Good Friends Can Make the Worst Kind of Employees
Investors always bet on the team and not the idea. A terrible team can destroy the greatest of dreams. The easiest way to create a terrible team is to invite your friends to join just because they are friends. I got to know this the hard way.
I Started Out With a Bunch of College friends
When you get a brilliant idea which might require the involvement of other people, your first reaction is to run to the people you already know. At least that was my reaction.
I got this brilliant idea about improving energy efficiency in Uganda. It was real genius. What would I say anyway? It was my idea after all.
I called in four or five of the close friends I had at the time. Of course I sieved them as far as I could. I chose the people I expected to be committed to such a cause.
What happened after that was unimaginable to my young mind. The first people to disappoint me were the very people who had shown the greatest commitment in college. It was a shock.
However, it wasn’t the only one. We had agreed to meet regularly, give ourselves tasks and report back every week.
Week after week, the reports kept reflecting a disturbing picture. I seemed to be the only one interested in the quality of our product or even in doing any work at all.
My Team of Friends had Turned into Unintentional ‘Bosses’
These friends, I realize, just wanted to get the thing started. They probably were not sure about the idea but were just betting on me. Heck, they were like investors without the funding bit.
I often found myself doing all the work and reporting back to the team. Everyone else claimed to be taken up by their other jobs so they had nothing to report.
I even found myself having to redo most of the little work done by them. I had effectively created a board of directors instead of the intended team of employees!
These guys had become my bosses without having raised any money at all. Actually, only one of them had contributed some little money towards incorporation but it was less than my contribution. It wouldn’t justify him becoming my boss.
Another mistake I made was in how I split up the shareholding but that will be for another time.
My mistake had been to assume that good friends would make good employees. These friends of mine were not bad people. I’m not even sure who a bad person is anyway. They were just the worst possible employees I could have found.
Of course there were a few good apples. Actually, sometimes even the bad apples would turn good for a while but the team as a whole was terrible.
I Was the Team in Actual Sense
Being a founder and then having to report to a team that wasn’t doing much just didn’t make any sense. I had become like the employee and the team, the employer.
Had I formed this team to monitor me? Had I gone to great depth to form this team just so that I could give myself the extra task of making reports to it? Certainly not!
I was so distressed that I gave up on the business idea. Actually, the way the startup died says it all. One day, I just stopped giving reports and calling meetings and that was it.
No one asked why. No one called for another meeting. It is like the moment I stopped doing anything, the team was no more and no one followed up except some months later.
Even those who later followed up were just frustrated in their other jobs. The startup had become their fallback position. Unfortunately for them, it was no more and I had had enough! I couldn’t do it anymore.
It would have been better if I had gone ahead alone from the very start. May be along the way, I would have met some like-minded people. Such people would have made a much better team.
Employees Could Become Good Friends, the Reverse is Rarely True
Employees or business partners can be good friends. That is if they were employees or partners first, before they became friends. Actually, many of us make long-time friends at our places of work.
However, if I didn’t expect exceptions to this rule, I would be deceiving myself. I know that there must be cases out there where good friends became the best of employees. I am yet to see such but it could be out there.
However, if you hire your friend because he/she has been a good friend, chances are, you are asking for trouble. You might even lose that friendship as a result of the chaos and frustration that result.