We had the idea for By Grace in the eighth grade. I can't quite remember the very first time we started talking about it, but Kelsey tells me it was in middle school.
And I believe her. She has a way of remembering the littlest details, things I often forget. She's thoughtful like that.
I met Kelsey in the sixth grade, the very first year I started going to West Jessamine Middle School. I had just come back from Africa, and it took me awhile to adjust to the culture shock. Life was just so…different. Sometimes I have to ask myself if my childhood was a dream. If my mom didn't have albums full of pictures in our house, I think I'd question whether or not it really happened. It's like two completely different realities.
For three years, we were in (almost) every single class together. We lived a block away from each other. I probably saw her every day. But we weren't friends.
I thought she was too smart. She had a reputation for that. Maybe because she killed our class curve every time. Tests would come back, we'd all look at our 86 or 91, proud of our scores because, wow, our AP English exams were ridiculous. Kelsey would slip her test with a 101 in between her folder while Ethan or D-Will would try and steal it from her.
But at the end of eighth grade everything changed. We were paired up, just her and I, in this class called office aide. Which is pretty much the biggest throwaway class you could possibly have. For an entire block we would run errands around the school. So yeah, sign me up.
This was the first time that I got to talk with her. There was something about her that I just loved. She was so unassuming, completely confident and assured in who she was. And so, so kind. She had a way of building you up, just by being around her.
That throwaway class turned out to be the most important class of my twelve years. Despite multiple moves, different colleges and never being in the same spot at the same time – we've remained best friends for the past 12 years.
Starting a business with your best friend is not the picture perfect scenario that it looks like. It's difficult – probably more difficult than starting a business with a stranger. What I wish someone would have told me is that it will change your relationship. And here's why -
Your conversations will change from boys to business plans. When Kelsey calls me or texts me, I know it's not just to talk about what happened that day or how she's feeling. It's to talk about the most recent order that came in, or our plans for the next shipment.
Protecting your friendship will be very difficult when you are working through logistics, details and numbers. Your relationship will change. The best advice that we can give is ask yourself, are you ready for the dynamic of your friendship to shift?
Owning a business with your friend has many advantages – they know you, they understand you, they complement your skill set naturally because they complement you naturally. I can't tell you how many times Kelsey has encouraged me when I felt like giving up. Or how many times when I've felt helpless, and she said – I got this, I know how to do this. And the relief that comes with having a partner, someone who you know is there through good and bad. Who believes in your idea even when you have dresses come in with needles in them (true story, we could write a book on our early days – maybe one day, we will).
The best way to guard your friendship – and own a business – is to:
Set clear expectations. Define who is responsible and when the deadlines are.
Keep consistent communication. Set a culture of honesty and transparency with your partner.
It's been quite a journey, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. Would I do some things differently? Yes. But it's our mis-steps and our mistakes that make us stronger, and I can honestly say everything up until this point has led us to where we are now - and we are right where we need to be.
Until next time,