Hiring your “best” friend as a first employee, at your startup – pros and cons

Many startups have co founders who are best friends. I have heard of many cases when that has worked out well and a few cases when it did not. I would say in more cases than not, it has worked out (anecdotal). Hiring your best friend as the first employee has different connotations for your startup. You want to hire so that the person is individually proficient and collectively efficient.

The word “best” indicates to me that you know each other very well. There are secrets you’d keep from your family and other friends, but not from your friend.

The word “friend” indicates someone you know for a long time. This person is not someone you worked with for 1-2 years, but typically someone you either grew up with, studied with or worked with for an extended period.

Sometimes this can apply to your spouse or significant other as well.

Your best friend comes by and you start to think, why dont I ask her to join my company?

Even if they are not a “perfect” fit for the role you are trying to hire, you think you need a utility infielder anyway, so why not get them on board.

First the pros:

1. She knows you very well, so it is likely you will have a good relationship and be able to talk about anything about the business. Even if you have a co founder, running a startup is a lonely business, so having a sounding board, who wont judge you is a great advantage.

2. She can help you see things you dont see. Most entrepreneurs (not just Steve Jobs) create a reality distortion field around themselves, so having someone who can objectively point out the flaws in your argument, without you getting defensive will help you go a long way in your ability to grow as an entrepreneur.

3. You trust the person instinctively so it is likely you will be able to have them take on any role and be supportive when they make mistakes. This helps a lot when you have to explore new markets, attempt a new technique to sell your product or investigate a new architecture framework to use.

The other advantage is that the journey is a lot more fun when you like and enjoy working with the people you interact with daily.

Now the cons:

1. If you are both alike, (regardless of what people say, I think most people are best friends with people who are *very* similar to themselves), then it is likely you will see things the same way. This makes your company fairly uni-dimensional. Opportunities are best created when there is a good mix of different skills, talents and perspectives. Diversity creates dissonance, which leads to new ways to think about the same problem.

2. They may not be the perfect fit for the job – either because you need a front-end UI person and they are a back end developer, or they are a marketing person and you need a quota carrying sales person or if they dont have connections in the industry you are trying to tackle.

3. They are more likely to take liberties in the company (rare, but happens). This creates an environment where other professionals you hired will feel a sense of resentment towards the employee, since they believe your best friend will snitch on them.

In the last 3 years, I have seen about 120 companies go through our accelerator programs and looking back I notice about 10 cases where a best friend was hired as an employee (as opposed to a similar number of cases where the best friend was a co founder).

I cant think of a single case where it ruined a relationship even though the company did not do too well.

In my own personal opinion, bringing on your best friend to work with you at your startup is one of the best things you can do.

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One thought on “Hiring your “best” friend as a first employee, at your startup – pros and cons”

  1. My start-up founded with my friends had all the above pros working well and we all saw things in the same way and were best fit for engineering and technology. If the 2 cons are not the team, bringing your best friend may be best for your start-up.

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