Bros before CEOs – Starting and running a business with friends

Rinkel collega Omri
Omri Walstra
update: 27 October 2022

Cats and dogs, fire and ice, Gremlins and water, Pizza and fruit, Business and friendship.

Can you spot the theme? These are all combinations that shouldn’t be put together. This is something (almost) everyone agrees with. Except on two of these combinations.

And even though a pizza Hawaii is amazing; this article is about the other widely discussed combination: Business and friendship. Which side are you on? Mixing business relations with private relations: should you?

You know the stories, two college students working from their garages with nothing but a computer and an idea, which then develops into a multibillion-dollar business empire.

So it does exist, running a successful company alongside a successful friendship. Then why is this such a sensitive subject? We’ll walk you through it. The decision to do business with friends is always your own. It’s not an easy choice so we’ll tell you about our experience in the field. We hope to inform and inspire you!

Are there examples of successful companies founded by friends?

We briefly went over it before: they exist, but there isn’t a lot of love for the idea in the business world. Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba (the Amazon of China) for instance, feels strongly inclined to discourage anyone thinking of mixing business and friendship:

“Friends are pleasure, and the world of business has no place for pleasure.”
-Jack Ma

But maybe on the other hand, the most famous example from the discussion, is the friendship between Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In 1997 they developed a search engine that ranks results on the internet. This became, and still is, extremely successful (Go ahead, Google it!).

And of course, a certain telecom company that offers the solution for every entrepreneur, start-up and team. (Starts with an R and ends with inkel) Our ‘Founding Fathers’, Jeroen and Jesper first met each other on high school and are now managing a successful company alongside a well-oiled friendship.

But let’s be realistic. You have some huge success stories but most of all: you have disastrous stories. If you want to keep your friendship, it’s statistically a smarter move to let it remain a friendship and nothing more.

Don’t forget that an enterprise based or originating from a friendship depends on that relationship. The friendship can suffer under a failing business, and the business can suffer under a failing friendship.

But what if your friendship is different and results in the next Google-story? Who doesn’t want that? So, step out of the ‘Honeymoon phase’ and get to business. Before you decide to jump the gun, you need to discuss a few things.

Do the compatibility test, are you as good a partner as you are a friend?

To see if your friendship translates to a partnership, we created an (unscientific) compatibility test. A couple of questions to answer pre-emptively so future potentially uncomfortable conversations can be avoided. Phew!

It’s very simple: Read the questions and answer them for yourself first. Then you discuss them and both of your answers together. Disagree about something? Find out if there is an agreeable compromise. Otherwise, it’s best to let the partnership sail.

A: Do you share the same mentality?  

  • How long is a normal workday?
  • Do you work from home or the office most often?
  • What does break time look like?

B: Do you share the same ambitions?  

  • When is the company successful?
  • Is it a temporary enterprise or is it something to be developed for years to come?

C: What role do you play?

  • Who are you within the enterprise? (CEO, CTO, CMO, C3PO, and so on…)
  • What does your role entail?

Final Question: Will you bring the same value to the company? Or more importantly, do you both think you offer the same amount of value to the company.

Review the test results!
Compare your answers. There are probably a lot of similarities and differences too (sounds scary but is actually great). A successful company requires different voices to operate (subjectively) smoothly.

Be different!

Successful entrepreneurs need differing personalities. Rinkel knows everything there is to know about that: Founder Jeroen, being the optimistic dreamer and founder Jesper, the critical realist. These differences balance each other out. The fact that your traits differ from each other means new doors opening in a potential partnership, as long as you talk to each other.

Communication truly is key in a friendship, but also in entrepreneurship. Talk to each other, not just about the latest episode of the new HBO-show but also about difficult subjects, like (bad) performances and budgetary problems.

Making concrete (and hard) decisions is essential for a company. But you do this together, not alone. Different personalities don’t directly end in disagreements. What’s important is that you respect each other’s boundaries. Don’t try to do your partners work for them, focus on what you’re good at.

Pros and cons of working with friends


  • You bring the best out of each other
  • You have a similar sense of morality and humour
  • You’re not alone, so success is shared
  • A friendly work environment
  • Fun breaks
  • You’ll see each other way more often



  • Monetary issues are more uncomfortable
  • Problems may have effect on private or business life
  • Disagreements are harder to solve
  • You’ll see each other way more often


And? Are you still on the same side? Demotivated or inspired?  This article acts as a tool for your choice. Therefore, one last important question to ask yourself before going in all the way: You were Bro’s before you were CEO’s, but can you be after too?