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The Secret Entrepreneur: Losing friends and influencing people

We’ve signed our own secret entrepreneur to tell the whole truth about life as the CEO of a fast-growth company. Read the first column here

Ever wondered what other successful entrepreneurs really think? Even among business owners you consider friends you won't get the full, unvarnished, truth about life as the CEO of a fast-growing business.

It can be lonely bottling-up those darker, inner thoughts for fear of losing friends, colleagues, and clients. That's why our Secret Entrepreneur has decided to lift the lid on the angst, frustrations, and realities of running a multi-million turnover company right here.

This is the stuff our entrepreneur would never reveal to colleagues, clients, peers, friends or even their spouse.

All we can tell you is this person is based either in or around London, runs a company that has grown rapidly in the past five years, and if you actively network among your peers at conferences, awards, and social events, you've probably met them already.

Read the first column here:

“One of the things that's rarely talked about in entrepreneurship is the odd effect it has on your friendships. I never noticed this at first, but as life has progressed I've come to realise it more and more.

Having spent many years building my business, pouring every minute of spare time into raising it, I get to see my closest non-business friends – many of whom are now scattered around the world – at best every six months, often far less.

My other more regular relationships – leaving aside family and spouse – now occupy a sometimes uneasy space between business and friendship. I've found that these can be grouped into a few different categories.

The client-cum-pal. One of the great things about business is getting the opportunity to work with clients that you really like. The best clients are often those you share a strong common view with and this can naturally lead to a friendship. The problem is that there's an invisible line here, which you simply can't cross.

There are some things you just never want a client – no matter how good a friend – to know. It could be a personal issue, but more likely it's the latest impending business catastrophe which you're battling to prevent. This works both ways of course.

The staff-cum-friend. As the boss you get to choose the people you work with, at least for a while, and so you naturally end up with a core of staff who are your friends. This isn't your typical colleague friendship though, because as much as you may try, you can be assured that they will never, ever, forget that ultimately you are their boss. This also extends to their friends too.

It can be subtle, but the signs are always there – a slight deference, the last biscuit, the front seat in a shared car. Every time. Even when you try and refuse. It becomes a little unnerving, more so when you realise that this is really because they harbor an inner fear of the control you have over their future wellbeing. It gets worse when you realise that you wield that power.

The fellow entrepreneur. This, I find, is the most fulfilling entrepreneurial friendship. You can discuss issues and share problems with someone else who gets your frame of reference. This can be extraordinarily reassuring and rewarding. The problem here is that a) they're usually just as busy as you and so difficult to keep in touch with and b) if you really get on you have to strive to avoid them becoming…

The business-partner-mate. Warning! It can seem like a fantastic idea to go into business with your good friends. After all, you know you get on, so what can go wrong? In my experience, everything.

Things start out great, but as the going (inevitably) gets tough, ideas diverge and things get rocky. I've been through this – to my shame and against my better judgement – more than once and the results were always an unmitigated f*cking disaster. Wrecked friendships and wasted cash. This type of relationship has a very definite time limit. For me at least.

After years of trying, I've come to the conclusion that there's no way to avoid these dysfunctional relationships, they come with the territory. I've also come to the conclusion that the trade-off is worth it. But that's for another time.”


(will not be published)