Friendship and business are two different things

Two young boys walk down the road togetherA week ago my good friend and business partner, Blaine Hall, stepped down as COO of Three Pillar.  Blaine started his first business, Firefly DB, two weeks before I started Three Pillar.  For the first couple of years of business we were advisors, confidants, and partners as CEOs of our respective companies.  After two false starts, we finally merged the companies together on the first day of January 2009.

When we pulled the companies together we were cautioned about the risks of being in business with a friend.  Interestingly, we found polarizing perspectives.  One pair of business partners we spoke to had been best friends and business partners for decades.  They recommended only partnering with someone you knew as well as your wife.  Others we spoke to had been through messy splits, recommended never to join forces with any friends or family.

In hindsight, joining forces with Blaine was one of the best decisions I ever made.  There are many reasons why, but ultimately, going through the early, high growth, days of a business with someone you wholeheartedly trust is an accelerator.  I never had to look over my shoulder with Blaine.  I knew he was there.  We had our arguments, disagreements, and stressful situations, but ultimately the mutual respect and trust that we shared allowed us to go faster and make decisions without second guessing.  Once we decided to plow forward, we did without hesitation.  We never questioned each other’s motives.  Not once did I feel as though the business got in the way of our friendship or that our friendship got in the way of the business.  In fact, I believe it was Blaine’s commitment to that principle that ultimately led him to decide it was time to move on.

The business has grown from under 15 to over 500 employees under Blaine’s guidance and at the end of the day Blaine decided it was simply time to move on.  We had accomplished much more than what we set out to do and it was time for him to move on with the next phase of his life.  I can honestly say that Three Pillar would not be a fraction of what it is today without him.  I’m proud to have been his teammate and partner.  Today we are better friends than we were before he joined Three Pillar and the business is much stronger than we were without him.  Yes, business and friendship are two different things, but that doesn’t mean that every now and then you can’t be blessed to find someone who intersects the two.

Are you thinking about going into business with family or a friend?  If so, take great care to make sure you’re going into business with the right person.  I’d issue the same warning I received early on.  It can be the best decision, or the worst.  If you do it, I just hope you’re as lucky as I was.  It is the character of the man that you should consider.