Co-Founders & Best Friends. 5 keys to making it work

The two of us first met in ninth grade.  Benita arrived for her first day at her new high school and Jess was assigned to be her "new student ambassador." Our friendship was instant and from that day forward, we knew that we would do great things together.   

In 2012, we co-founded zestt organics, an organic cotton textile brand for home, travel and baby.  As soon as we shared with others that we were launching the brand, we heard a lot of the same feedback... "never do business with a friend."  Everyone from lawyers to family, seemed worried that friendship and business couldn't work.  And yet, over the past six years of challenges, business pivots and successes, one thing still remains unchanged - our friendship.  In fact, both of us would argue that our friendship is actually stronger now than it was before starting this business.  While it isn't always easy, we feel strongly that there are a few essential strategies to maintaining our sanity as both co-founders and best friends.   

  1. Friendship First

This was the founding principal of our business agreement.  (Okay, so maybe not on actual paper but it's definitely the unofficial pinky swear that has gotten us through the best and worst times).  At the end of the day, no matter how stressful or involved our business can get, we always make time for our friendship first. Every Monday we connect for our weekly morning meeting.  The first 15 minutes are always reserved for weekend catch up, family matters and maybe a few Mommy rants.  Almost every phone call is concluded with a quick "love you," our reminder that no matter how stressful the challenge, we're still people who care about each other and are working on a common mission.   

  1. Make it Official

While unofficial pinky swears keep our friendship first pact alive, we also knew that we'd need some legal documentation to help keep the business end of this transaction in line.  We made sure to work with a lawyer to put together our business paperwork, including a partnership agreement that outlined our responsibilities and ownership structure.  This helps create a strong framework for the rest of our partnership to run smoothly.   

  1. Mutual Respect

Before zestt, the two of us had very different but unique career paths. We were both running our own independent businesses in distinctly different fields. When the idea for zestt was born, we knew that we could bring our unique strengths to the table.  With my background in interior design, I took on the head of all things creative. With Jess's background in management and business, she oversaw all of the financial and logistical operations. In short, I am the right brain and Jess is the left. We both need each other to survive and when it comes to down to decision making, we respect each other's strengths to guide the company to the next level. 

  1. A Mission to Believe In

From the beginning, we knew that we were starting a business to do more than make money.  We wanted our company to have a purpose and intention beyond just the two of us.  As we learned more about how textiles were made, we knew that we had the responsibility to uphold the highest standards of quality and ethics for our products.  Staying connected to this mission helps to keep both of us looking in the same direction.  

  1. Family & Friend time

Working with your best friend every day is actually pretty amazing.  We know each other's stress points, personal anxieties, and can always tell when the other just "needs a moment." The tough part is that because we are together so often, it's easy to forget what real "friend time" is like. Whether it's dinner out during our market travels or a special day with our kids, we always make it a point to plan time for a "work free zone".   

 

So is it always sunshine and rainbowsOf course not. We disagree and have our moments like any other business partnership, but at the end of the day, we know that our friendship is why we had the courage to take this leap in the first place.  We're not just business associates working out a deal, we are sisters on a mission, working to build an empire together.  

August 30, 2018 by Jessica Diehl