Me And My Partner: 'We always threw ideas around'

Harry Briggs and Marcus Waley-Cohen went to school together. They set up healthy drinks company Firefly Tonics in 2002, when they were both 25. Turnover this year is expected to reach £750,000

We started the company in mid-2002, just the two of us. But it took us a while to get going and it was another 12 months before we launched the first products.

Harry Briggs

We started the company in mid-2002, just the two of us. But it took us a while to get going and it was another 12 months before we launched the first products.

Marcus and I didn't become friends until later on at school. I was into music and can barely throw a ball, while Marcus was very sporty. We didn't have particularly similar social lives, either. We were friends more because we were interested in business, in ideas and in people. We really sparked off each other and we talked about going into business. People say never go into business with friends, one of the things that reassured me was that we were great friends, but we are very different.

Marcus's biggest feature is his knack for getting on with people. I remember travelling with him in Morocco and everyone we met, whether it was policemen marching up to us because we'd been driving too fast or the street hawker in the medina, they would all be his best friend within half a minute. There's no kind of person that Marcus can't get on with really quickly. He's very outgoing, slightly cheeky and always has a smile on his face. He enjoys life and it's very infectious. And I suppose I'm probably more of a thinker and a planner. I'm sure I get on with people fine, but I haven't got that instinctive charisma and charm.

The business side has taken over our relationship to a considerable extent. We spend a lot of time together in a small office with four people, so we won't have dinner or hang out at the weekends that often. But we're still great friends, and there's a social side in the business context, too. We have lunch together most days. We chat about all sorts of things. I think that's part of working well together.

Our roles in the company evolved gradually. The initial process was so intense that it didn't naturally divide. But once the business was running, it was clear that I worked well in certain situations, Marcus in others. Nowadays, I do a lot more of the marketing, our newsletters, point of sale materials, the website and the visual communication generally.

Marcus makes sure that the business runs well, like ensuring that the suppliers are doing the right things and getting us good prices. He also does the bulk of the sales and account management, especially our key London distributors.

Any big decision, we'll consult each other before we take it. We usually agree, though. I find that the process of asking someone else about a decision helps. By the time I've explained a problem to Marcus, the right decision has usually become pretty obvious.

We've certainly had arguments in the past. Particularly early on when we were in the middle of this hectic, creative process and there were just two of us in the office. There were times when it all got a bit quiet and slightly frosty.

The way we've learnt to deal with that is by getting things out in the open quickly. If one of us feels that something wasn't as good as it could have been, we'll say so and then we'll discuss it. Like any relationship, no-one benefits from covering things up.

Marcus Waley-Cohen

We were always throwing business ideas around at school, but it all seemed so far in the future. It was only later that we started to wonder if it could work.

After university I went to work for a consultancy in London. I wanted to get as much business exposure to as many things and as many people as possible. It was a definite strategy to give myself the best foundations on which to build a business in the future.

I didn't expect it to happen so quickly, though. But the Firefly opportunity came up and we both felt we had to strike while the timing was right.

I wasn't nervous about working with Harry. On the contrary, I thought it was a huge advantage. I'd rather work with someone that I know and trust and with whom I have a well developed relationship.

Harry is very good on detail. He's thorough and he's incredibly logical and good at analysing situations. I'm much more big picture. I'm good at making sure it includes the lay person - our customers. And I really enjoy talking to all sorts of people.

We've got a lot better at working together over the past three years. It was an intense experience. It is very healthy to have strong views, but it takes a while to find the best way of agreeing that you're both right. We understand the whole process much better now. It's a lot less emotionally exhausting than feeling you have to fight for your ground all the time.

The initial idea was that Harry was going to be the marketing director and I was going to be the commercial director, but the process of developing a new business encompasses so many different areas and moves so quickly that those categories become blurred almost immediately. Since then however, our roles have become more defined.

Our decision-making process is reasonably well defined, too. We'll agree the criteria and then one of us will use that framework to find the solution. We often have different views, but it is a way of clarifying what we are trying to achieve. Normally, it's a combination of both points of view.

We took on our first employee in June 2003, just before we launched. We'd started the first production run and we needed someone to help us. The job title was "head of getting things done". We both realised that we enjoyed the creative bit, but neither of us were good at following everything through to the final detail. We needed someone who was efficient and could make sure everything was tidied up

Going into business with Harry has had some very high ups and some low downs. We've spent a lot of time together and know each other very well, but we are very different. Which is perhaps why we became friends in the first place.

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