How I started a business with my best mate (and yes, we’re still friends!)

Starting a business is a lonely journey. Kabir Aggarwall decided to take his best friend along with him. So how easy was it to go from friends, to founders?

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Embarking on a side hustle journey with your best friend might seem dreamy, but it certainly comes with its share of challenges and rewards; as I know first-hand. 

Together, my best friend Harks Kohli and I evolved a side hustle into a full-fledged Amazon business. So how did we do it? Did we have an exit strategy planned? Were we not constantly in conflict

Well, not quite. This isn’t The Social Network, and you can go into business with your bestie – you just have to plan it right. Mine and Harks’ story, spanning from conception to celebration, will provide practical insights for the route ahead.

A friend gin-deed

The foundation of any successful partnership rests on common interests. Harks and I met aged 17 at the same college in Southall, a diverse hub with a vibrant Indian community. Our lives took similar paths as we attended universities in the Midlands, and our bond remained strong. 

After college, we followed the conventional route and ventured into corporate jobs. I took charge of managing eight cocktail bars across the UK, while Harks climbed the ranks in the IT sector. However, beneath the surface, a mutual craving for more meaningful work was brewing. 

Harks, my go-to sounding board for most things in life, steered me towards entrepreneurship. He yearned for more control over his career path, both financially and personally, and the same resonated with me.

Our shared passion for gin sparked an idea: people were missing out on the true essence of gin enjoyment at home. Why didn’t we craft a unique gin-drinking experience by blending innovation with tradition to meet these customer needs?

In March 2017, we just did that. We created our gin balloon glasses, into which we poured the first drops of our new business idea: Vemacity.

Birds of a feather, grow together

It’s important to consider how you and your best friend's passions can come together to shape a side hustle. Discuss how the unique strengths each of you brings to the table can lay the groundwork for a dynamic collaboration.

Late-night conversations, and shared excitement that can turn your concept into a viable business idea. Allow room for candid feedback and lean on each other’s expertise to refine your vision. For anything you don’t know, take the time to look for solutions together.

The same goes for allocating roles. Examine how you and your best friend can manage responsibilities based on your unique skill sets, ensuring smooth and efficient operations. If something goes wrong, you know who’s responsible for fixing it.  

At times I’ve been a photographer, accountant, and marketer and sometimes all three at once.  

However, every successful venture thrives on clearly defined roles so don’t let friendship blur the lines between professional and personal. 

We believe in personal growth and that every problem can be overcome – and we’ve certainly faced plenty. For example, our initial plans for expanding into EU markets didn’t go as planned due to Brexit.

Be prepared to face challenges and setbacks by working as a team, and communicate how you can turn each trial into stepping stones for growth, learning, and adaptability.

Start small and scale with precision

My number one tip for anyone starting a company is to be as objective as possible and focus on your numbers. Outline your business plan starting on a modest scale and test the waters. 

For us, selling on Amazon offered the perfect route to showcase our vision to a wide target audience. It allowed us to fuse our love for gin with the need for something more fulfilling than the corporate grind. 

We launched our gin balloon glass on Amazon, enticed by its scalability and potential. We spent hours engrossed in online seminars, making the most of the free, online educational resources available through Amazon Small Business Accelerator or on Amazon Seller University. 

With Amazon as our primary online sales channel, accounting for a substantial 95% of our sales, our compact team of three managed to achieve a turnover of over £1 million in 2021. 

In the fourth quarter of 2022, we achieved a significant milestone by becoming the top seller in Italy within our Amazon category. And while the United Kingdom remains our primary market, we are excited to continue expanding internationally as we progress. 

How do you know when you’re ready?

Transitioning from a side hustle to a full-time venture demands a big commitment. In our case, we discussed the timing in detail and Harks took the plunge first, leaving his job in October 2017. Later that year we knew the time was ripe for me to tell my boss I was starting a business.

We celebrated our first 100 sales back in the day and in 2020 we were hitting 1,000 sales daily. Even more excitingly, we crossed the milestone of £1m in turnover around Christmas 2021. Harks spotted it and immediately messaged me saying, ‘We did it!’ 

Six years in, and I can’t believe how far we’ve come since then. Looking ahead, our projections indicate a 20% growth forecast for the current year. 

It’s important to acknowledge the achievements that mark your journey. Celebrate how these moments solidify your partnership and fuel your determination to keep progressing toward the next business milestone

While challenges may arise, the bond you share can be your greatest asset. By nurturing open communication and focusing on growth, you can transform your shared dream into a thriving reality.

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Kabir Aggarwall co-founded Vemacity with Harks Kohli in 2017 with a simple purpose - to spread the enjoyment of gin. Every single Vemacity glass is handmade and designed to bring a special feeling to any drink you enjoy from them.

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