This week, Refinery29 Canada celebrates Work Friends — the surprising benefits (and occasional complications) of professional friendship.
“With a startup, there isn’t a lot of separation between work life and life life”
The friends: Laura Burget and Connie Lo
Best friends since: 2016
On the first nice day of the year, best friends Laura Burget and Connie Lo were lounging by the pool, sipping bubbly water, working on their tans, and “coming up with a brand revamp strategy for 2020,” says Lo of their recent business-slash-pleasure brainstorm, which probably wouldn’t fly between less friendly co-founders. But if poolside productivity sessions are a perk, they’re not the reason Burget went looking for a co-founder. At least not exactly.
Having already founded two business ventures on her own, the then chemical-engineering student knew she wanted her experience running Niu Body, an indie Canadian beauty brand specializing in affordable all-natural skincare, to be different. “Starting a business on your own — the pressure and the hours involved — is incredibly isolating,” she says. Friends and family can provide support, she says, “but nobody is really going to understand unless they’re right there doing it with you.”
First introduced by a mutual friend who thought Lo might be a good person to provide consumer feedback (Lo is a major beauty junkie), they barely got through appetizers before realizing that this was something more. By dessert they had come up with a rough agreement. “It was like this amazing blind date,” says Lo.
We both make an effort not to get into each other’s space.
Though most blind dates don’t involve completing the Myers-Briggs personality quiz — Burget is an INTP (Einstein, Lincoln, Meryl Streep) while Lo is an ESFJ (Bill Clinton, Elton John, Nikki Minaj). That realization of complimentary skill sets helped them to divide out responsibilities down the middle from the start. Burget handles the back-end (e-commerce, product development, supply chain), and Lo manages the front (social media, marketing, retailer relationships). “We both make an effort not to get into each other’s space,” says Burget.
Both acknowledge that these clear boundaries might have not been so obvious if they had come into the business as BFFs. “I think you see that with a lot of best friend founders who bring friendship baggage into the business dynamic.” For them, she says, becoming best friends was luck, but staying that way is part of a long-term strategy.
“With a startup, there isn’t a lot of separation between work life and life life — burnout is so common. That’s one of the reasons I am so grateful for Laura,” says Lo. Business travel, for example, is a lot more fun with your best friend. Just recently they tacked a few extra days onto a business trip to London to spend together. “I think we both realize that keeping our friendship healthy is key to what we want for the company, so we make it a priority, and we protect it,” says Burget. Whenever possible, they make time for “founder funzies” excursions — sometimes a class or a show, but often, just drinking wine and catch up on life outside of the office. They make it a rule not to talk about work, and they stick to it. Mostly. Other times they end up having meetings in their bathing suits. “Life is short; we work hard. Why not have fun too?”