Mark Zuckerberg: Why You Can And Should Start A Company With Your Friends

by John Haltiwanger

The other day at a question-and-answer session in Bogotá, Colombia, someone asked Mark Zuckerberg, “What was the exact moment where you got the inspiration to create Facebook?”

His response: “I don’t think that’s how the world works.”

In other words, monumental developments, whether in business, politics, science, art and so on, are not products of any single idea or person. It takes far more than the genius of an individual to make a great idea a reality. Or as Zuckerberg puts it:

Ideas typically do not just come to you. They happen because you’ve been talking about something, or thinking about something and talking to a lot of people about it for a long period of time. It’s a lot different dots that you connect so that you finally realize that you can potentially do something and then you start working on it and realize that maybe it actually will work.

In his view, media outlets make it appear as though starting a company is much more "challenging and crazy" than it really is. It also "drives him a bit crazy" that people assume he essentially started Facebook by himself.

As he explains, Facebook has been a perpetually evolving entity, and it's taken the hard work of thousands of people to get it to where it is today. Not to mention the more than one billion people who currently use it.

Zuckerberg is evidently worried that the media's presentation of start-up culture is discouraging people from pursuing their own dreams.

In his view, there's no reason a group of friends can't come together and foster spectacular ideas. As he explains, with the right amount of passion and focus, it could lead to something monumental.

If all of this is true, why do so many startups fail?

Zuckerberg does have a point, however, in that companies are typically not products of one person's genius. Business leaders like Richard Branson and Elizabeth Holmes are certainly remarkable individuals, but they didn't get to where they are completely alone.

Yet, while Zuckerberg should arguably be commended for encouraging people to become entrepreneurs, it's also important to understand the practicalities of business.

It's true that the real world is typically not as dramatic as what we saw in "The Social Network." With that said, if you're thinking of entering the world of startups, it's important to remain pragmatic and cognizant of the challenges you will face.

Perhaps entrepreneurship isn't as "crazy" as it's often presented, but that doesn't mean it's a walk in the park.

Why Most Startups Fail

Here's a sobering statistic for aspiring entrepreneurs: Eight out of 10 new businesses fail within the first 18 months. In other words, you have an 80 percent chance of failing as a new business.

There are a number of reasons startups fail, but if often boils down to creating a product that nobody wants and not being adaptable enough. As Erin Griffith contends for Fortune:

If no one wants your product, your company isn’t going to succeed. But many startups build things people don’t want with the irrational hope that they’ll convince them otherwise.

Thus, perhaps Zuckerberg should have elaborated on what he meant by having the "passion" and "focus" to see an idea through.

Indeed, the start-up world is ruthless, and not for the faint-hearted. This infographic offers an excellent overview as to why most new businesses fail.

Most importantly, as the chart above shows, it doesn't matter how good an idea is if you don't have a strong team behind you.

The number one reason startups fail is that some individuals are delusional enough to believe they can be successful on their own.

Teamwork Is Essential To Success, So Choose The Right Team

Zuckerberg argued that there's no reason you can't come up with a great idea with your friends and be successful. Working with friends might sound like a fantastic idea, but it can also lead to disaster. When you mix your livelihood with people you're close with, things can get messy.

As Adam Grant of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania highlights:

Starting a company with your friends is a risky endeavor. When Harvard Business School professor Noam Wasserman studied nearly 10,000 founders of technology and life sciences startups, the least stable founding teams were friends. Each friendship in a founding team increased the rate of founder turnover by 28.6 percent. Even teams of virtual strangers were more likely to stick together.

If you're going to start a company with friends, make sure they're also the right people for the job. Don't just choose them because you trust them and know them well, also ensure they have the skills, vision and drive to see your idea through. Without these ingredients, you'll likely end up resenting your friend and failing as a company.

Thus, sometimes the most stable teams are not necessarily best friends, but those built out of people who like one another and have worked together before. In other words, start a business with former coworkers you've worked well with.

If you do want to start a business with your best friends, make sure you go into it well aware of the risks involved. Not only for your business, but also in terms of your relationships.

Simply put, Zuckerberg certainly offered some sound advice, but he didn't present the whole picture. It's also pretty easy to say that entrepreneurship isn't that challenging when your first business is revolutionary and a monumental success aka Facebook.

Correspondingly, don't let any of this deter you from entering the start-up world. Recognize the value of failure and learn from your mistakes. Success is a product of having big dreams and taking even bigger risks to see them come to fruition.