Working with Friends

March 22, 2013

Last night I tweeted, asking for ideas on what to blog about, and my friend Jonathan suggested "Working with Charles Forman."

Now, I took that as "Working with Charles Forman, the man, the myth, the legend." But there's a more important and common issue here, and so I'm taking it as "Working with Charles Forman, your friend, long before your business partner."

You see, I come across founders all the time who no longer speak to their fellow co-founders. In some ways its understandable because startups are so high stress that someone's bound to get upset at another person and have a falling out. It's also understandable because we're taught as an industry to value the success of our startup above nearly all else. So for some folks it's sad that a co-founder gets alienated, but hey, it was for the good of the startup, right? We have a fiduciary responsibility above all else, right?

Really, this stuff is just super sad, because if you've lived with eyes wide open long enough you know how few real friends you have out there, and how many companies you get to start in a lifetime. Sure, this industry is packed with nice folks you enjoy talking industry trends and drinking beers with, but how many people do you know in the industry that you'd invite to your wedding, or that you'd share real fears and anxieties with?

Real friends are few and far between. So, what happens when you start a business with one of them?

When you start and run businesses with friends, your priorities should be about preserving the friendship throughout the process. As it turns out, I think great friends make great products and built great businesses, and most especially they build really awesome company cultures together. I think because Charles and I were good friends before we started Picturelife, and especially because Charles and Jacob were such good friends long, long before we started Picturelife, we've been able to build a culture of friendship and mutual respect throughout the company -- not just among the founders.

Nowhere does this dynamic come into play more than in being separated by a timezone. Picturelife is a Chicago company, and 7 of the 9 of us, including Charles and Jacob, live and work in our (amazing) Chicago office. Meanwhile, I live in NYC and Joe, our first employee, lives in Philadelphia. We're on Google Hangout and IRC all day long, but we don't see each other much face to face.

Being far a way from one another could be a bad, bad thing. Nuances in communication is very difficult from far away. Brainstorming is difficult from far away. I'm a big believer in human-to-human interaction, but there's a reason we've worked so well together while being apart: we've relied on our friendship. When we call each other up about a new feature idea or business opportunity, we know where the other person is coming from and what they are thinking because we've taken the time to know the other person and their personality. Doing this with everyone you work with is super important, and will help you work together no matter the distance. See the other person as just a colleague, chances are you'll have issues making great stuff together.

Am I saying everything is always peachy-keen among Charles, Jacob and me? Hell no! We piss each other off all the time. But, we all care about being good to one another in the business, and knowing what's going on in each others' lives outside the business, and so when tough stuff arises we know how to deal with it and push through it in a way that doesn't negatively affect our relationships or our business.

So, that's what it's like working with Charles. It's like working with a friend, whose opinion you value and whose life you care about. It's been an amazing experience doing this with him, and Jacob, and Chris (the other fellow now on our team, who I knew from before founding the company), and I wouldn't change it for the world.