Warren H. Cohn

Pros and Cons of Partnering with Family or Friends

For most entrepreneurial-spirited professionals, starting a business is an exhilarating experience albeit the long strenuous hours and perfecting each minuscule detail leading to the launch. However, sooner or later, many entrepreneurs come across the difficult decision, ‘Who should I partner with?’

Before the company reaches fruition, it’s important to have a partner who not only has the same vision and outlook for the company as you, but also believes in its success. For many, partnering with a friend or family member may sound like the perfect solution, as the relationship and trust is already established, but the thought isn’t met without numerous horror stories of deteriorating relationships due to business and management issues.

Aside from the many cringe-worthy stories, there are a couple of high-key partnerships that make family in business a hopeful option—Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hired his sister Randi Zuckerberg to lead the company’s market development and be a spokesperson, a relationship that lasted six years before Randi went on to create her own media empire, Zuckerberg Media, while prominent New York real estate developer Arik Kislin, who heads a diversified multi-million dollar investment business, hired son Seth Kislin to head business development at Linx Industries, a healthy business relationship that continues to this day.

But before jumping to any conclusions regarding mixing family and business it’s important to weigh the pros and cons to ensure a friend or family business partnership is not only a fruitful option, but also the best option for you and your company.

Pro: The relationship is already established

When looking at whether to partner with a close friend or family member in business, it’s easy to assume company and partnership success due to the already established relationship. The person in consideration already knows you on a personal level, making it easy for them to understand your personality, work ethic and vision for the business.

When considering whether to create a digital media branch with life-long friend Matt Berman, CEO of Ember Networks, a New Orleans-based digital marketing agency, I knew we were not only great friends, but that Matt was passionate about providing top-notch digital services to clients. This knowledge made the decision seem like a no-brainer. However, most entrepreneurs fail to consider the flipside of this statement when making a partnership decision—an easily overlooked detail that could potentially result in another failed partnership story.

Matthew Berman on the right and me on the left, in college.

Con: The business relationship is not established

While a thriving personal relationship may already be present, a business relationship has not yet been established. You may know their significant other, where they live and what they like to do in their free time, but how they manage others and delegate work is typically not common knowledge.

In the situation of going into business with family or friends, there’s typically a learning curve as to how both work styles will compliment one another. However, it is possible that two work styles may never be complimentary and a business relationship may not be feasible. To combat any relationship souring, take time to sit down and discuss work and management styles in-depth to get a feel of how the business would run. If any red flags pop up, it’s a good indicator that this may not be the best partnership for your business.

Matt Berman, CEO of Ember Networks and now president of Emerald Digital, who made the decision to mix business and friendship, said “Choosing to go into business with your friends is not a decision anyone should take lightly. If anything, it should be one of the most important choices you can make for both your business and your friendship.”

Berman continued, “Not every friendship will make a good business relationship. For the situation to work, you have to fully trust your friend and business partner, and to trust that person is the right fit.”

Pro: You have the same vision

When deciding to start your own business you most likely discussed your vision and plan of action with friends and family members, making them an important part of the process to get your business up and running—it’s possible they may have even given some input and helped mold your vision!

Because of this personal development in branding and vision, your potential business partner most likely is on the same wavelength when it comes to vision and the success of the company. They not only know exactly what you want to do, but they’ve played a part in helping you create it. It only seems fitting that they may help you carry it out as well.

For father son team Arik and Seth Kislin of Linx Industries, going into business together seemed fitting after Seth Kislin had grown up watching his father’s success and the path he took to get there.

Con: The path to reach that vision may be vastly different

While the vision and future outlook of the company may be the same, it’s possible that the path to reach that vision may be vastly different. Between technological advances, hiring strategy and advanced marketing strategies, partners may have varying outlooks when it comes to achieving the end goal—a factor that could potentially cause friction or a deteriorating relationship.

“Personally I have found that working with family is based on finding the boundaries between the office and life at home,” Seth Kislin said. “When we’re in the office we’re able to discuss differences in strategy and other things, but once the difference between home life and office life is established then working with family becomes enjoyable.”

Pro: You understand their strengths and weaknesses

One benefit of going into business with a close friend or family member is understanding their primary strengths and weaknesses prior to the business relationship. Knowing personal strengths and weaknesses before going into business together can help establish each individual’s key role and set them on a personal path for success within the company, which also aids in the company’s success.

When advancing in a non-familial business partnership, a deeper learning curve is involved due to learning the specific strengths and weaknesses of the other partner. Skipping that curve and going into business with a friend or family member could be a better option in this regard.

Con: Strengths and weaknesses have the potential to become personal

While having knowledge of strengths and weaknesses prior to engaging in a business relationship could be a benefit at the beginning, the deep-rooted knowledge could potentially infiltrate personal boundaries leading to a sour personal relationship.

“A tactic we’ve used to be successful is not talking about business in front of our family. If we need to have a work conversation we always find a quiet place to talk, leaving our other family members out of the conversation,” said Tammy Fellus, VP of consumer at HeraldPR who works with her brother-in-law.


Regardless of what stage you’re at in launching your business, determining whom to partner with could make or break the company’s success. Choose wisely.

About the Author
Warren H. Cohn graduated from Tulane in New Orleans, after going to YOF in Brooklyn. He currently runs HeraldPR, a New York City public relations and digital marketing agency. Warren loves working with start-ups, new businesses & technologies, and most importantly: great people. His firm also specializes in crisis mitigation and communications.
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