We all know business is (mostly) about relationships: with our co-founders, our team members, investors, customers, the media and any of the other so-called stakeholders. I've learnt though that it's much bigger (and more awesome than that): business is about friends.
I'm a lucky guy to have made some incredible friends - most of whom are entrepreneurs and have startups (or ambitions) of their own - over the last 6 years of my own entrepreneurial journey. And even though most of these friends are digital, I've been blessed to meet many of them in person when travelling or attending conferences.
At a foundational level, just knowing that I have the support of these friends, already means a lot. It is hard being an entrepreneur and having like-minded people to help share that burden is super-valuable.
As such, my friends have had a direct impact and influence on me, as an entrepreneur, which in turn yields an indirect influence on my business ventures. As an entrepreneur, if I'm not up to the task of driving my startup forward, it'll likely not progress.
That sounds "airy-fairy" to an extent. Maybe even like an elitist circle-jerk of sorts, where entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. Nepotism.
The thing about this support though is that there's a common denominator: failure.
Most startups fail. Most entrepreneurs struggle with the day-to-day rollercoaster on their way to that failure. Startups are hard and the odds are firmly stacked against all entrepreneurs.
So it goes without saying that entrepreneurs can use all the support - in every shape & size - that they can get.
What I've learnt is that when you seek out and invest in the friendships that can really make an impact on your business, a few concrete, actionable benefits happen to come your way.
Counting On Your Friends
In writing this post, I wanted to share with you a few concrete ways in which friends have helped me to date. Physical, actionable stuff; not just emotional support from afar, but the kind of stuff that makes my job easier as entrepreneur or has a real impact in moving the needle of my business.
Here's a few examples:
PublicBeta is probably the most significant and most recent example of this. Through my network, I've gotten more than 40 awesome entrepreneurs that share my passion for helping other entrepreneurs and who have committed to teaching something exceptional on PublicBeta in the next couple of months. PublicBeta's business model would be significantly harder if I couldn't count on these friends.
A couple of weeks ago we had a shitstorm over at WooThemes and I tweeted this in the midst of the storm. Within seconds I had three e-mails (along with the public tweets and blog comments) from friends asking whether I / everything was okay and whether they could help. The amount of impetus and courage that sparked for me was immense and it helped me through a difficult couple of days.
I've been a CampaignMonitor customer and user for years (and it's a service which I've always been more than happy to pay for). Last week we launched the new PublicBeta newsletter, which is proudly powered by CampaignMonitor. This morning I got an e-mail from Dave Greiner (friend & co-founder at CM) to say that he noticed the new newsletter, that were paying for it and that he had just changed our account to a free one. Fuck me. How generous is that?
A couple of months ago, I joined a "Bloggers Mailing List" which is an initiative by Alex Godin. The idea was that we'd share our draft writing with each other and get feedback on that. This has made such a huge difference to my writing, as I've had loads of great feedback before my writing needs to survive out there in the wild. (On top of this, I've made loads of new friends through this little community as a result.)
I released my book, Brandiing, at the beginning of this month and along with the launch, I pinged a few friends to ask whether they'd share it with their audiences. Not only did they share my book, many of them even purchased it (which wasn't necessary of course, as I'd happily have given them a free copy).
Building A Friendly Startup
If you're not convinced of the benefits of the "business is about friendships"-mindset, then the rest of this post isn't for you.
If you are on the other hand convinced that friendships have a massive role to play in your journey as entrepreneur and all of your startup's activities, then read on.
So how do you maximize friendships and use it as a positive life force in your pursuits? Here's a few ways that has worked for me:
1. Celebrate your friends' successes.
As entrepreneurs, we accept that the ups will be few and far between the (mostly) downs on the rollercoaster. So when we have one of those up moments, we want to celebrate the shit out of it (regardless of whether it is only a minor, relatively insignificant victory). And what better way than to do that than with friends?
2. Support your friends' startups.
A couple of months ago, Spencer Fry launched thier new startup, Uncover. At the time, they were mostly focusing on US companies, but wanted to branch out into a more international market. Spencer pinged me and asked whether WooThemes would be interested in trying out Uncover. I said yes instinctively, because I wanted to support Spencer and it happened to align well with the culture we have at Woo.
The thing is, that it's not even necessarily about the revenue. The money that Spencer made from Woo barely covers any significant bill that they have to pay, but it helps push the business forward in other ways.
3. Share their content.
I've noticed an increasing trend within my group of friends in recent weeks, where we seem to read, appreciate and share each other's content very often. Not every single post I write gets shared by my friends, but they are very willing to share the good stuff. As am I.
What this means is that you have a kind of exponential boost in the reach of your content and message, since we all of separate audiences. Even though some of those audience members overlaps, it still increases the reach drastically.
4. Keep in touch.
The best thing you can do for your friends is to let them know that you are available to help out in whatever way possible. Sometimes just a note of encouragement helps with that reminder that they are not alone and that when the shit hits the fan, you'll be there to help out.
This also serves as underlying the altruism: nurturing a friendship isn't just about give and take, but also just about the friendship. You never know when you'll need to count on a friend, so keeping in touch regardless of when that need might strike, is what's important.
5. Respect the friendship.
This isn't about business and much less about money. It's not about getting your content shared or getting your friends to sign up to your new startup.
To some extent it's about give and take. But not really either.
Always put the friendship first. Beyond anything else, if that friendship isn't there or it doesn't get nurtured, there won't be business (or at least the type of business I talk about in this post). Value these friendships for what they are; not for what they could mean for your business.
So, can we be friends now? :)