The buddy comedy is a time-tested genre that seems to be reinvented every year. In each iteration we see the following formula: Opposites attract as the shortcomings of one are perfectly complimented by the other’s strengths and, after facing a crisis, the two grow as a team and everyone lives happily ever after.
But if you think about why this plot has such pull, you arrive at something we’re all after in one way or another, and that’s the chance to go on an adventure with someone you care about.
And what better adventure is there than starting your own business? Perhaps this is why so many ideas are hatched around card tables in garages, drinking crappy beer and dreaming big.
But for every Proctor and Gamble — or Fey and Poehler — that become successful business owners, there are scores that don’t; or, worse, ruin their friendship in the process.
Makers Making Friends
That said, Eliza Lois and Madeline Mikitarian, co-owners of Mist + Stone, an online boutique featuring the work of different handmade artists and designers across the country, seem to have found a healthy balance as both best friends and business owners.
Lois and Mikitarian have been close since childhood. They started their Virginia-based boutique in order to celebrate makers and designers who might not otherwise have a venue to sell their goods. Each month the two develop a “theme” on which to base their shop curation, and then reach out to small-batch artisans to create items — mostly clothing and jewelry — that fit this idea.
“We work to establish the emotional nature of the themes alongside their physical manifestations in our products, contributing to a greater sense of meaning in the items we carry,” Lois says. “Our clients shop with Mist + Stone because they are passionate about supporting handmade goods and enjoy the connections between art, beauty, and life experience beyond what they would find in a more general shop.”
The pair run the business together, and about a year in, they feel they are better friends for it. I reached out to see if I couldn’t glean some wisdom about balancing work and friendship.
A Shared Emotional Connection
The pair jokes that owning a business together is like a “pseudo-marriage license,” because it’s something bigger than the two of them individually, and that it require each person to “show up” each day and be ready to make things work.
“I believe the biggest advantage we have is the emotional connection we share,” Lois says. “As friends we share a strong, intuitive understanding of the other, and that bond both amplifies the high moments and carries us through the more difficult ones.”
Mikitarian also cites the importance of their bond, especially since they have complementary strengths (see: buddy comedy).
“I feel that Eliza is the structure and reality base that I need personally and professionally. I am big picture and concept-driven and she is the nuts and bolts,” she says. “Together we create tangible, practical offerings that have a special magic spark to them. We have admiration for each other and we are able to constantly seek opportunities that allow each other’s talents to really sing.”
Business and Friendship: One and the Same
It’s not like everything is peachy-keen all the time. However, while one might think it’s always a good idea to put up extra boundaries when dealing professionally with someone you care about, Lois and Mikitarian instead lean into their connection to resolve conflict.
“We have had to get down to brass tacks on each other’s core needs and fundamental communication styles during a disagreement, which has been easier to navigate through the foundation of our friendship,” Mikitarian says. “Having extensive background knowledge of each other is something that we draw from all the time. It prevents so many surface problems because we can dive to the heart of the matter with extreme ease.”
Lois agrees with this, saying that they’ve needed to make a conscious effort to integrate their work dynamic with their personal friendship.
“This is an area where we are always making adjustments, but we’ve overcome the initial difficulty by ignoring the advice to keep work and personal life separate, and instead strive to be warm, generous, wonderful people to each other both as friends and as coworkers,” she says.
You Can Do It, Too
While it goes without saying that a this sort of friend/business partner amalgam isn’t for everyone, Lois and Mikitarian do provide some advice to anyone thinking of doing what they did.
Lois cites the importance of three things:
*defining clear roles and expectations for one another right off the bat
*developing a strong system of communication
*being aware of and celebrating one another’s different viewpoints**
“Know without question which is more important to you — your friendship or the business. There is no wrong answer here, and the two of you don’t even have to necessarily agree on the answer, but knowing your answer to that question will help you prioritize, will influence your behavior, and will help you solve any problems as they arise,” Lois says.
Mikitarian concurs, and reminds folks to not forget why they decided to become business partners in the first place.
“Set aside 15 minutes in the beginning of a work meeting to first go over your personal lives, feelings, dream journals, what you ate the day before, what Rihanna is up to, things like that,” she says. “When you run a business with someone you love, what you are ultimately giving the world is the layered, complex dynamic you’ve created together–something you could never establish on your own. Respect that asset and prioritize it.”