The Art of Working with Friends

by Nicole Gallardo, CEO

In the earlier stages of my career, I stayed as far away from working with friends and relatives as possible. I never mixed business with my personal life because I couldn’t balance being emotionally invested in loved ones with the goals of the business. I feared that no separation meant that if I lost one, I would inherently be losing both.

My fears turned into reality in 2010 (prior to Gallardo Labs), when I had an unfortunate falling out with a friend related to the eCommerce business I was running at the time. This friend showed a tremendous amount of interest in the business and I began sharing my goals and dreams with her. She offered to help and genuinely did help, a lot! We’d drink wine and talk strategy every Friday night, travel together to fashion shows, design together on the weekends, etc. However, before I even realized it had happened, our friendship got entirely consumed by the business. I greatly valued her thoughts and opinions, but had my own vision and wanted to build the business my way (after all, it was my financial risk). We began to have disagreements on major decisions and then she asked to become a partner. When I reminded her that I wasn’t interested in having a partnership, she was very very upset. There were a lot of heated words exchanged, some legal threats, and then she disappeared from my life in the blink of an eye.

The three big mistakes I made from that experience were:

  • I took the “help” and didn’t insist on compensating her for it.
  • I didn’t set up clear work/life boundaries nor defined our roles.
  • I was not direct with my intentions and concerns. I ignored the red flags.

That experience scarred me for many years to follow. (I still think about it to this day!)

It wasn’t until I began working with Beto, that I was introduced to his “Colombian” way of doing business. This in my eyes, is the complete, constant, and intentional blending of personal relationships with professional ones. Initially, it was terrifying. But after seeing past my fears, I realized the rewards of mastering this approach could be monumental. Now it’s how I choose to live my life and lead our company. I’ve married my dream partner, built a family with him, AND we’re running a radically new kind of agency together.

Gallardo Labs, at our core, is a group of extremely talented and diverse friends from all walks of life who share a love for UX, design, and creativity as the common denominator. And we share this with our clients, with whom we also work hard at building real friendships. By blending the lines a bit, we are able to foster mutual respect for one another while having honest and transparent professional relationships. It just works.

Here are some tips for mastering the art of working with friends:

  1. Help them feel ownership in what you’re building together by digging deep into your personal knowledge of them. You can understand better than anybody how they can feel most valued as a person and bring the most value to the team as a whole.
  2. Separate your methods of communication. This one is HUGE, especially when managing remote teams. My team and I use slack, hangouts, and zoom for any and all things related to Gallardo Labs. But we use text messages, facetime, and phone calls for anything personal. Those boundaries should be established in the beginning.
  3. Clearly establish what your work expectations are of each other from the get-go and continue to course-correct as needed. Simple 1:1 recurring meetings help to ensure you both continue to stay aligned.
  4. Don’t beat around the bush when it comes to constructive criticism. Confrontation is never easy, but the more direct you are, the better for everyone involved — feelings aside.
  5. Be 100% your true and full self — no role-playing needed.

If you are working with friends or family members and want to share stories or need advice, please email me at nicole@gallardolabs.com. I’d love to chat!

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A collection of industry trends, UX & Design tips, leadership insights, and culture from the unique global team perspective of Gallardo Labs

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We’re a design-first digital experience agency redefining what’s possible with creativity, technology, and heart.

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