Those who knew Shaleena Chanrai and Roshni Assomull as children would have found it hard to believe that the two would end up business partners; they were very different. “Shaleena used to bully me and beat me at Mario Kart on her Nintendo 64 and I liked to play dress up and write my own versions of Nancy Drew novels,” recalls Assomull, 27. “But our grandparents were friends, our dads grew up together, our mums were best friends, so from an early age we were pretty much forced to spend time together.” However, aged 16 they became best friends and in their 20s their friendship evolved into a business relationship, when the London-based pair became unlikely sportswear entrepreneurs.
“As girls who were never sporty at school and, quite frankly, hated exercise,” says Assomull. “But both of our previous jobs had taken a toll on our health and we were suffering from different weight issues. We started to get into fitness, but when we went shopping, we quickly learnt that a lot of the sportswear on the market was made for people who were already fit.” Seizing the opportunity, they launched their own activewear label, Bella Kinesis in 2014. Like many entrepreneurs, the two have split their roles. Assomull, a former investment banking analyst, handles the manufacturing side while Chanrai, who worked in photography, is involved in the branding and creative part of the business. “Our skill sets are quite opposite so it’s a great balance,” admits Assomull. “It means we have fewer arguments as we both recognise that the other has more expertise in a certain field.” However, there are challenges when you're running a business with your best pal. “It can get a little awkward when you have to call out your friend,” says Assomull. “No one takes criticism well and for some reason we take it the worst from the people to whom we’re the closest.” The other issue is ensuring they spend time apart. “We’re also part of the same social group, so we really do see each other’s face a ridiculous amount. We have to make it a point sometimes to distance ourselves at parties.”
Sabine Zetteler, 34, co-founded film production company Zetteler Films with her friend Andy Dunn, 37, in 2013, after they met while working at the BBC. “A really strong friendship grew out of a collective love of beautifully made, well-crafted creativity in its myriad forms,” says Zetteler. While she moved onto another company, they both continued to discuss their dreams of making films together. “I had some kind of epiphany on a plane back from Maui one day and wrote him a ‘Jerry Maguire Memo’.” From that moment, they decided to go for it. Dunn is responsible for shooting, directing and editing the films, while Zetteler focuses on winning new clients and the content. Their work has taken them to Norway to shoot artists and designers and to Google headquarters to make a film about their Noto project with Monotype. While they both have their own separate businesses, too – which gives them some degree of separation – like Assomull and Chanrai, their relationship has notably headed in a new direction over the years. “We only ever really call one another to discuss a pitch, an edit, an invoice and hardly ever converse about all those random pieces of global inspiration which inspired our friendship over a decade ago,” admits Zetteler. Sophie Lee, 26, and friend Sally Thompson, 54, turned what could have been a torrid period for them into a new chapter when the colleagues were made redundant on the same day. Instead of being downbeat, Lee decided to launch her side project, plant-hire service and workshops business Geo-Fleur as a full-time venture, asking Thompson to join her. Now with a store in London's East Village, Geo-Fleur has racked up a slew of impressive clients including Tate Britain, British Airways and Sweaty Betty. What makes their business relationship a success? Lee explains that it's their differences which make them a strong team. “Sally is super-organised, whereas I'm the creative, messy one. But it's great to run a business with a good friend – when things go wrong, it's nice to have a laugh about it.” Rather than the pressure of running a business hindering their friendship, Lee says it's improved it. “We spend most of our waking hours of the day together, so we are almost one person. We love to treat ourselves to the odd cinema trip now and then, sneak off to the V&A or go shopping down Carnaby Street.”
All of the women believe running a business together has enhanced their relationship. “Starting a business together has made our friendship evolve,” says Assomull. “It has definitely become stronger, as it’s become a more honest relationship.” One strategy that has been key to their success is setting aside time every Monday to discuss any issues they've been having with one another, be it personal or professional. “Getting things out in the open clears any tension there might be,” says Assomull. “Our rule is, once a grievance has been aired, we have to put it behind us and move forward.” What advice can they give to budding entrepreneurs that might be looking to mix business with pleasure? Assomull believes the key to success is brutal honesty. “It can be testing, but I think as long as there is honesty from the get-go, it’s only going to reinforce your bond.” This is echoed by Zetteler, who says that before you commit to running a company together, you must do one major thing: “Sit down during the very early stages, look into one another's eyes and agree there and then that you'll always be brutally honest with one another. It's for the best.” Lee recommends discussing financials. “Don't hide away talking about who earns what or who has the biggest share, etc. It's so much better when things are out in the open, especially when you already have a friendship that you don’t want to damage.” But while working with your business mate can be tough work, those involved say they wouldn't change it for anything. As Assomull says, “Working with your best friend means you never have Sunday night blues.” That might be all the push you need to arrange a drink with your mate and brainstorm ideas for that food startup you've been talking about for ages.