There is that old saying, never do business with friends. Although I have absolutely experienced the negative aspect of that, my co-founder Kirsten and I are one of the few exceptions. Kirsten and I have been friends since we were 3 years old (I won't date that/touch on our ages!) and have successfully done business together for years. First as consultants supporting clients on large scale web programs, and now as co-founders of ePACT.
The interesting thing about Kirsten and I is we actually probably shouldn't have been friends at all. You could not get more different personalities than the two of us. Kirsten always read the instructions and paid attention in class. I had countless eraser fights and would ask the person next to me what the instructions said. Kirsten has a Commerce degree. Mine is in Theatre. Living together at UVic, I would come back after 3 hours of meditation for my acting classes, while she was crawling back after 3 hours of economics. And yet, we both ended up as dotcom kids in the web industry.
Kirsten created her own web agency in her mid twenties, supporting established and start-up companies in the crazy dotcom days. I went the opposite route, managing teams and programs in brands like Telus, HSBC Bank and Mercedes. When the dotcom crash happened, Kirsten pivoted into public organizations, supporting municipalities, transportation authorities and the provincial government. I worked in the Government for about a year and a half, supporting programs for the 2008 Summer Olympics and lead up to the 2010 Winter Games, but I didn't fit – I moved too fast, didn't stay within the lines and got my hands slapped for not following processes. She on the other hand, excelled at managing these clients.
How did we stay friends for so long? Well, we laugh. A lot. We think we are both hilarious. We also complement each other almost exactly like yin and yang. Whatever she really likes in business, I don't, and vice versa. She is 100% the thinker and I am the talker. She – without question – has kept me from doing some very fast, and potentially stupid things. I have forced her to sprint at times when she would prefer to walk. We both trust each other and respect each other…though admittedly can bicker like a married couple and distract our staff when we shout at the other ‘you're wrong'.
Ultimately, there is no question running a business is like a marriage. You rely on one another like no one else. Only the two of you really know what it's like in your small world. There are days you don't want to even look at each other, but those are significantly overshadowed by the times you are beyond thankful to have your partner to lean on.
Kirsten and I are fortunate to break the ‘don't work with friends' rule, because I honestly don't know who else I could have built this company with. I can be very difficult to work with – demanding in my expectations, constantly pushing, and always wanting to move faster. Kirsten keeps me (and the rest of the team) sane, continually ensuring we have balance, realistic goals and a comprehensive perspective and approach, versus my go-with-my-gut/knee-jerk approach.
At the end of the day, if you lined up all the aspects of our personalities on a table, it would be pretty clear we don't make sense as friends. But we've celebrated years of birthdays, Christmases, job successes (and failures), relationship highs (and lows) and have been through literally a lifetime of experiences together. We really aren't friends at this point, we are family, and it’s the reason we can work together so successfully. Because in the middle of a major disagreement, one of us can throw down a line from an 80's movie, an inside joke from Grade 2, or a comment from a month ago that will have us laughing in about 2 seconds. Either that or we agree to hate each other that day, then hug it out the next.
Thanks for reading!
– Christine Sommers
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