Better together: An ode to my bestie and business partner
By Yael Rosen, Co-Founder of Ferva.
Ben and Jerry. Hewlett and Packard. Proctor and Gamble. History is brimming with stories of best friends who became successful business partners. But then there are the countless others you’ve never heard where things didn’t work out so well. We’ve all heard the horror stories. Working with a friend more often than not turns out really badly.
But for me and my best friend turned business partner, Bianca, we’ve managed to defy the odds and the naysayers telling us “not to mix business with pleasure”, and today have built an incredible business together and a life that we are both excited to wake up to every-single-day. Which is why I dedicate this article to her.
How it started
Nearly 5 years ago, I woke up on a Monday morning during the height of my demanding corporate career and I felt like “taking a sicky”. Now, if you know me this was highly out of character. I am way too much of an A Type personality to bunk anything. But when I woke up the following Monday feeling the same way, I knew something was not right.
After some intense self-reflection, I realised that I was no longer stimulated, engaged, energised or in love with my job even though I loved the organisation I worked for.
For the first time ever, it felt like the right time to take a bit of a risk and start something on my own which I always knew I wanted to do. The risk was small – no kids, no massive expenses and a supportive husband. What was the worst that could happen? I told myself I could always go back into a corporate job if things didn’t work out.
As exhilarating as this seemed, the thought of doing it alone was rather daunting. It didn’t really seem possible or do-able. But at the same time, the only way I could take this leap of faith was with someone I trusted implicitly. This meant having zero doubts in their capability, competence, drive, value system, and certainty that we would be aligned. With this considered, I had only 1 option, my best friend Bianca.
It was that exact moment that I clicked that she was ‘the one’. When this light bulb moment happened, Bianca was in London satisfying her travel bug. After my epiphany, I thought I could hold out until the end of the workday to call her, but it turned out I couldn’t. I ran off to the bathroom at work and called her from a cubicle. It was a quick headliner which I had to whisper: “Bee, you have to come home, we are going to start a business together!”. And the rest they say is history!
A marriage of opposites
You know that famed saying in Thailand “Same same but different?”. Well if you didn’t, now you do. This saying perfectly describes mine and Bianca’s relationship. We are incredibly similar but at the same time, so different. And it just works.
Bianca - A brief synopsis
Fierce, full of fire and full of Italian-like passion but at the same time, she will “love you to death.”
Full of drive and a never-ending ability to push me and to push our business to the next level. We push each other really well and in different ways.
She is not afraid to have the toughest of conversations and say things as they are. Yet this is balanced by her care and empathy for people.
She cares a LOT about everyone, including me. This is something I hugely admire, something that has grown our team and enabled our clients in ways I never could.
Bianca recognises people, their contribution, and effort in literally everything they do.
She’s never shy to stretch and grow herself and believes in everything that we do whole-heartedly.
Yael - A brief synopsis about me
Full of energy and excitement, passion, very direct and just go-go-go all the time.
As straight and narrow as they come. I cannot sugar coat the things that I feel strongly about, and I don’t believe in doing so.
I have huge care for people in need, I drive the team crazy with social impact initiatives and asking them to do small acts of kindness all the time.
Eternal optimist with a good sense of realism – Bianca often jokes that when I pack my bags to leave South Africa, that a meteor must be about to hit earth and everyone needs to run as quickly as possible because I always see the light in everything.
I will literally answer a client call while changing a nappy.
I build very strong client relationships that most clients have become friends - I see them for coffee and breakfasts regularly and they come to my home for meals.
I recognise the big achievements, big business goals and the numbers.
The yin to my yang, the Betty to my Veronica
Friendship and business can complement each other beautifully, but it does take effort to maintain balance. So what makes mine and Bianca’s partnership so special? Here are some key ingredients to our successful partnership:
1. We’re on the same page
Before starting our business, we put together a list of questions about what we wanted the business to do (and not to do) and what we wanted the business to achieve. We prepared separately and came together to share our thoughts. In this initial meeting, we were 100% aligned which made it very easy to pull the trigger and sign on the dotted line. Importantly, this was just the start. Since we began our business, part of our vision has been that the business is ‘led by an aligned and meaningful partnership’ which has always been front and centre. It is not a phrase that is written in strategy documents, but it is something that has been top of mind of everything we have always done.
2. We share similar values
Because we began this as friends, we knew the ins and outs of each other particularly well. Not only had we taken a gap year together, which entailed living and travelling together for long periods of time, but Bianca also introduced me to my husband, and I introduced her to hers (and our husbands are very good friends). When we tell this to people, they are usually shocked and somewhat fascinated and the look on their face shouts ‘wow this partnership is closely intertwined’. But in understanding each other so well, our values were always understood by each other and very much so shared. These values have driven our business and have very much shaped the journey we've been on thus far.
3. We’re a package deal
We have each other’s backs, no-matter-what: Be it client or team related issues, we stand side by side and support each other through all challenges and ups and downs. This type of trust has been absolutely and genuinely unwavering. There has not been a single moment when this has been compromised in any way and this is probably the foundational glue that has bound this relationship together from day one. We will tell anyone to their face that “we are a package deal” and that “buy one get one free” is an obligation with us and not an option.
4. We genuinely listen to each other
In whatever we are discussing or debating, we listen to each other’s views not to respond but rather to genuinely understand. In doing so, it allows us to formulate, create and build with a Mary Poppins suitcase of ideas, strategies and new ways of doing things. Make no mistake, a perfect partnership does not mean always agreeing with one another and having no backbone. It means that two people can listen to each other’s opposing viewpoints, and acknowledge each other's perspective.
5. We have different strengths & experience
We came into the business with slightly different strengths and totally different experiences. I came from a corporate HR type background and Bianca came from boutique consulting. This enabled the business to build a library of different knowledge, skills, and experiences and has created a rich tapestry to build the business upon.
6. We know when to back off
If two people have slightly different skill sets, it is important that you know when you might not be able to solve a problem on your own and trust the other person enough to run with things when you can’t.
7. We contribute equally
Ultimately, contribution does not need to be identical, but it has to be as equal as possible. This means that if one is on multiple clients doing a lot of billable work, the other does not have to be doing exactly the same, but then their value has to lie elsewhere such as driving sales or building products. As long as both people are adding value, putting in efforts, and doing what they can to move the business forward, then both feel a sense of equal contribution.
8. We understand each others needs
It is really important that on a personal front, you understand the mindset, stage of life and where each other are at. In falling pregnant and becoming a mom, Bianca understood my new circumstances and actively supported me every step of the way. In the same breath, when Bianca needed to plan her destination wedding in Italy or is ever needed by her family I understand her unique pressures, which are just as important as mine, and always communicate “I got this”.
Your vibe attracts your tribe
There is a fine, tricky line when it comes to mixing friends and business. It can either go very right or very wrong depending on the circumstances. Which is why I feel immense gratitude that I can write an article like this. I don’t know many business partners that can say that. Bianca is a truly exceptional business partner and our partnership just works. The truth is without our friendship, I genuinely do not believe we would have built the business we have today. We’re so grateful for our friendship and the teamwork that has come out of it. And in our five years of working together, one of the key lessons that I have learnt is that when you find a like-minded business partner, with a skillset that complements your own, it can be a real catalyst for a successful business.