Jullien Gordon on Consequences of Starting a Business With Friends

In Chapter 12 of 21 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, business coach Jullien Gordon answers "What Challenges Did You Face Going Into Business With Friends and What Did the Experience Teach You?"  Gordon shares lessons learned from going into a business partnership with a friend and having it not work out as planned.  He details his expectations and how they contrasted with results and how they impacted the business and friendship.  Jullien Gordon is a high performance coach and consultant to organizations, individuals and teams who want to increase employee performance, motivation, engagement and retention.  He earned a BA from UCLA, an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and a Masters of Education from Stanford University.


Erik Michielsen: What challenges did you face going into business with friends and what did the experience teach you?

Jullien Gordon: I’m still processing that. This year, at the beginning of this year, I started a partnership with a friend and six months in, we realized that it wasn’t working out. Some of the challenges were that I was financing the business at the time, so he was coming on as a partner, and without necessarily bringing in equity to the table. And so there— I already felt like there was some unevenness though we were both committing the same amount of time and energy, with me being the primary investor into the new partnership that felt like there was an imbalance. And so if I could do it all over again, I would do it in such a way where it’s equally financed by both partners.

Second thing is that you tend to lose your friendship, tend to lose your friendship, because when you see each other, all the conversations are about the business and how do we grow the business, how do we grow the business, and we were able to carve out some friend-time. “We’re not talking about work, we’re just gonna go hang out and have fun together.” But that time became less and less and less, especially as the business got strapped. It’s like, no, we don’t have time to have fun. We need to grow the business.

Another thing that occurred was distance, the partnership started off being a long-distance partnership, and ultimately we ended up in the same city, but distance was a huge detractor from the partnership. What I know from working on larger teams before is that I vibe off the energy of another person, just like I told you about the energy in the room when I’m leading a training. And with that person being distant and you two working virtually, that added benefit of having that person at your back and you both going hard and being accountable to each other, it wasn’t there. And so I missed out on that even though there was a quote-unquote: partnership.

Our friendship is not in a good place right now. It sucks. And I don’t think it has to be that way for all partnerships. Wish I could do it over again, but those are lessons I’m learning and I’m still processing what went wrong as well as what went right.