Meet The Work Wives: Of a Kind's Cofounders On How To Turn Friendship Into Startup Success
Each month, Bumble Bizz taps an influential entrepreneur to have a private conversation with a user looking for advice. So far, we’ve heard from luminaries including Wharton professor and management expert Adam Grant and Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of nonprofit Girls Who Code. This month, meet Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur, authors of new book "Work Wife." Friends since college, these co-founders of fashion, home, and jewelry platform Of a Kind want to share how the power of female friendship can drive a successful company.
Stay tuned to the Let’s Talk Bizzness series to see who’s offering their valuable time and knowledge next.
Bumble Bizz: What were your first impressions of each other when you met in college in 2002?
Erica: Claire was really sure of herself and so dang enthusiastic. At the time, her passions included buffalo wings and bronzer. Though her interests have evolved (in positive directions) over the last 16 years, her ‘diehard-ness’ has remained. Her excitement has always gotten me excited.
Claire: Erica seemed very grown up and self-possessed. I remember learning a few things about her that really stuck with me: She loved Sanrio as much as I did (and, yes, still managed to seem very ‘grown up’) and had committed to a wardrobe of exclusively black, white, and pink. She explained it as being a way of simplifying things — clearly hip to the benefits of uniform dressing long before Barack Obama!
B: When did you realize that you not only had the same interests, but that you might be the right match to co-found a company?
Erica: In college and after when we both moved to NYC to pursue careers — Claire in arts management and me in magazine editorial — we talked a lot about businesses we admired and other women who had taken professional paths that we thought we especially inspiring. Something about those conversations made us realize that we both really wanted to build something from the ground up (even if we didn’t recognize that as entrepreneurial drive at the time!) and that we both had the work ethic and ambition to do so together.
B: The prevailing wisdom is that friendship and business don't mix, but you've managed to prove that adage wrong. How do you think you've avoided the pitfalls of working with your best friend?
Claire: We take both our business and our friendship very seriously. There’s a line in Michelle Obama’s book where she describes being “rigorous about friendship” — just one of many things Erica and I have in common with our Forever FLOTUS. We recognize that having this kind of relationship requires a lot of work — we even see a management coach together, which is basically couples therapy in disguise — but it always feels worth it.
B: Why do you think female friendships produce empowering business partnerships?
Erica: When women partner, they bring the qualities core to their friendships like vulnerability, emotional transparency, and compassion to their working relationship, too. Doing so creates a totally different ethos than you typically see prioritized in a professional environment — in the very best of ways.
B: What advice do you have for young women — perhaps college-age — who think they might want to start a company together? What should they be sure to consider first?
Claire: There has to be a similar work ethic between the two of you and a respect for each other’s standards. Erica and I both have very high standards — not always around the same things, but around the things we each care a lot about. That makes both of us better at our jobs because we each feel accountable to one another’s high standards. I’m not a grammar nut, but Erica is, so I try to keep it on point because I recognize that I’m representing both of us when I write an email.
Erica: In 2013, the National Bureau of Economic Research embarked on a study to answer the question: “Are Women More Attracted to Cooperation Than Men?” The quick answer was “yes.” To speak, for a moment, in sweeping generalizations: women do worse in competitive environments and better when part of a team. And unlike men, who, the same research shows, tend to prefer to work alone, women like collaborating. So this, combined with those qualities that many women bring to the table that create a different, more open kind of workplace, feels like a such a win for any startup, right?