Stories of Friends Turned Business Partners

Updated on 25 April 2016

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Success stories of friends turned business partners

“Don’t do business with friends or family” goes the often-quoted saying. The world, however, has no shortage of friends who turned to become business partners.

A recently released survey, Santam Start-up Survey, shows that while a majority of entrepreneurs go into business alone (up to 52.5%), there are those (23.9%) who look to start a new venture with a partner. The research was conducted among 600 South African entrepreneurs.

“The reality is that three brains are better than one” – Gil Sperling

Some of the better-known success stories are Larry Page and Sergey Brin who after meeting at Stanford’s Ph.D. program in the mid-1990’s went on to launch Google – the tech giant which is regarded as one of the most innovative companies globally. Another popular example is Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who were behind what is regarded as one of the world’s most valuable brands.

SME South Africa tracked down six sets of friends turned business partners to find out their secrets to their success and how they find a balance between their business and friendship.

The optimists – Mathew Devine and Dan Clarence

Mathew Devine and Dan Clarence co-owners
of Cash Converters

Who are they: Co-owners of a pawnbroking franchise Cash Converters.

Why did you go into business with your friend?
Clarence: The opportunity presented itself, and we felt it was too good to turn down. Life events coincided with each other and we went for it. Matt was working at an ad agency on the Cash Converters account and had got to know the business fairly well and had seen the potential in it.

What is your secret for success?
Being part of a franchise gives you a blueprint to follow. We both understand when it is needed to give each other space or time off. The advantage of having two of us allows us to divide responsibilities which mean we don’t step on each other’s toes.

What are some of the benefits of going into business with a friend? 
Both [of us] having a common goal for success and trust.

How do you keep your friendship strong? 
Golf and Beer.

Closer than sisters – Stephina Zwane and Salamina Mosese

Stephina Zwane and Salamina Mosese
co-founders of Sorele Media and Aza TV.

Who are they: Co-founders of a media content company Sorele Media and Aza Tv, a mobile video portal.

Why did you go into business with your friend?
Zwane: Going into business as friends was a natural decision. It was the next step in our careers. It’s also something we have known we were going to do from a very young age. We’ve always known that we would go into business together at some point in our lives.

What skills and attributes do each of you bring to the business?
While we are both creatives, Sal is better at handling things on the operational level while I am better at handling creative and production related matters. This allows us to focus on different things, but with the same goal in mind, which is to grow the business. 

How do you keep your friendship strong? 
Our friendship became a sisterhood years ago. We are now family and we went into business knowing that. When you know that someone has got your back at all times, no matter what, it makes it easier for you to grow and try new things knowing you have their support whether you succeed or fail. We have an unfailing love and support for each other.

“I was actually dead against business with a friend” – Nicholas Boerma

Going into business as friends also makes work feel like play. We work super hard to get everything going, but only when we get home do we realise how much work we have put into a specific project because the atmosphere we work in is friendly.

Complementary skills – Nicholas Boerma and Andrew Royal

Nicholas Boerma and Andrew Royal owners
of Chronon.

Who are they: Founders and directors of Chronon a digital agency that specialises in designing websites.

Why did you go into business with your friend?
BoermaI was actually dead against business with a friend, but I landed a really big client and only knew one person capable of helping me. One project turned into 10 and before we knew it we needed to formalise, hire staff, pay loads of tax and create our agency.

What is your secret for success?
[We] work hard to compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses while striving to support each other.

What skills and attributes do each of you bring to the business?
We both have very similar skill sets. We do things radically differently, but we have learnt to accept that and accept criticism in both directions. Again, compatible personalities in business have zero bearing on real life and our friendship is a totally different dynamic. Trust and respect are key.

“We all have a unique contribution to the business” – Gil Sperling

How do you keep your friendship strong? 
Balance. Work to live and try to keep cross-pollination of personal and professional to a minimum. The relationship outside the office may function on similar dynamics but it’s important to nurture a friendship separately to your professional relationship. Also; have fun. We do what we love but we do it with coffee, good music, and ridiculously fast internet. We make sure to go for lunches to catch up even though we sit meters apart.

A shared vision – Gil Sperling, Ryan Silberman, and Daniel Levy

Gil Sperling,Daniel Levy, and Ryan Silberman
co-founders of Popimedia.

Who are they: Founding partners of Popimedia, a social media innovation, and adtech company that provides tech solutions to brands and agencies.

Why did you go into business with your friends?
SperlingWe all shared a common goal, which was to one day build our own business. We also saw a gap in the market and an opportunity to build something that can have a positive impact in the country.

What skills and attributes do each of you bring to the business?
The reality is that three brains are better than one. We all have different backgrounds and we all have a unique contribution to the business. And that is how we have managed to grow the business throughout the years.

How do you maintain a balance between your friendship and the business?
It all lies in the value system. We believe what has made our business a success is having a shared value system. With us, we value trust, integrity, and honesty.

How do you keep your friendship strong?  
Debating constructively.

Family bonds – Mthunzi Nkosi and Mogomotse Magome

Mthunzi Nkosi and Mogomotse Magome
owners of Lintsizwa Ziphelele.

Who are they: Co-owners of Lintsizwa Ziphelele, a fashion brand which has established itself as part of Soweto township’s youth culture.

Why did you go into business with your friend?
Magome: Mthunzi and I were friends in varsity way before we even thought that we would ever have any interests of going into business. When he started the business with the initial founders I became one of their customers and would buy the apparel they were selling. It was only when they were planning to grow the brand into a serious and professional outfit that he approached and persuaded me to join them as a business partner. I was not sure about it but eventually, I was persuaded and here we are many years later.

What skills and attributes do each of you bring to the business?
Mthunzi is a very creative person while I’m more technically driven. We are involved in a creative industry which has a lot of technical and operational aspects that require proper attention.

How do you keep your friendship strong? 
We spend a lot of time together. We have common friends, even our families have close relationships. We still have the same interests and hobbies, including music, clothing and art. That helps [us] to still remain, friends, even when the going gets tough.

“The key to maintaining a great friendship is maturity and respect” – Raksha Mahabeer

Like-minded – Sandhya Singh and Raksha Mahabeer 

Sandhya Singh and Raksha Mahabeer
founders of SummerTime.

Who are they: Co-founders of SummerTime, a creative design studio.

Why did you go into business with your friend? 
Mahabeer: Business is all about relationships! What better way to start a business than with a like-minded person who shares the same values, moral and ethics as you? We are friends because we have things in common. It is these very things that allow us to steer our business together so effectively.

What is your secret for success?
We have leveraged off our individual strengths in order to ensure common success.

How do you maintain a balance between the friendship and the business?
You must have a common why. If you know why you are in business and if this is shared amongst partners then you will always be working from the same foundation with a heightened level of commitment to that vision and goal. Because of the close nature of the friendship, we are even more driven to ensure the survival of the business, we have each other’s best interest at heart and don’t ever want to let each other down.

How do you keep your friendship strong? 
The key to maintaining a great friendship is maturity and respect, this ensures that the relationship is kept strong and solid through good and bad times. We also ensure that we have our fair share of fun.

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