A Pizza Partnership
Do you want to learn a lot about yourself and your friends? Start a business with them. These ventures usually begin with the same conversations. You sit around to have a few drinks and someone invariably says: “Hey, we should start something up” or “I’m miserable at my job, there has got to be a better way.” Everyone tells you, including the banks, that most restaurants fail within the first 18 months and most business ventures amongst friends usually destroy the friendship.The negativity of others probably prevents most entrepreneurial people from taking this leap of faith. But definitely not me. There are barriers everywhere –– barriers that I believe exist to weed out those who either are not very serious about starting a business or simply do not have the stomach for it.
A few years ago my best friend, my cousin and myself decided to open a pizzeria. My friend had owned his own place a few years ago, so we weren’t going in completely blind. We found a location where the property itself was also for sale. For me it couldn’t have been better. I was in the real estate development business, so what better way to collateralize an investment than with real estate? Of course when a real estate transaction is involved a whole new set of roadblocks opens up. After over a year and a half of stress dealing with the seller and the joy of obtaining financing for the property on the heels of one of the biggest real estate crashes of all time, we finally closed on the property. There were many sleepless nights during that time, many arguments with partners about whether or not we were wasting our time and money and whether or not we were ever going to close on the property. I was so relieved that day of the closing. I thought to myself, “We did it, the hard part’s over.” Even writing that sounds hilarious to me. You see, I was the real estate guy and the so-called “money guy.” I was responsible for obtaining the financing and dealing with the seller and his attorney and doing all the paperwork for the SBA loan we obtained. I figured my job was over and now the pizza guys would take over and the money would start pouring in. The truth? The stress was just beginning.
Everybody thinks their role in the partnership is the most important. The guy who puts up most of the money and gets the financing thinks he is the most important. Without him the restaurant would have never opened in the first place. The guy who is actually operating and managing the everyday operations of the business thinks that he is the most important. Without him the business would not be operating and making any money. I have found this to be a major obstacle. For some reason everybody wants to think they are the most important cog in the operation. I really don’t understand that. Isn’t the best thing about having partners the fact that everyone has a role? I believe one of the most counter- productive things a partnership can do is waste time trying to figure out who the “most important guy” is. The truth is that we are all important. We all played a part in getting the business open and we will all hopefully reap the benefits.
I have learned a lot in the short time I have been in business with my friends. I have learned a lot about them and myself and how we react when things are going well and when things are not going well. Has it changed my relationships with them? Of course it has, but I am okay with that. I became friends with these people in the first place for a reason. I enjoyed them and trusted them and wanted them to be a part of my life. Aren’t those the same things you look for in a business partner? Sure, there are times when we can’t stand each other — but I believe you must stay focused on the goal of operating a profitable business.
Don’t allow the minor disagreements to become major arguments. Sometimes picking your battles and giving in a little can go a long way. I don’t like the phrase “it’s just business.” It’s not just business. It never is. There are always emotions and relationships involved. Fear of failure always exists. Will my relationship with my friends/partners ever be the same? Of course not. But I am ok with that. As we all get older and get married and have our own families, our relationships end up changing anyway. We might as well try to make a little money during the transition!
Josh DiPasquale owns Esposito’s Pizza & Pasta, in Matawan, New Jersey.