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  • 11.07.14

How I Stayed Friends With My Cofounders, And You Can, Too

Three solutions to inevitable challenges that cofounders who are also friends face.

My business partners Andrew, John, and I had been friends for years before we came up with the idea of creating an app together.

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Since we started more two years ago, we’ve transitioned from an idea among three friends to running a serious business with more than 65 employees across three offices.

I couldn’t ask for anyone better to run a business with, but as you grow, you inevitably run into some challenges. Here are a few ways we keep our startup a friendly, thriving business rather than an unwanted falling out among good friends.

1. Founder Titles

In the beginning, we needed to tackle what role each founder would assume as the company grew. The cofounder title doesn’t cut it forever and can leave employees outside of the cofounders confused about who’s in charge of what.

We needed a structure to organize operations, but we found we grew better as a business when we combined our expertises and the roles we played before working together. We defined roles but allowed for flexibility in our definition so that everyone could leverage their strengths.

John had worked as CTO at another company and came from a background of engineering and product marketing. Although he runs our technology as a traditional CTO would, he also helps smartly shape our messaging and brand thanks to his product marketing background.

Andrew brought nearly a decade of experience in the advertising world, so he knew the ins and outs of all the industry processes. This made him a perfect fit for VP of business operations. However, he still uses his creative side and experience by leading our ad creative and optimization.

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Previously, I had served as CEO at a couple other companies, so I knew how to run a business and ensure we execute our vision. However, I’m still very much a product guy at heart, and we’re a very product-focused company, so I’m still driving the product and the supporting platform technology for the company.

2. Making Your First Non-founder Hire

When it’s time to hire your first employee, you have to figure out what you need first and how to go about bringing that new person into the closed-circle of the founding team.

It was a little scary because we are based in the hyper-competitive Silicon Valley, but we knew we needed to build a strong product-focused engineering team to make our idea happen, and we spent six months focusing on finding the best engineers to make that happen.

Because we were friends first, we were aligned with our focus on the product that allowed us to be strategic with that first outside hire. Once you make that first hire, you feel that much more driven to succeed. The responsibility of supplying an outsider’s livelihood weighs on you in a different way.

When interviewing, we met together to discuss the new candidates, how they would fit into our close team, how they could potentially benefit our business without causing issues among us and worked to ensure that this person shares the same ideas, background, and similar experiences as we do.

We eventually took the plunge and made our first hires. To make sure she or he could work successfully with us, we started creating a structure and formalizing our company communications (which had previously been casual talks among friends). Although it’s sometimes a difficult step, the first hires makes your fun startup idea start taking the shape of a real business.

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Eventually more hires happen until all of the sudden you wake up to a 65-person business. As the company grows, we founders get pulled in various directions. To keep innovation going and the vision on track, we make sure to schedule time just for us to hang out and talk like we did in the early days. This way, we ensure we’re always connecting to bounce ideas around and keep the company creative and smart.

3. Lots Of Opinions

As founders who are friends, we had to learn how to navigate dealing with differences of opinion without hurting feelings in the early stages of a company.

From a high level, it was important that we were all on the same page about the fundamentals of what we were building and how we were going about it. We were all very interested in the power of mobile and how it can change the consumer’s life for the better, and we believed that in order to build a great company, it’s important to have a great product.

When it comes to more intricate details, we are all very opinionated and have strong points of view. That might seem like a recipe for disaster. However, we respect each other, so we respect each other’s ideas, no matter how crazy they are. Because of this, we can be extremely honest with each other. It makes you consider ideas you would have never thought of and brings a new level of innovation to the company.

That said, we still clearly structure the organization so that we know who the final decision maker is for each section of the business. I lead any high-level company changes that need to happen. I pitch the cofounders, they weigh in, and I make the final call. Similarly, on the engineering side of the business, John leads any changes, lets us give our input, and makes the final decision.

Running a business with friends might seem like a risky move. If decisions are made haphazardly and without thought to long-term implications, it can turn into a disaster. However, if you take the risk seriously, then you make early decisions more consciously out of respect to both the friendship and the idea. As a result, your business gets a solid foundation for growth and success, and you get to work with your friends.

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Adam Foroughi is co-founder & CEO of AppLovin, a mobile marketing platform enabling brands to profitably acquire and re-engage customers. AppLovin works with more than 300 world class brands in retail, travel, lifestyle, gaming and more.

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