What It’s Like Starting a Company with Your BFF

It’s not very often you’re working with your best friend — let alone starting a company together. In honor of national Girlfriends day, Gardenuity co-founders Donna Letier and Julie Eggers share what it’s like to co-found a national company with their BFF.

Donna and Julie

How did you meet Donna/Julie?

DL: I met Julie over a shared faith. I knew instantly she was the real deal and wicked smart. She had this lovely combination of fun, faith, and a keen perception of the needs of others.

JE: We were on the same committee at church and were both pregnant with our second child. I remember being in a big meeting and asking a friend who she was. She said she was an executive at Border’s, which suitably impressed me. She seemed so normal, sitting in this room with all the other Moms. We ended up giving birth 2 days apart in the same hospital, and we’d bring our new babies to the committee meetings. That’s how and when I got to know her special Jillian.

When and how did you decide to begin working together in a business sense?

DL: It just evolved over time. We had shared business beliefs and well-matched skill sets. One thing I am really good at is spotting smart assets and Julie is just that — an exceptional asset to Gardenuity, the Gardenuity customer, and me.

JE: I went to help pack boxes at Donna’s warehouse for her catalog company one Christmas. Later she helped me with some marketing ideas for a small company I had started and I saw her marketing genius. I offered to help her with some trademarks which brought me into the office for a few weeks.  That’s when I saw how truly amazing she was…so creative, so quick, and so smart. She could build a complete investor deck with brand, strategy, and financials in one night and be able to present the next day or create a piece for a national magazine that told a beautiful story.

That’s also when I realized she needs very very little sleep. She could be up all night and could be back at her desk with a quick mind AND a smile on her face — her work ethic is unsurpassed. So when the opportunity came for me to work with her on a permanent basis, I was in!

How was Gardenuity birthed?

DL: We took a kind of academic approach to growing Gardenuity. The brand you see today is not the same brand we beta tested a few years ago. We spent time testing ideas, looking at industries we knew, industries we didn’t know that were trending, and looking at customer trends.

We also thought a lot about where we were in our lives and knew we wanted to be a part of something that was good for all involved — experienced farmers, horticulturalists, communities, kids, new gardeners, and master gardeners alike. We both felt like a lot of emotion and nuance was missing from the gardening experience so our main mission was to make successful gardening easy and accessible to everyone. How can we deliver a relevant, personal experience?

JE: In short? On a road trip with a brilliant idea from Donna.

Friendship first or business partner first?

DL: With Julie, these go hand in hand. Together we can accomplish so much and my respect for her grows daily. To be able to grow a brand with someone I respect greatly is good, to say that the same person is my BFF is extraordinary. It is a blessing and gift I don’t take for granted. We have mutual respect for one another. We work together to achieve common goals, and we are unified in our priorities at work and in life. We cooperate, we disagree, we grow, and we achieve together.

JE: It was actually a business first. The friendship blossomed while the business relationship was being formed. I think that’s why both the friendship and the partnership work so well. If someone decides to start a business with their best friend and has never worked with this person, they have a high chance of disappointment. Knowing your business partner’s work ethic and style is critical for a match. Donna and I had complementary skill sets from a business perspective, and we both have strong work ethics. Hers, however, is unsurpassed, so I am the one who has to work to keep up.

What are the hard things about working with your best friend?

DL: The hard thing about working with your best friend is also one of the best things — she is always direct. She tells the truth even when you don’t want to hear it. With Julie, you always know she wants the best for you, in every single situation of your life. She lifts you up, laughs with (and at) you and always supports you. That’s an incredibly rare thing, even between the closest of friends.

JE: Ultimately one person has to have the final say (and the pressure that that entails) and that is important to recognize for a business relationship to work. Partners can struggle with this, especially if a friendship is involved. Fortunately for us, we fully acknowledge that Donna is that person, but since we are both very even-keeled emotionally, we can discuss and debate hard issues. Our values are so similar, that we almost always come to the same conclusion, but sometimes Donna has to make the final call and bear that responsibility. She is thoughtful about all decisions and wants only the best for the customers, staff, business, investors, and vendors, that supporting her in those decisions is easy.

What are the benefits of working with your best friend?

DL: It’s amazing to work with someone you can always count on — someone you really know. It’s great being able to share ideas and my thought process with someone even before I have totally figured it out.  As with any long-term relationships, there are bumps in the road, but we weather them together. #blessed

JE: You can talk about things in life that really matter. You don’t have to spend any energy keeping your personal life in a box only to be taken out at the end of the day. So your work life is more than just work. It’s very full.  #blessed

No, that hashtag wasn’t planned. Donna and Julie were obviously born to be both business partners and BFFs. Could you work with your BFF?

For more information on the Original Growers, click here!