Collaborating with friends can be a challenging endeavor, particularly when venturing into a new business. After Scott Wainner successfully sold his second company, ResellerRatings, for $34 million as the sole shareholder without any outstanding debt, he decided to embark on a new business journey with his long-time friend, Steve Bitner.
How did the concept for Fareness.com originate?
Scott Wainner (SW): I typically embark on 10-20 trips per year, mostly for leisure. However, the process of booking travel has never been enjoyable; it’s consistently time-consuming and cumbersome. Travel providers have developed intricate revenue management systems aimed at extracting every possible dollar from travelers.
This complexity results in travelers having to visit 20 different websites, check 100 travel dates, explore 50 destinations, and, frustratingly, receive different price quotes each time. Fareness was conceived to streamline this ordeal, reducing hours of tedious research to mere seconds. It offers travelers a quick and comprehensive overview of the most budget-friendly travel dates and destinations.
Why did you choose to partner with your friend?
SW: I’ve known Steve for approximately 15 years. When considering who to hire to lead the technological aspects of Fareness, it’s not just about finding someone who is exceptionally diligent and highly competent, but also someone I wholeheartedly trust.
Given the rapport and trust we’ve built over the years, and Steve’s exceptional work ethic, I couldn’t think of a better individual to collaborate with on this project.
Steve Bitner (SB): Working for a mid-sized organization, such as my previous employer, offers excellent opportunities for skill development. It provides exposure to talented individuals across various domains, from software to marketing and content creation.
However, after a while, you may reach a point where you no longer feel challenged, and personal growth requires pushing your limits. Joining a startup with a small team offers greater ownership, more challenges, and more opportunities to shine or learn from setbacks. I’ve been yearning for this level of challenge since my graduate school days.
While some view my career move as risky, I don’t share that sentiment. Scott has a history of success with other websites, some of which I’ve supported part-time, and collaborating with him on this and future ventures doesn’t seem particularly risky.
We make a great team, with complementary personalities and skills that enable us to tackle any task effectively.
How do you balance your friendship with your work relationship?
SW: Steve and I excel in maintaining a clear distinction between our work relationship and our friendship. Firstly, we treat each other with fairness and respect. I firmly believe that even if our professional collaboration were to falter in the long run, our personal friendship would persist. It’s possible for disagreements to arise in both a work and friendship context, but I don’t sense that the likelihood of such conflicts is any higher due to our collaboration.
On a personal level, I’m committed to not letting him down. I’m determined to succeed and make his efforts meaningful in the end. This imparts a sense of pressure, but it’s a motivating factor rather than a negative one.
SB: Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to consider several colleagues as friends. If you find yourself working in an environment where you have no friends, it’s probably time to seek alternative employment.
We spend more time with our coworkers than with our own families. Given our small team, it’s essential to have the assurance that work is not solely about business. Our journey is riddled with significant challenges, but it’s been a fun ride, and the fun is bound to continue.
How have other friends contributed to your company?
SW: During the product design phase, we conducted extensive user testing and invited numerous friends to participate. Their feedback proved invaluable and significantly enhanced our product.
What challenges do you face when working with friends?
SB: The primary challenge that comes to mind is that when work and leisure intersect, it can sometimes be difficult to revert solely to a friendship. Work often becomes the dominant topic when we hang out, which can pose challenges. Fortunately, my wife comes to the rescue in such situations, as she prefers not to discuss my work.
Advice for founders considering starting a venture with friends?
SW: Collaboration may not be suitable for everyone. It necessitates a solid foundation of friendship and a shared sense of fairness and alignment in expectations, goals, and motivations, all focused on the greater good of the business. Without these elements in place, conflicts are likely to emerge.
It’s essential to ensure that both parties can demonstrate flexibility, openness, honesty, and fairness. If there’s any uncertainty, it might be wise to let the friendship develop further before incorporating business into the equation.
SB: One crucial factor that contributes to the success of our collaboration is recognizing that we aren’t equals in the business. While Scott and I hold immense respect for each other and acknowledge our respective contributions, at the end of the day, Scott is the leader.
We’ve engaged in discussions regarding various contentious aspects of the business, and in some instances, I’ve persuaded him to see my perspective. Nevertheless, when consensus can’t be reached, I accept that this is Scott’s business, and I play a supporting role.
Hence, the key advice is to establish who should be at the helm and fully support that person. Offer assistance and advice whenever possible, but when the time comes to make decisions, stand behind the captain.