first things first: the partnership. This startup would not exist without my partner, Paul Mosca, who brings not only years of entrepreneurial business acumen, but also a great liberal arts background which allows him to think and see very deeply into all facets of any given question. Paul and I went to college together, and I also have a liberal arts degree. However, my most recent life-chapter has been as an entrepreneur, programmer, and tech consultant, so between the two of us, we have sufficient business and tech experience to pull this thing together.

Scanning any “how-to” instructions on starting a business you will find many dire warnings about going into business with friends. It’s because of money. If there’s one thing in the world that turns good people bad, it’s money. Dreaming up ideas and planning out our path to success is fun and easy. Talking about money is a little harder. Many businesses fail because of conflicts between business partners, and worse, so do many friendships.

We know that there will be tough discussions in our future. But we’ve taken some steps to build trust and understanding, hoping to ensure that tough discussions don’t lead to implosion.

First off, rather than starting our journey by developing  a conventional business plan, or even poring over an Excel spreadsheet, we started with a trust conversation in which we bravely laid out all our hopes and fears. We each took a lot of time to describe our purpose – what we’re in this for – and our vision – what we see this becoming.  We tried to identify places where we were not aligned, and make adjustments.  We offered full disclosure of all our liabilities and anxieties, and we outlined what was most important to us.

Over the course of many hours of conversation, we laid the foundation for a strong partnership based on trust, and we committed to honoring that trust. We documented it all and so we have something in black and white that we can look back to when we run into questions or hard decisions. This process was extremely liberating and reassuring, and gave me a lot of confidence to move forward with the project.

Should you go into business with a friend? I say yes. It’s more fun that way. But go with honesty, respect, and courage.

*Lest you suspect we are little big-headed with this “being right” business, see Paul’s post on getting things wrong. Also, for fun, please watch Mike Rowe’s TED Talk on work, where he discusses a very specific and hilarious time he got some things wrong (NSFW). His message is about questioning your assumptions and all the well-intentioned advice everyone’s given you, and taking a cold hard look at reality to figure out what’s really going to work. I’m a great admirer of Mike Rowe (read: massive lifelong crush).

Erika

Erika Williamson, founder of Protagonist Lab. Database developer and IT consultant. Future philanthropist.