Founding As Best Friends

There are a few questions about Riya Collective that I always get asked. One is, “what’s it like co-founding a company with your best friend?” Conventional wisdom tells you not to mix business and friendships and here we’ve decided to jump into the startup roller coaster together.

 

My answer has always been, “I can’t imagine co-founding a company with someone who wasn’t my best friend.” There’s no right or wrong answer to this, but for me, co-founding with my best friend has been one of the most profound and meaningful experiences of my life.

 

Arian and I met as freshmen in college in 2006 and we’ve pretty much been roommates and inseparable friends since then.

 

Here are a few things I’ve learned founding a company together over the past 2+ years:

 

  1. When you found a company with your best friend, you’re going to see a different side of them.

    No matter how well you think you know each other, no one is the same in their personal and professional lives. In retrospect, it took time for me to adjust to “work Arian” who, as every good executive is, knows how to demand high standards from those around her and push hard to make sure they are met. Or, it could be that the same qualities you appreciate in someone as a friend manifest quite differently at work. Arian was surprised when my “it could be this OR it could be that” way of speaking that makes for fun personal stories can lead to jarring back and forth at work.

  2. What that means is, you have to get curious about your friend. Be willing to see them with new eyes.

    The thing that binds us at our core is trust. We trust each other’s intentions deeply. This allows space for curiosity. When one of us does something that the other finds to be insane/rude/ridiculous instead of going straight to, “I can’t believe she…”, we are able to give the benefit of the doubt and say, “let me find out why she…”. Now, I’m not saying this happens right away or every time. But eventually it does happen. And I think our entire company has been saved many times over in that split second between judgement and curiosity.

  3. Have the candid conversation, every time, even when it’s painful.

    This is probably true for any set of co-founders but if you’re going into business with someone you’ve got to be able to talk to them openly. During 2020 when our business died due to COVID and we had to re-invent it, and our team, from scratch (while I was pregnant with my first child)...we had a rough year. Many times we got on the phone (we were cross-country co-founding at the time) and we were silent. There was so much tension in the air. And then one of us just had to break it and say something, even if it didn’t come out right. Many times those things that came out were painful, surprising, and tough to interpret. But every single time after some time passed, we were glad we talked about it.

  4. Get a coach.

    We’ve had an exec coach since the early days of Riya. We both use the same one. She coaches us each individually and in 2 years we’ve done 3-4 joint sessions as well. We call these sessions when we hit a wall and feel like we would benefit from a third party's help. Our coach is incredible and has helped us do #2 and #3 when we can’t quite get there on our own.

  5. Don’t ever let the business impact your friendship. (easy to say, I know)

    Even on the inevitable days when from a work perspective we feel upset or at odds, we text. We text a thread we have had going for many years with the two of us and our other best friend. We say something. Even if it’s silly or just say hi. And that small gesture shows the other person that this is separate. This friendship is sacred and whatever is going on at work, it’s just work. Our friendship is way beyond that.

 

For me, the chance to build a company with my best friend has always been the motivation to start a company. More than even what you are building, it’s about who you are building it with and what you learn from each other. It’s about the journey, not the destination. I believe there’s no better way to honor a relationship than to build something together.

 

Working with Arian, I’ve grown and learned more than I could have imagined and we’ve deepened our relationship in such a significant way. It’s not always easy but when I step back, I know it’s an experience I’ll always be so grateful for.

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