Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, March 20, 2023
BFF — Best Friends Forever. Do you have any, or perhaps I should ask, how many?
The idea of a best friend intrigues me, and writer Jaya Saxena, in her article for the Atlantic, has offered some thoughts for us to consider. First, the whole idea of a best friend didn’t really have any traction until the mid-1990s along with the growth of the feminist movement, which championed among many things, “female friendships.”
It used to be that “friendship was considered a largely male phenomenon,” she writes. Not as much today. I am not sure any of my male buddies could name even one “best friend.” I am having some minor surgery in a month, and when you fill out the form, they ask who they should contact in the unlikely event that you drop dead during the procedure. I am not sure that person would qualify as a best friend. (A better option might be to name a good lawyer who could sue them for malpractice.)
Think about the co-founder in your current entrepreneurial adventure. Just the two of you changing the world, against all odds, in it together, through thick or thin, having each other’s back, no way he/she would screw me over. Hah. Gimme a break. The technology landscape is littered with FBB — Former Best Friends.
This might suggest that you should be wary of being best friends with your co-founder, precisely because you both need to honor the obligation to call out the other when he/she is doing stupid things. The classic best practice model for co-founding is two folks with different skills, filling different roles, as opposed to having compatible neuroses that lead both of you down the same rabbit hole.
Saxena thinks that BFF holds our sway because it bespeaks monogamous relationships, with a healthy dose of “love.” BFF is about exclusivity. And when you add in the “forever” component — whoa, sounds like a life sentence without parole. (Because ’til death do us part can be a bit intimidating.)
Only in America are we consumed by the word “best.” Whether it is sports or science or finance, we all want to be winners and get the trophy that comes with being No. 1. There are no trophies for attendance.
For me, the big idea is that no one person can fulfill 100 percent of your personal needs or your company’s needs. This argues for seeking the network effect in relationships the same as in software. “The value of a network is proportional to the number of users squared,” said Robert Metcalfe, who was an Internet pioneer.
In my tiny coaching practice, people only come to see me when they have a problem. And it is often related to a partner or a key employee. As we parse out the puzzle, what often becomes clear is that the issues were obvious on day one, but that one or both of the co-founders chose to look the other way. Lack of clear shared goals, coupled with “we can figure it out later.”
Aminatou Sow, co-author of the book “Big Friendship” with Ann Friedman, says, “There is a very human impulse to want to hoard love and affection — a kind of scarcity mentality.” I think the BFF appellation is nominally code for “will you be there for me when I really need you?” If you are truly a best friend, then I can count on you, right? But no matter how many times your friend assures you that it is true and he/she will be there for you, we all, all of us, have our doubts. It is human nature.
Children often ask parents to “say it again.”
As your company evolves, your relationships will evolve, your needs will change, and you know the rest of this speech by heart. The classic conundrum is when your co-founder is no longer adding value and you, the CEO, have to fire him. (“It’s not you, it’s me” — the famous “Costanza” conversation.)
On a personal note, 35 years ago, I started a friendship with a man. We became pals, did some deals, and then we had a money disagreement, and we separated. About 10 years ago, I had that fierce conversation. We reconnected, closer and better than before. I am not sure about the “best friend” part, but I am certain about the “forever.”
Rule No. 753:
“You want a friend, get a dog.” — Gordon Gekko