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Advice From College Hunks: How to Start a Company With Your Best Friend

Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman, the co-founders of College Hunks Hauling Junk, met in the 10th grade, when they were both trouble-making teens with an entrepreneurial bent. The company they ultimately started together is now a $3.5 million junk removal company with 31 franchisees. It's been featured on Inc. com's 30 Under 30 list of coolest young entrepreneurs, the Inc. 500 list, and Shark Tank. I also included them in my book, Upstarts: How GenY Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business. Today marks the official launch of their new book, Effortless Entrepreneurs: Work Smart, Play Hard, Make a Million (Three Rivers Press), so I thought it fitting that I check back in with them. I've met these guys several times, and what's always impressed me is that they seem perfectly suited to be in business together. That's not always the case with best pals. In fact, starting a company with a friend is frequently the road to disaster. So what's their secret? Nick shared their recipe for success with me:
Common vision. "The key to our partnership is that our vision and values have been in perfect alignment," says Nick. When they first launched College Hunks, each of them wrote down separately what they expected the business to look like in five years in terms of revenue, employees, service offerings, etc. It was an exercise they had learned about at an EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) conference. "You want to paint your own personal picture, then come together and see where you're on the same page," says Nick. "We were actually amazed that our visions were very much in alignment. We both talked about franchising, being a media success, creating a household brand, and being a popular employer of young adults and college students. It was remarkable." Common long-term vision makes it a lot easier to deal with day-to-day disagreements, says Nick, because "we're always able to come back to the big picture."

Complementary skills. When College Hunks was young, both Nick and Omar served as chief cook and bottle washer. They flipped a coin and Omar became CEO while Nick took the title of president. Because they had no business experience, they weren't even sure what their core skills were. In retrospect, Nick thinks a "strengths finder" exercise may have been helpful. But as the business grew, they began to carve out roles and areas of accountability for themselves. "Right now, Omar is more the big picture guy," says Nick. "He sees a lot further down the road and he sets the vision for the rest of the franchisee. He also spends time on the website and the call center. I'm more of a nuts and bolts guy; I figure out how were going to get there, and I spend time on sales and partnerships that franchisees can benefit form. Bottom line: the two don't trip over one another and their responsibilities are well defined.

A solid partnership agreement. You're best friends, so you don't need to trouble yourselves with formal agreements that cover distribution of equity, conflict resolution, and unforeseen disasters, right. Wrong. You need a formal partnership agreement, period. You can pull boilerplate legal documents off the Internet, but if you can possibly afford to hire an attorney, do it. "Even the things you don't think you don't need to discuss because you're friends you need to be put on paper, " says Nick. "Like what happens if one partner decides he wants to start another venture, or if someone isn't pulling their weight, want to leave the company or, God forbid, has an accident." Putting those plans on paper was an "aha moment" for the partners, because they realized that they had no clue what they would do in certain situations.

Assemble an advisory board. Nick and Omar are 50-50 owners of College Hunks, so what happens when they disagree? "When we stared the company, we said we'd go into conflict mediation if we needed to," says Nick. Or they'd duke it out (Nick concedes that punches have been thrown occasionally!). Now, they have a much better solution: they consult an advisory board that meets quarterly and includes Kevin Harrington of Shark Tank, a professor from the University of Tampa, where the company is based, plus executives from Student Painters, Valpak, and Pods - all companies in businesses that can offer valuable lessons to College Hunks.

Did you start a company with close friend? What are the advantages and disadvantages? How do you make it work? Would you do it again?

Images courtesy of College Hunks Hauling Junk

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