The saying goes that friends should never go into business together but my partnership with my co-founder has been strengthened by our friendship.
Tom Gatzen, together with his friend Rob Imonikhe, co-founded Ideal Flatmate – an algorithm based flatmate matchmaker, which helps tenants find compatible house companions. The 28-year-old tech entrepreneur highlights the highs and lows of running a business with a friend/co-founder.
“We came up with the idea for our business a couple of years ago after becoming friends, while living together at university and seeing the lack of options available for finding compatible flatmates.
There may be plenty of options for finding rooms or houseshares in general, but we wanted to develop something that matched up flat-sharers based on their living habits and sociability.
Deciding to take the plunge and actually go for it together was a difficult one, especially, given the number of failed startups you hear about. Also, the many warnings that come with working with a friend can be a disaster.
Running the business together has certainly changed our relationship and there have been moments when our friendship has been tested.
It started when we came up with the idea and this gradually morphed into a business relationship when we started really pursuing the company and building it into a business.
It became clear pretty soon that we were both passionate about turning Ideal Flatmate into a genuine startup and when that became our focus, our relationship naturally changed.
At certain times we have not been aligned with what our roles and responsibilities are, which led to unnecessary confusion and each of us not being sure what the other was doing.
Once we saw this beginning to cause problems, we sat down, discussed it and clearly agreed exactly what each of us was responsible for.
That way we could now go away and fulfill our roles, and scrutinise each other’s work to a certain extent since we know who is doing what.
The one overarching strength we have, however, is a formidable trust in each other, which would have been hard to find with any other co-founder.
I think this is the primary ingredient needed in any co-founder relationship and we know we are working together for a common purpose.
There is no back-biting or suggestion that we would do anything to the detriment of each other and we know we are both going to do what it takes to be a success.
Another important factor in sustaining a co-founder relationship is working out what each other is good at and then clearly separating your roles out. Again, we have been fortunate in that we compliment one another well, both in working style and interests.
I am more of a data geek who loves testing and analysing the figures, whereas Rob is more of a free spirit coming up with innovative and creative ideas.
When we started working together we were both trying to do everything. Although this worked well to begin with, as we have grown, both in terms of our user base and as an internal team, it has not been practical to continue like this.
Sitting down and assigning specific roles might seem a bit unnecessary but it is one of the best things we have done.
Finally, we have been helped by sharing the same focus and determination to reach a common goal. We’re fortunate to share a similar work ethic and drive and to have set our sights on something which we know is very difficult but achievable.
Knowing where you are trying to get to and being able to brush any setbacks aside, as a minor hiccup on the path to a bigger end-game, has been really helpful in putting everything into perspective.
Also, be understanding of each other- not everybody works in the same way and if someone has a different working style or habits to you, it doesn’t mean they are wrong, you have to learn to work together regardless.”
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