Monday, December 12th, 2011
6

"How We Do Not Kill Each Other": Two Business Partners Explain

The first in a short series about sharing, caring and not going it alone. Up first: Ruth Curry and Emily Gould learn how to turn a friendship into a business partnership.

Emily: Hey, remember back in the day when I came to you with the idea of a store that would sell ebook versions of our very favorite books of all time, like an independent bookstore but online, one that would give people an alternative to buying ebooks from megacorporations?

Ruth: Oh, yes, like it was a few months ago!

Emily: I'm just reminiscing about that time!

Ruth: Neither of us I think have been people who 'always wanted to' start our own company. That was like literally last on my list of Dream Occupations.

Emily: Really? I always sort of knew I would eventually have to.

Ruth: Yeah, no.

Emily: I was, like, dreading it.

Ruth: Well this is why we are a good partnership I think. You are more of a risktaker, and you have a lot of ideas, and you also are quick to move on if something isn't working. Whereas I am more cautious, tend to overthink, tend to want to wait and see. Left to my own devices I would still be banging my head against doors that will not open.

Emily: So alone you wouldn't have done it. And alone, I would have done it in a rushed and thoughtless way.

Ruth: (That's a mixed metaphor I guess, about the doors.)

Emily: (Not if you open doors with your head normally?) When I first told you about the idea, were you into it immediately?

Ruth: Oh yeah.

Emily: That was a cool moment, actually, I remember it like it was six months ago

Ruth: I had been thinking about similar things, like, how is it possible for an indie bookstore to sell ebooks. And I had come up with "a kiosk" and also never in a million years would have thought of doing it myself. But when you were like, "I want to do this and I want you to be my COO" I was like oh, duh, of course!

Emily: Ok, so, we've been working on having our ebook store/subscription/club for half a year and we've been open since October, so it's silly to talk about this like we're hoary old veterans of working together. But it feels like we are because we have worked together, and that's how we met. And the stuff we're doing for the store is the same stuff we talk about all the time anyway, except formalized.

Ruth: Yes. Another reason why this felt so NBD, I think, is that we've already been coworkers. I know what you're like in an office and what your work ethic is like and all that stuff. And we've also lived together. So we've sort of seen it all, from each other, good and bad.

Emily: Like, nothing's changed in our friendship except we spend slightly even more time together and we have to schedule "fun" interactions now to make sure they happen. Um, like a married couple with a toddler. And the toddler is our business.

Ruth: OMG yes. We totally have to have date nights. And ignore the "kid."

Emily: Make a rule of not talking about the "kid." Gross, but i think it's really important to both our friendship and the business, cause it reminds us that the ideas we have in our fun conversations are the point of our business. I mean, the best part of doing this has been watching you handle difficult stuff and feeling very proud of you. I remember we had a meeting and a few minutes in it wasn't going well and you turned it around and just blew everyone's socks off, and I realized I couldn't do this without you. I mean not that I'd really had any illusions on that score. But you know, i'm strongwilled and bossy and have a hard time delegating and I tend to feel like "oh, I'll just do it myself." And it was a moment when I knew that wasn't going to be an option anymore.

Ruth: The best parts for me have been like, whenever I feel mired in day-to-day stuff and worried that stuff just sucks. Those tend to be the days when you are like, 'I think we should do THIS' and it's like a gamechanger. And everything is exciting again. Or when i'm like "Wah! How to fix this!" and you are like, "That's not even a problem, moving on!' We are both good at handholding with each other, which is obviously important. Especially at the beginning, when things really seemed impossible…. there was never a day when BOTH of us were like, we can't do this.

Emily: Yeah, it's important that we never both want to give up simultaneously.

Ruth: I mean both of us in general are people who stubbornly cannot give up. Which is good and bad but in this case mostly good.

Emily: So yay, everything is perfect! Except obviously there are still some tiny minor hurdles we have to overcome.

Ruth: Of course, hurdles.

Emily: The only downside of being in business with your best friend is that you can't go to your best friend and complain about work.

Ruth: That is true. There really is no getting around that.

Emily: I am too exhausted even to complain right now! Not to whine, but we have been working really hard. And there is no end in sight

Ruth: We are our own terrible bosses now. Which is better by far than having a terrible boss. (LOL thinking about Lonely Island song, "Like a BOSS.")

Emily: That song really takes a turn.

Ruth: Yeah, things get dark.

Emily: I want to make a playlist about being a boss.

Ruth: So many good songs.

Emily: Primarily "I'm Bossy." Any Bruce Springsteen song also qualifies. Well I am really excited by the prospect of being a boss. Being totally freelance is cool in some ways. I realized about myself (and maybe you did too?! I don't know, this must be the one thing we've never talked about) that I don't want to just sit at a desk by myself and write novels, like, that is not my idea of Dream Job either. I think for some people that would really be the ultimate. I mean I want to do it SOMETIMES but doing it all the time exclusively would make me really The Shining really fast. My favorite part of our project is brainstorming stuff, figuring out solutions with you that I wouldn't be able to figure out myself. And I even sort of like having meetings. I had missed meetings. I know that's kind of pathetic.

Ruth: I am laughing at you.

Emily: Staff meetings at the yoga studio don't sate my meetings cravings.

Ruth: I mean, I feel like I'm making this sound like LOLZ FUN ALL THE TIME.

Emily: Well, obviously it's not fun to like kill yourself with no concrete hope of a payday anywhere in sight.

Ruth: But I love that our job legitimately is talking about books we love enough to sell. Those are fun conversations.

Emily: Right but explaining what our business is over and over was only fun the first 500 or so times. Now it's beginning to pall and we still have to do it every day, a lot, for the forseeable future.

Ruth: Yes.

Emily: Oh and we always procrastinate about writing about our books? But that is supposedly "the fun part"? I guess it's hard because we love these books so much and want to do them justice.

Ruth: Yeah, and it's not fun realizing that the reason people aren't selling books you love is that they're legitimately ridiculously hard to sell.

Emily: Ha! Well and also realizing that books, e- or not, are a tough business. I mean, it would be different if we were both REALLY PASSIONATE about sparkle werewolf holocaust-survivor baseball 9/11 novels.

Ruth: Yeah, it's that thing where you know something intellectually but it takes real experiential first hand knowledge for it to really make sense. I've worked in publishing for my entire adult life and you've published two books and that realization is still hard and painful.

Emily: I'm sure indie booksellers find us adorable and maddening and are like "told ya."

Ruth: Yeah. It's not that we didn't "know?" But now we *know.*

Emily: Ha! well, we haven't really even begun, though. I still think we are in the like very very beginning um of our story. Like we are not even to the half title. We are still on the copyright page.

Ruth: Are you gonna keep this metaphor going?

Emily: Till the last endpaper, you bet.

Ruth: We are still in the acknowledgments, unless you are one of those writers who put them at the end.

Emily: Why would anyone put them at the beginning? Also you know what, I think they're gross and I'm never having them again. I'm having a dedication and that's it.

Ruth: Some people do? I dunno. But what if you get a MACARTHUR FELLOWSHIP. It would be RUDE not to thank them.

Emily: Acknowledgments are one of those things that people think have been around forever but are actually a modern and bad invention. I think if you get some fellowships they make you sign something that you'll mention them in your acks. Maybe they even mandate the phrasing. "The Corporation of Yaddo."

Ruth: Horrifying.

Emily: I am going to keep maintaining that all that jazz is for wusses. Until I get one.

Ruth: Well, of course, that's the way.

Ruth: I would like to 'implicitly' answer the question of how we do not kill each other.

Emily: Ha!

Ruth: I think it was great that we opened our store the same month we made a deal to do yoga every day! It probably really helped.

Emily: This is awkward but you know when I was at your house drinking tea and talking about books yesterday?

Ruth: Yup.

Emily: I actually released a slow-working poison bomb so you should die in like 10…9…8… Goodbye sweet Ruth. Anyway, yoga for sure has helped. It also helped us have a thing we did together that wasn't this.

Ruth: We are such hippies. "Drinking tea" was just mentioned three lines ago. IT WAS HERBAL.

Emily: It was herba—whoa.

Ruth: Okay. This is one of the benefits of doing a project with a friend.

Emily: If you ever misplace your brain they could just replace it with mine and no one would know the diff.

Ruth: Something like that.

Emily: (We do have like huge major fundamental differences in taste and cultural background and personality, I hasten to say.)

Ruth: But people would be like, 'why can't you figure out the tip anymore?"

Emily: Exactly.

Ruth: (Sorry to out you as a non-math person.)

Emily: I don't think that's a secret. I have problems saying some numbers aloud. Like, anything over 1,000, I get confused about how to say it. I don't know how open we should be about this.

Ruth: Don't say anything more, you will lose crediblity as a Business Woman.

Emily: I have gotten SLIGHTLY better at keeping numbers in my brain. Actually reading contracts, that kind of thing. I don't just think "Ruth will take care of it." I think "I should baseline know what Ruth is doing so I can explain it if need be."

Ruth: I mean this is obvious but so much of making a success of anything is communication and we have had years and years to work on that together already. (HIPPIES.)

Emily: But being in business has really put it to the test. It's been hard for me. I have had to really check myself. You're probably like "that was you checking yourself?!"

Ruth: I know you are trying. I can see you trying.

Emily: Thank you for acknowledging my struggle. But yeah, oh, you know, another thing that comes to mind is that we have both experienced what it's like to have an amazing boss. And we have also both experienced having less-amazing bosses.

Ruth: Right! We've both had some really good mentors.

Emily: Gay dudes primarily. I definitely have "what would X do" in mind when I make decisions.

Ruth: I think more like "how would X act." Carry himself, etc.

Emily: I hope when we have employees, cause we will, I will be like a gay dude dream boss to them
"How would X respond to this email."

Ruth: "How would X work this room."

Emily: "How would X end this conversation gracefully."

Ruth: "How would I respond to this email on X's behalf."

Emily: "How would X weasel out of this pointless obligation"; "How would X defuse this potential fight."

Ruth: "How would X imply that someone is being incredibly stupid without actually using the words 'incredibly stupid.'"

Emily: EXACTLY.

Ruth: I remember at the beginning being really obsessed with getting our agreement with each other done… and that was because of X. And i'm glad I did, because now if we have a big fight, we have rules in place that were made when we were feeling fair towards one another.

Emily: To be really earnest for a sec, I want to be in a position someday where I am a mentor like that. That is super important to me. And I know I have to curb my natural tendencies towards impatience and also, paradoxically, over-niceness to get there. That girl thing of "Oh no, it's fine, really" when actually it's not and you just sit on it and seethe and eventually it blows up.

Ruth: Right.

Emily: Um, is one the loneliest number?

Ruth: I have never worked 'alone' really. I have always worked in really super loud, peopled, heavily-social environments! But I also write and that is very lonely. This is a nice middle ground. Once we have an intern it will be like our family is perfect! But the intern would probably feel left out of our mind-reading/long-running inside jokes.

Emily: We should get two. Like cats, so they can keep each other company.

Ruth: Then they could make fun of us to each other. "Look at them going to yoga AGAIN."

Emily: They can't have a twitter though. We will draw the line there.

Ruth: "Her kombucha SMELLS."

Emily: I mean, it's kombucha, what did they expect?

As of this writing, Emily and Ruth are still in business. In other news, sponsored posts are purely editorial content that we are pleased to have presented by a participating sponsor; advertisers do not produce the content. This post is brought to you by Serve by American Express. Sign up now and receive $10 credit towards your first use.

6 Comments / Post A Comment

jfruh (#713)

I look forward to this series! Mostly because I am incredibly cranky about working with other humans yet I know intellectually that it is necessary and I need to figure out how to do it.

The contractors who redid our basement are these two late-60s-early-70s guys who have been a couple for like 40 years and in addition to doing home renovations they also do various local theater gigs together, and I always wonder how they don't murder each other. It boggles my mind.

brendell (#192,508)

I saw these women speak at the North Brooklyn Breakfast Club Meetup. Cool idea!

grandpa27 (#804)

I hope that you open up your lists to forgotten books out of copyright. I follow this adventure because I know the pleasures of being your own boss. May good fortune be with you both as you travel this path

I admire bands that form first and then decide, "we gotta learn to play instruments."

Steven Neubarth (#192,850)

Best way to avoid this is to not have a business partner…

Bensonsmith (#240,193)

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