Does Collaborating With Content Creator Friends Ever Work?
One failed best-friend YouTube channel later, here’s my take on how to pick a business partner
We thought we’d make it. We’d create an amazing YouTube channel together, we’d mix our personalities into a soup of greatness, we’d create content about the things we cared about.
We’d go big or go home.
One year and one destroyed friendship later, we went home — In completely opposite directions.
Grant you, the channel wasn’t what ended us. It was actually the other way around — our toxic friendship was the end of a one-year journey full of effort, hours spent editing videos and building a following. However, that doesn’t mean the channel itself worked. Because it didn’t. We were even worse business partners than we were friends.
This led me to think about how hard it is to choose the right partner when it comes to business or creating content, as well as how much risk is involved — when it’s just you, there’s no other person standing in your way. There’s no potential for the business to fail on the basis of co-founder conflict.
And co-founder conflict is in rich abundance nowadays. Elinor Robes writes in Forbes:
“According to Noam Wasserman, a professor at Harvard Business School who studied almost 10,000 founders for his book The Founder’s Dilemma, business partnership can bring you triumphant glory or catastrophic disaster…. Many of today’s iconic companies were founded by pairs. And investors prefer to invest in teams. However, according to Wasserman, 65% of high-potential startups fail as a result of conflict among co-founders.”
It’s often said that work and friendship shouldn’t mix, but my then-best friend and I ignored this advice and carried on because we believed we were on the same page with regards to basically everything.
Turns out, we didn’t see eye to eye on most aspects of our YouTube channel. And there was much more.
How to pick a business partner?
Many articles have been written on this topic, and after searching online for a bit, some of the most common pieces of advice are:
- Find someone who shares your values.
- Find someone with valuable skills and experience.
- Your business partner should be growth-oriented.
- You need to share a vision.
While all of these are definitely true, I feel like what I’ve learned brings something valuable to the table as well. Here is where I’ve failed and what lessons I’ve gained from it.
You don’t only need the same vision — you need to agree on how you execute it.
The goal of our channel was quite clear: “Queer, green and nerdy” was the motto. While these three topics don’t necessarily have much in common, they made sense for us. We were both nerdy and loved talking about books, and while I wanted to focus on the eco-friendly and vegan aspects of my life, my friend wanted to share her thoughts on sexuality and gender.
We supported each other’s interests, and in the end, we ended up talking about books more often than not anyway. The topics were agreed on and were being executed— no problem there.
However, when it came to the execution itself, we had hurdles to overcome, and in our case, we didn’t quite manage that. Our styles simply did not match.
For starters, we did better on camera on our own than next to each other — our energies clashed, we failed to bring in enough banter and we didn’t act natural enough. What’s more, our editing styles were completely different as well. I wanted music in the background, she didn’t. I edited out more pauses because I wanted the videos to seem fast-paced, she often left them in and let the video be more natural. Generally, I used more editing tools.
The result was two very different types of videos that didn’t quite fit. We agreed on the vision, sure, but the vision simply wasn’t enough.
Towards the end of the channel, my friend told me, “I don’t think the channel works. I don’t think we work well together.” And I couldn’t but agree.
Lesson Number 1:
When you’re choosing a business or a content creation partner, have a look at their work. Try out one small project together and see if your creative styles clash or match.
My friend and I sometimes didn’t even agree on the comedic aspects of our videos, and this led to compromises that held us back from reaching our full individual potentials.
If your partner isn’t growing in a similar direction you are and is using a completely different creative approach, chances are you’ll clash and won’t be able to have a great unified brand/product.
Your work ethic is crucial for great co-operation.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s something I deliberately chose to overlook when I started a YouTube channel with my best friend (which is another problem with friendship-related work — you tend to ignore the things you otherwise wouldn’t because of the strong bond you have with them).
I knew she was a procrastinator and struggled with sticking to any one thing for longer than a few months, yet I believed that if we motivated each other, we wouldn’t lose our drive.
In the end, we both posted irregularly and sometimes disappeared for longer than a month, which isn’t exactly the best strategy for a new YouTube channel — the less you interact with the algorithm, the harder it is to gain momentum.
It wasn’t all her fault. Sometimes she pushed me to keep going when I couldn’t, for example when we decided to post every day for a full month (and actually managed to do it, although the quality of the videos was questionable). At some point, it was only her posting videos for over a month before I joined in.
In the same way, sometimes she disappeared and I kept the channel going. And then there were times when we both stopped caring and the channel simply was there, abandoned.
All in all, our work ethic sucked. We were being flaky, we had sudden sparks of passion followed by unmotivated silence, and while we sometimes inspired each other to keep going, we also buddied up in our procrastination more often than I’d like.
In her article on Zapier, Amy Hage writes about her business partnership with her friend:
“Having a matching work ethic gives Brittney and me peace of mind — we both know we’re always doing our best to accomplish whatever goal is at hand. Yes, we may have to carry one another every so often for a particular reason, but it’s reciprocal. No one person is bearing the brunt of the work. In fact, Brittney and I always argue about who has the better work ethic. She says it’s me, and I say it’s her (awwww).”
Well, if there’s one thing I’d never say, it’s that that my friend had a good work ethic. I also admit my work ethic in regards to our channel was very often down the drain.
And that’s a big red flag that your co-operation isn’t working.
Lesson Number 2:
Your business partner should be someone who inspires you and motivates you to keep going, not just at any particular moment in time, but because of the kind of person that they are.
If you both have tendencies to be lazy and procrastinate, you’ll likely partner in this more often than in discipline and motivation. And if it’s just one of you, it leaves the other person to either succumb or carry the burden of the work on their own.
Find someone who inspires you — not just with their intelligence, interests or skills, but with their discipline, hard-working tendencies and the ability to complete tasks that are high quality consistently and on time.
Find a partner who motivates you to be a better version of yourself every day.
A healthy co-founder relationship is key.
If you want to create something with a friend, make sure your friendship is healthy to begin with. Because mine definitely wasn’t.
Our friendship dynamics had been unhealthy for years when we started our channel. While we often did great (it wasn’t all bad, of course), there were also silent forces based on years of friendship that could create an imbalance.
For one, I asked her opinion and advice more often than she did. I wanted her to approve my thumbnails, my editing, sometimes my ideas — she usually didn’t bother with this and just went ahead and hit the publish button. Nobody here was at fault because both our actions were completely legit and because we didn’t establish rules at the beginning of our collaboration, but it’s a good way to illustrate the subtle imbalance.
I always felt like walking on eggshells, even when she gave me no reason to feel that way — it was a habit built over years of friendship. We didn’t start with a clean slate and fresh boundaries as you do with strangers, and it showed.
In the end, our toxic friendship led to the demise of our channel.
Lesson Number 3:
Don’t start a business with someone when you can already name all the ways in which your relationship isn’t right.
Eventually, the partnership with my friend made me feel uncomfortable because I knew we weren’t good together and I felt like I always had to tip-toe around things. Always make sure the relationship feels equal before you start something together.
Mixing friendship and work didn’t work out for me, but it doesn’t mean it won’t for you.
If you make sure that you motivate each other with your disciplined work ethic, that you agree on how you execute your vision, and that your friendship is healthy and equal, you might just as well smash it.
I went home this time. But you can still go big.