How to start a business with a friend
Harper's Bazaar - Credit, Brooke Theis
Models Constance Jablonski and Maggie Frerejean-Taittinger explain how they run their company French Bloom together.
Embarking on a business venture can put a strain on any relationship. When you partner with a friend, you run the risk of damaging your friendship while weathering the storms ahead. Model Constance Jablonski and Michelin Guide International Development Manager Maggie Frerejean-Taittinger were undeterred by these uncertainties when they launched their company French Bloom, which produces alcohol-free sparkling wine. In fact, friendship is at the heart of the brand, after the two women discovered a shared passion three years ago.
"I was pregnant with twins, and that's when I first realized how few options there were on the market for someone who wanted to abstain from alcohol," says Frerejean Taittinger, who found that carbonated beverages weren't enough for more elegant celebratory moments, like weddings or vacations. "I shared this realization with Constance, who had her own challenges in finding alcohol-free alternatives."
As a model, Jablonski struggled with the social side of her career, working long days and having to go out every night. "Being in the fashion world means having strong connections with the creatives around you," she says.
"It's hard to be that outgoing person and know how to have fun, then the next day be ready for a photo shoot. The two were not compatible for me."
After realizing the problem went beyond their individual experiences, the duo decided to find a solution. Here, they explain how their friendship blossomed alongside the growth of their business, and share their best tips for going into business with a friend.
1/ Communication is the key
"Having a foundation of friendship allowed us to avoid having to build an open mode of communication between colleagues for years," Frerejean-Taittinger says.
"The fact that Constance and I know each other so well is wonderful, because we can play off each other and pick up on some of the non-verbal cues."
"Find the friend you are really able to communicate with," agrees Jablonski. "When I say 'really,' it has to be someone you're not afraid to say something to when things aren't going something to when things aren't going."
2/ Make sure you have the same work ethic
"We have a mix of French and American culture," Jablonski explains.
"I've lived in New York for so long and Maggie, who is American, has been in France for several years, where there is such a different way of working. I won't say more because we all saw Emily in Paris - it's not exactly like that, but there are a lot of similarities. Maggie has the American work ethic that I've grown up with since I was 19, and for me, that makes it easier."
"The best advice I've received is that success is 10% talent and 90% hard work," says Frerejean-Taittinger. "It's important to be there regularly to support our teams, and to have no problem being at the operational level alongside our colleagues."
3/ Establish your mutual ambitions
"Our goal is to make this a woman-led company," says Frerejean-Taittinger.
"Needless to say, the wine and spirits industry is a male-dominated industry and tends to be a bit of a boys' club, so we really make a point of nurturing young female talent within our own company. In the beginning, there was a certain expertise that we didn't have, so we built a strategic board with more than 50% of the seats held by women."
"In terms of the Sheryl Sandberg Lean In approach," she continues, "I can tell you all the reasons why I shouldn't apply or be eligible for a job, when maybe one of my male colleagues has less experience and fewer credentials, but he'll have no problem leaning into that opportunity. So we regularly try to model that behavior for our teams."
4/ Play on each other's strengths
"Maggie and I are complementary," Jablonski says.
"Maggie is definitely more entrepreneurial, and I'm the one who worries about whether everything is authentic and how our values are perceived."
"Constance is always looking at how we can create the maximum positive impact around this project within our teams and supply chains, and I love that approach," adds Frerejean-Taittinger.
"Having clear, established roles from the beginning is really important - and with that, boundaries on who is responsible for what, and how decisions will be made between the co-founders. That's something that took us the first few months to figure out and find a balance that worked for us."
5/ Choose someone you can count on
"There are a lot of parallels in how Constance is a friend and how she is a business partner," Frerejean-Taittinger says. "She's always been someone who shows up, she's extremely reliable, and knowing that, it was easier for me to trust her to run and manage the business together."
6/ Support each other
"I also feel like I'm very lucky to have Maggie to help me out a little bit," says Jablonski. "I'm new to the corporate world and I feel very comfortable with Maggie because she teaches me a lot. She keeps saying, 'You have no idea how much you've learned in the fashion industry,' but it's nice for me to have someone like her, who's been in the business for a long time, showing me the way."
7/ Learn from your mistakes
"There is absolutely no failure, there is only experience," Jablonski says. "Any bad decision you make is important to making the right one in the future, so you should never give up. When something doesn't go the right way, I think, 'OK, this is a learning experience.' And keep that mindset because it's all part of the process."
8/ Don't be afraid to start together
"What we learned about our brand and ourselves is that you have to be really real and believe in it," Frerejean-Taittinger says. "The worst advice I ever heard was, 'Launch your business when you're ready.' I think the truth is that you'll never be ready. You only learn by doing, and you don't escape that learning curve. We kind of pushed each other, and after testing about 70 recipes to get to the product as it is today, we said, "Let's do it."