The dire warnings against mingling money with friendship date back to Shakespeare, when Polonius, the chief counselor to King Claudius in Hamlet, says, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for a loan often loses both itself and friend." They didn't have electricity or equal rights during the 1500's, but they were still enlightened enough to understand a thing or two about money: it often brings out the worst in people; a loan to the wrong friend could cost both the cash and the relationship.
I got a stiff reminder of this lesson a couple of years ago (my bad, Polonius), when a "mom friend" of mine, Ally, asked to borrow $500, stat. She had an urgent need for seed funding, and I am generally the type who will help a frog cross the road if need be, so I obliged. No interest, no strict payment terms, just goodwill. "Pay me back when you are financially comfortable to do so," I said. "Don't worry about the timing."
You can guess how that turned out.
I am without the money I lent, and without the friendship I thought I had. We'd been close friends since our kids met in first grade, and she ghosted me after I did her a favor.
Despite my friendship-induced PTSD from this incident, I believe money and friendship can mix… with the right person. For me, that person is Jody.
I met Jody in kindergarten, and we immediately bonded over our shared first and middle names (Jodi Lyn and Jody Lynn, respectively). During 40 plus years of friendship, we survived a duel for the same boy in elementary school, high school cliques, double-dating two boys named Jimmy, 80s hair, playing the same varsity sports, attending different colleges, being roommates in our early twenties, multiple moves, marriages, divorce, trips abroad, health scares, pregnancies, motherhood, and my mother's death.
(She never once asked me for money during all of these years of friendship, by the way.)
After my mom's funeral, I became fixated on fulfilling her dream of writing a children's book. I spent countless hours brainstorming and researching possible topics, and sketching out copy. When my son finally gave me the winning idea by innocently asking, "Mom, what was it like when I lived in your belly?" I devoted every minute of my free time to answering his question.
Multiple drafts and rewrites ensued at various coffee shops, between nursery school drop offs, pick ups, and freelance projects. Once I got the book to a place where I felt others could read it, I called her. Jody is not only an incredibly talented illustrator, she is a mom extraordinaire. I knew she would be a perfect second read, and she would see my vision better than anyone else.
I didn't have any money to offer her at that point. I didn't have anyone backing me or believing in me. I had no guarantee the book would ever be published. All I had was my word—a mutual trust earned through decades of friendship—and that was good enough for her.
It took five years to get it done, but, now, our book baby, When You Lived in My Belly, is available for pre-sale and will be out on August 6th. We effectively worked together despite multiple obstacles, differences of opinion, zero funding, countless roadblocks, and almost daily tests of patience, perseverance, and emotional fortitude to bring this book to market. There was a little strain and push and pull but, mostly, there was synergy, shared commitment, and resolve to see it through.
If you're considering mixing money with friendship, how do you avoid an Ally? Here are five ways to pick a Jody:
- Assess the friendship. Women have a way of disarming each other and connecting on a deep level rather quickly. Close friendships can be formed during in-depth conversations at kids' sporting events, school functions, or at the gym. Suddenly, someone who was never in your circle is at the center of it—but do you really know her?
- Take a hard look at the history of your friendship. Have you had a conflict before? If so, how did you resolve it? Differences of opinion are inevitable when dealing with money and business partnerships. Is your friendship strong enough to overcome challenges and weather storms while remaining intact? Do you really trust her or are you taking a leap of faith?
- Get to know her professional persona. Does she have expertise that will complement or clash with yours? Many friendships are based on similarities and not differences, but diverse skill-sets and perspectives make partnerships thrive. What's her work style? Have you spoken to people who have done business with her in the past? Does she share your work ethic? You need to consider every positive and negative attribute before you take a leap.
- Take the rose-colored glasses off. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends 8.5 hours a day at work, but entrepreneurs clock much more time than that. While it may be tempting to believe that spending 50-plus hours per week with your bestie is your version of a professional utopia, consider the alternative. Does she have quirks or issues that already grate on your nerves? Have you built enough friendship equity to spend more time with each other than you do with your families?
- Have an honest conversation about the structure of your business. Make sure you have transparent and thorough conversations about hierarchy, titles, hiring practices, goal-setting, financial investments, and work expectations. Better yet, capture the conversation in writing when it comes to anything involving money.
- Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. The Small Business Administration states that while nearly 80% of small businesses survive their first year, only 50% last five years or longer. You're about to embark on a partnership that has more chances of failing than succeeding. That's the reality of starting any business, without the extra layer of complication a friendship can bring. Make sure you pick the right friend.
How can we help overcome the national health crisis and allow people access to nutritious food on a regular basis?
It's a question I've been driven to answer since 2009, catalysed by one of the scariest scenarios a daughter can imagine - the health crisis of a parent.
Determined to help my father overhaul his lifestyle and overcome the sudden obstacles he faced, I began prepping healthy, homemade meals. When friends and family members noticed the remarkable recovery he made, they became interested in the plans too.
This inevitably led to the birth of Fresh n' Lean, my organic meal delivery service. What started as a solo 19 year old student cooking meals out of a one bedroom apartment in Redondo Beach, CA, has since evolved into a 9-figure brand, with 100+ amazing employees operating out of a state of the art facility.
I'm often asked why Fresh n' Lean has continued to grow while other food delivery services struggle. I believe it comes down to many interacting variables that I wish to share with you today, with the hope that they might someday help you as you embark in your entrepreneurial journey too.
Know Your Values: Fresh, Convenient + Delicious
Whenever you pursue something in life, whether it's a scary fitness goal or starting your own company, it's important to know your values, and to stay true to them. This is something I was taught from a young age, and was super aware of with Fresh n' Lean.
Our mission has always been to achieve three things: to make food that's healthy, accessible and delicious. It's about getting that balance between each component. If any one of them is missing, the formula doesn't work.
Sure, it would be easy to cut corners with the quality of our ingredients to save money, but that's not the point! I have a strong desire to impact people's lives in a positive way - a 'reason why' that directly ties into the work we do. I'm also surrounded by a tribe of inspiring individuals who believe in the vision, which helps massively.
The collective understanding of our value system helps us stay true to the mission and to be completely transparent with how we operate the business. This creates trust and brand loyalty amongst our customers - a key component for future growth.
Taking Risks: Bootstrapping to Nine-Figures
Anyone who has started their own venture can attest that the early days are a little shaky. There are always going to be problems that pop up (usually at the most inconvenient times), and key decisions that need to be made.
One of the latter that I was faced with at the very beginning was whether or not to turn to investors for capital, or to bootstrap Fresh n' Lean. I went with the second option and committed my life savings to self-fund my venture. Looking back, it was a bold move. I put it all on the line to make my dream a reality, and thankfully the risk paid off.
Sure, initially it meant that we had certain restrictions when it came to funding, but I like to think those restrictions lead to innovation. Because we had limited options, we were forced to be creative and to come up with novel solutions to challenging problems.
It has also meant we've had a much easier time when it comes to choosing the direction of our business. Because we don't have to answer to a board of investors, we're able to explore various avenues with a degree of freedom - like our recent move from online to in-store.
Be Creative: Leaping From Online to In-Store
The latest evolution of Fresh n' Lean has been a dive into the brick and mortar sector, with the recent opening of our first On The Go store in Santa Monica.
Though many people believe brick and mortar is dying, we still feel that there are various opportunities to pursue. Grab-and-go healthy food near business centers is still something that's lacking in many areas. We're also in the process of partnering with Hak's Foods to bring ready-to-eat meals into grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Gelson's, and Costco.
As well as being a viable business venture in itself, having food in stores also gives people a chance to try our product before signing up for an online subscription. We're always trying to think outside the box when it comes to business growth, and this is just another example.
Sue, we could have listened to the naysayers, played it safe and stuck to what we know. But if we always take the comfortable route, how will we ever know what we're truly capable of?
If I could sum up the main things I've learned over the past ten years, it would go something like this: the key is to never stop learning, growing or innovating. Know your mission, keep moving forward, and always be ready to adapt.