Why You Can’t Be Friends with Your Co-Founders

Aaron Dinin, PhD
5 min readMar 3, 2020

Startup co-founders often describe their relationships as “being like a marriage.” They spend countless hours together working, eating meals, and traveling. They learn to deal with each other’s weird eccentricities, they learn to be comfortable around each other in ways normal friends aren’t, and, just like in marriages, they get into big fights they’re forced to resolve because their lives and wellbeing are intimately entwined. Given such close, personal, long term relationships, you’d think finding a co-founder among your friends would be a good strategy. But choosing a friend as a co-founder is a bad idea. Do you know why?

Before I explain why you shouldn’t look for co-founders among your friends, I feel obligated to admit that my co-founder of nearly 15 years in three seperate companies began as my childhood best friend. We met when we were 10 years old, and we didn’t launch our first company together until we were in our early 20s.

I realize I seem like a hypocrite for not following my own advice, but the reverse is closer to the truth. I used to think building companies with my best friend was what set us up for success, but it was actually creating challenges I struggled to recognize. Here are four of the biggest challenges we faced as friends building businesses together.

Challenge #1: You’ll have too much fun being friends

My initial hint that being best friends and co-founders wasn’t a good combination came within the first year of working on our first company together. Don’t get me wrong — I enjoyed being co-founders with my best friend, but that was also part of the problem. We had trouble separating the “work time” from the “hanging out” time. After growing up together, watching movies, playing video games, and getting into general mischief of the teenage boy variety, it was difficult to “turn off” those tendencies in favor of working. Why spend hours doing dull sales prospecting work or building developer APIs when you could spend the same hours goofing around with your BFF? In other words, our first few years working together didn’t produce as much as value as they should have, and, as a result, our first attempt at launching a company didn’t get far.

Aaron Dinin, PhD

I teach entrepreneurship at Duke. Software Engineer. PhD in English. I write about the mistakes entrepreneurs make since I’ve made plenty. More @ aarondinin.com