Mixing business with pleasure is always high risk (I won’t use the grim idiom about toilet habits and dining locations, but it definitely applies…), so when Lucy Cleveley and I decided to launch Discoco together, we knew there could be challenges. So, a year in from our first conversations about teaming up, I thought I’d share a few insights for anyone else thinking of collaborating with a friend…
Everywhere’s your meeting room
Hashing out social media strategy while barefoot and clammy at the side of a beginners’ swimming lesson while occasionally waving encouragingly at our flailing six year olds? Using voice notes to take down actions during late night walks, clutching secret gin and wearing four layers at the height of lockdown? Breathlessly sharing ideas at the finish line of a local parkrun after inspiration struck around mile two? Oh yes, since we have very little in the way of official work time together due to conflicting schedules, our Discoco time is often forced to slot into the stuff we’re doing together anyway. I’d like to say it’s cheaper than hiring a coworking space but have you seen the price of kids’ swimming lessons these days?
Your other friends become your entourage
Night out with the local crew? Well sure, we’d love to, but the first five minutes must now always be given over to an “impromptu” photoshoot because otherwise it would just be a waste of makeup. In our case, this hasn’t been helped by the fact that a pub recently opened up 30 seconds from my house with a highly Instagrammable wall in our brand colours. It was clearly meant to be. To our long-suffering mutual friends turned Instagram wives Vicky and Liz: we love you and we’re sorry.
You are brutally honest with each other
None of that tip-toeing around you might get with a normal colleague who you don’t know very well, agonising over whether to sign off an email with “Best” or “Regards” (how about neither?). We know we like each other, we know what our strengths and weaknesses are and right now Discoco is a very demanding side hustle, so we’ve got no time for pussy-footing. So, when we have feedback for each other, or don’t agree about something, it comes straight out, whether via lengthy WhatsApp message or in a three minute outburst on the way back from school drop-off. The good news is, nobody has cried yet. Edit: I haven’t cried. Apparently Lucy has. Sadly there is not yet an HR department to escalate this to.
You’ll discover your cute little differences
Not so much “you say to-may-to and I say to-mah-to” but “you insist on saving every document and email into an intricate series of folders comprehensible only to you while I prefer to keep everything in one giant vat best accessed via search if only I could remember what I called that dastardly file”. We all have our own weird ways of working, either because they fit our behavioural type or because we’ve been brainwashed into certain systems by previous jobs, but when you team up with a mate, suddenly all their little idiosyncrasies are laid bare. It’s the professional equivalent of discovering your new boyfriend can only fall asleep if there’s whale song playing.
You’ll develop a whole new respect for each other
When I was first thinking about Discoco (working title: something really cringey we no longer discuss) I believed that, to get it off the ground, I’d need to team up with someone from a tech or business background. Then I realised those things can be learned or outsourced; the real magic would happen if I collaborated with someone who shared my vision but had complementary skills.
My background is in journalism, tone of voice, brand, comms, that kind of wordy stuff; Lucy’s is in learning and development and business psychology. We quickly realised that, since what we wanted to do was inject fun and personality into self-development and build a lifestyle brand around online learning, we were actually the perfect combination. But we’ve since learned other stuff about each other too that has helped us divide up our roles and responsibilities to try and make Discoco a success. What I didn’t really know from our friendship or from Lucy’s CV is that she’s an amazing project manager and get-it-done type person, as well a well-prepared and slick presenter and public speaker, which is exactly what I really needed. In fact, I’m starting to wonder what I bring to the table, other than correcting the occasional rogue apostrophe on her super-snazzy slide decks.
You need to have “date nights”
We’ve been close friends for over six years and in that time we’ve got drunk with James Nesbitt in a local pub (it’s a south east London rite of passage), accidentally squirted breast milk at each other (it’s an NCT friend rite of passage), bought each other flowers and presents during sad times, done karaoke late into the night during happy times, fed each other’s pets, watered each other’s plants, babysat each others kids, made emergency use of each other’s washing machines, done doorstep drops of cake and wine while isolating and swapped dozens of books, box set recommendations and anecdotes. While Discoco is a big part of our friendship now, it’s not all of it, by any stretch. And this is why we make a point of still having “date nights” together where we don’t talk shop (well, apart from the obligatory Instagram selfie at the start, obviously). Hopefully all this means that, even if our Discoco days become a distant memory in a few years, we’ll still have our friendship…
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