I'll Always Remember That I Had A Swinging TimeLast week we discussed a nightmare scenario wherein greedy external competitors destroyed a thriving business. In that case, imitation was NOT the sincerest form of flattery: quite the opposite. Competition bred uninspired imitation, resulting in too many service providers offering near-identical goods and services in a confined area, flooding it with bad imitative products and ultimately oversaturating the whole local market, completely ending customer demand.

Today I want to talk about another scenario:

A group of friends who enjoy attending some recreational enterprise develop a mutual admiration of the place, and— since they are all would-be entrepreneurs— eventually decide to create their own version of the endeavor (for purposes of this example, let’s say it’s a hot dog stand) in their own locality. None of them possess the slightest idea HOW to create and run a successful hot dog stand; all they know is that since they all enjoy going to their favorite hot dog stand, wouldn’t it be fun to own one?

Combining their various nest-eggs to finance the new business, they register themselves as a legal partnership. The location for the future hot dog stand is chosen and leased; a building fund is created to finance construction; and the first meeting is held to formally plan the lay-out of the hot dog stand.

That’s where the trouble begins. The partners don’t REALLY know how a hot dog stand should be built; their expertise is limited to what they remember about their former hot dog stand. Each partner has different ideas regarding what’s important, and why. Some partners have construction experience, but that experience covers other types of buildings than actual hot dog stands. Other partners self-servingly seek to re-invent the wheel, diverging from traditional hot dog stand design to accomodate their private whims… but completely ignorant of the legalities and building codes involved with building food service venues for public use.

Everything devolves into a mess before a single shovelful of dirt gets dug. Soon the partners start bringing in their own supporters (typically friends and relatives) as workers and expert consultants. Design minutae get argued for hours at a time. Each partner demands the right to fulfill his or her personal “vision,” though no one’s vision seems to match anyone else’s.

Usually at this point the partner who invested the most capital seizes the bull by the horns and takes charge. Sullenly, the others retreat, and construction begins. But too many corners are cut. The building isn’t finished properly, the facilities are barely functional, and it begins to dawn on the partners that none of them really know the first thing about running an actual hot dog stand.

Many entreprenuerial schemes completely fail at this point, never managing to open for a single day’s business.

Some struggle on, while the majority of the partners ignore the process or even try to block or sabotage it out of sheer spite. In the end, most of the real work usually gets done NOT by the partners, but by eager young participants brought into the project from outside, paid very little but lured aboard with extensive promises of future income from the finished project once it opens.

The instant the business (a hot dog stand, in this case) opens to the public and starts earning money… the absent partners all come flocking back, eager to squeeze some cash from the fledgling business to repay their own initial investment. The fact that they not only refused to participate, but ACTIVELY FOUGHT attempts to open the business, is supposed to be forgotten by all involved. They proudly inform all concerned that they are now business ownerstm and start messing with the business behind the scenes, each still covertly trying to realize his or her “vision” and screwing things up left and right.

This usually ends when the new business, barely on its feet in the first place, gets torn apart by the vicious infighting that follows the moment it becomes financially viable and starts to turn a profit. Sometimes even before then.

In all such scenarios… the ones who work the hardest and contribute the most, in the absence of input from their other partners, are usually the ones who get screwed over the worst. As a general rule, friendships don’t usually survive the process.

The moral being that just because you like a product doesn’t qualify you to actually produce it. And business and friendship don’t often mix.