The Secret to Successfully Mixing Business With Friendship
It’s rare for a startup to see astonishing success, and even rarer for its co-founders to sustain a close friendship as the business grows. But Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur have mastered the balance of business and personal. The pair launched Of a Kind, a small e-commerce website for limited-edition fashion collections, in 2010. By 2015, it had grown into a thriving business and was acquired by Bed Bath and Beyond. That’s when Cerulo and Mazur realized that their longstanding friendship and business partnership could benefit from some professional help. They began seeing a management coach who helped them navigate the tricky task of staying friends while doing good work together, and call the decision “huge.”
Now, nine years into their working relationship, they’ve co-written a book about their experience, Work Wife: The Power of Female Friendship to Drive Successful Businesses. For this week’s episode of Works for Me, we interviewed the pair about what makes their collaboration so great—and then took their advice to hire a management coach. Listen to the full podcast to hear us hash out our working partnership over the course of making an episode. We’ve printed a full Q&A with Cerulo and Mazur below.
Works For Me: What qualities do people have to have to work together well?
Erica Cerulo: One of the things that we've learned over the course of our relationship is a willingness to be vulnerable with one another and not be afraid to express that you're overwhelmed.
Claire Mazur: The other thing that goes with that is transparency. Erica and I have taken that to a real extreme. We share Google calendars. We can see what each other is doing on the weekend. The more you can share with one another, the more that helps inform the other person's understanding of everything, including her vulnerability.
If I express to Erica that I am feeling overwhelmed or that I'm not going to finish something by the time I said I was going to, she knows enough about everything else that's happening in my life to know what's driving that—and that helps her to be more understanding and more compassionate.
WFM: Learning to collaborate well with your coworkers isn't something you get trained for. Is it a skill that you can work on?
EC: When people talk about business, they always talk about: it’s a team sport, it’s a collaborative environment. But you aren't given those skills.
CM: One thing that has been huge for us is seeing a management coach. It's not necessarily right for everybody, but when you're working closely with someone day in and day out, it can be huge.
He is one part executive leadership coach, one part therapist, one part marriage counselor.
WFM: Are there tips that you got from the coach about working together better?
CM: That not everything is as urgent as we often feel it is. Erica and I are both really go, go, go and feel like we need to solve problems immediately. There is rarely ever something that needs to be addressed right now and we benefit from waiting until we have some time set aside. Having this weekly appointment with our management coach is a perfect example. There may be something that both of us want to surface and we'll say let's just table this until we meet with him to talk through it. Knowing that we're going to be mentally prepared for it at that point is huge.
WFM: In your book Work Wife you argue that the power of female friendship is the secret to success. Why do you think that?
CM: Our relationship in the work environment is so strong because we have a relationship outside of work. I just had a baby and Erica has come over to my house and seen what my life looks like right now. So, when she’s Slacking me about something and I say I need a couple of hours, she totally gets it. Whereas, if we didn't have a personal relationship, it would be much harder to navigate these life changes.
EC: More broadly, we think the qualities of female friendship have reshaped the workplace. By leading with qualities like compassion, vulnerability and emotional transparency, you create a totally different environment.
CM: We've made a point of extending that same compassion and emotional transparency that we share with one another to our employees. They are encouraged to share with us as much as they are comfortable.
WFM: You interviewed all these other platonic power couples for the book. Did you find that there was a secret sauce that everybody had?
CM: Emotional transparency really did run through pretty much everyone we talked to. Everybody acknowledged that their partnership benefited from their willingness to let one another know what was happening on a day-to-day in their life and to be honest with each other about how they were feeling about things.
We also found that women are less comfortable disagreeing with each other and there tends to be a real stigma attached to it. One of the few duos that we talked to did admit to fighting and they thought that it was really important to fight in front of their team. To make it clear that they get into it with each other, but they're still Bert and Ernie at the end of the day.
WFM: What are some things that might make it difficult to work together when you have a close relationship?
EC: It's been really helpful and important to have separate lives. Our Venn diagram is huge, in terms of the overlap of the amount of time we spend together. But we don't see each other all weekend. We don't have this overlapping group of 20 core college friends. You need that break and you need other outlets.
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