"I met Jerry running around the track in seventh grade gym class. We were the two slowest, fattest kids in the class. I liked him because he was funny and smart, and you could count on him. One of the first things we did together was go on a long bike trip. We took a tent and camped out, which was lots of fun." - Ben Cohen
So began the friendship between Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, two kids who were actually born just four days apart from one another in Brooklyn but properly met in school and bonded over a common love of food and cars. It wouldn't be unfair to describe either of them as dropouts - 'all our friends had real jobs', Ben observed during an interview he gave to the Independent way back in 1995. Jerry's dreams of becoming a doctor evaporated after rejections from medical schools and Ben's plan of going into pottery flopped, evidently receiving less than glowing feedback from several craft shows.
The pair lived together for a while in New York, and kicked around ideas of opening a restaurant. They ditched that and focused on either bagels or ice cream, the latter getting the nod of approval simply because start-up costs were cheaper - as cheap, in fact, as $5, which was the price of the correspondence course in ice cream technology. They started making ice cream at home. Later, they purchased a run-down old gas station and renovated it into their first ever ice cream parlour. It had holes in the roof and leaked water.
Two guys called Ben and Jerry, making ice cream - if you haven't made the leap already it must be clear by now that the duo who almost fell into the industry and didn't make any money for three years were the same partnership that built the company into a global super brand; one that was sold to Unilever for £203m in 2000. Ben and Jerry are still at the helm and still setting the company's unique culture. In 2015 it achieved sales a small scoop shy of $350m.
Ben and Jerry are a classic example of friends who went into business together, stuck to their vision, and came out on top - in a big way. While it's often seen as wise advice for friends to refrain from taking their relationship to the professional level, it's not a hard and fast rule. Of course, before pals decide to take the plunge it's crucial they have a plan and an understanding, and a shared commitment to the project; there are probably more stories of failure than success. In this piece for the Guardian, Frances Dickens, the CEO of Astus, shares his golden rules for avoiding the pitfalls.
Cohen and Greenfield, the ice cream kings, are not the only friends who have conquered the business world. Here are two other shining examples of successful partnerships.
The Superdry Story
Superdry: one of the most recognisable fashion brands on the market, with a highly visual presence not only on the UK high street with 139 stores but also worldwide. There are 515 Superdry branded locations in 46 countries and the online retail arm of the business sells to nearly 190 countries. It's a global phenomenon yet it's a grounded business too, with its roots still firmly in the town in which it was born. Superdry HQ is in Cheltenham, which is where Julian Dunkerton opened his very first store - or, to be more precise, an indoor market stall (though further back it really all began with a £2,000 loan from his father, the hire of a retail unit, a £40 a week enterprise grant from the government, and the sale of clothes transported in bin bags).
Cult Clothing launched in 1985 and then expanded into other university towns, including Oxford, Birmingham and Edinburgh. The stores stocked Bench clothing, and in 2003, Bench's founder - and designer - James Holder joined forces to create Superdry. Friends first and business partners second, Dunkerton and Holder have propelled the clothing label to the forefront of the fashion industry. "We sat down 10 years ago with a t-shirt, that's how it was," Dunkerton told the Telegraph in 2013.
The pair have worked closely together for the last 13 years and clearly have a strong connection and understanding. "Jules and I, it's almost like we were separated at birth," said Holder. "We can be in two separate rooms but we're seeing exactly the same thing, having exactly the same feeling and approach. We know exactly what margins we need to make and we know how to make the product perfect for that price."
"From day one, even when we only had five t-shirts and ten polo shirts in the collection, the vision was always the same. As soon as we create one product we're thinking about our next one. We'll even sit in a design meeting and spend 15 minutes just coming up with a name for a colour."
"We design for real people," added Julian. "That's the key. We want to create products that people want to buy on Tottenham high street or Bruges high street, or wherever."
Three's not always a crowdInnocent Drinks often feels like a company that was formed simply to make people smile. It's a fun brand that doesn't take itself too seriously - spend a few minutes on the website and it's impossible not to be charmed and amused by the tone and self deprecating humour. On the serious side, the business was valued at around £320m in 2013, shortly after Coca-Cola bought the shareholdings of its three founders who still retain a minority share and sit as board members.
Those three founders were Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright, who met at Cambridge university in the 1990s. The concept for a healthy drinks empire began in 1998.
"We were three 26-year-old friends living together and working in London, and we'd always wanted to set up a business together and we'd try to think up ideas," Reed said here. "We were drinking too much beer and eating too much pizza and we thought we'd solve the riddle of healthy eating - everyone knows the benefits of it, but modern life conspires against it."
The trio spent £500 on fruit - they had created a recipe for a smoothie using orange, banana and pineapple - and took a stall at a jazz festival in London's Parsons Green. They had an inkling that it was the trial run for something bigger and canvassed opinion, but not in a conventional way. Customers were asked to vote as to whether the three should give up their jobs to focus on the business, and put a bin with a 'Yes' sign and a bin with a 'No' sign next to the stall. People had to vote with their empties and by the end of the festival the 'Yes' bin was full.
"We still weren't sure," recalled Reed. "So we went back to our house and flipped a coin, and it came up three times in a row. So we all went in on Monday and resigned."
The next stage was far from straightforward. The group wrote and rewrote their business plan 11 times, and were turned down on multiple occasions from potential investors. Eventually, and on the verge of liquidising their plans, they sent an email out to 'literally everyone we knew' seeking financial support from... well, from anyone with available cash. American businessman Maurice Pinto invested £250,000 and Innocent suddenly had momentum.
There are other high-profile examples. Sergey Brin was Larry Page's guide on a campus tour at Stanford - they later worked on a paper together which sowed the seeds for the creation of Google. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak became friends at a summer job in 1970, and six years later founded Apple. Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the duo who launched Microsoft, were childhood buddies.
Don't mix business with pleasure? It's a saying, not a rule.
By Kevin Hughes, Content Manager at Zazzle Media