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Friends In Business: How Two Best Friends Started a Business

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Meet Becca Brown and Monica Murphy – best friends, dynamic entrepreneurs and co-founders of SoleMates. Ever wear your Sunday best to a party, only to find that it is on the host’s lawn and your heels look way less glamorous sinking into the turf? Ever faux-run on a New York sidewalk only to get stuck? An escalator? The answer to your shoe troubles, the SoleMates High-Heeler is a novel way to make high-heels more comfortable. It’s a little cap that fits right onto the pointy heel of your shoe to increase its surface area, making wobbly feet and heels sinking into the grass a thing of the past. Becca and Monica sat down with us at The Levo League to discuss how they brought an innovative idea to fruition, dealing with partnerships vs. friendships, and what it’s like to start your own business. The pair met on their first day of training at Goldman Sachs in 2000. But they did not work together directly until they were both enrolled at Columbia Business School. SoleMates was born out of Becca’s constant dilemma of wanting to wear heels but struggling with balance: “I remembered posing for photos in my front yard before prom, and my heels kept sinking into the grass and I would lose my balance. So I began to wonder if there was something that could be added to the design of a shoe to help prevent wobbly feet.” Years later in Business School, Monica turned this idea into a project that the two worked on. While they had each made a commitment to return to their jobs at Goldman Sachs upon receiving their degrees, SoleMates became a passion project that claimed their attention after work and on weekends. As they reached out to engineers and experts to help them develop the first prototype and began discussing their idea with family and friends, they found that they were able to generate interest for the product. They then raised an initial round of funds. As Monica explains, “We launched a beta site for SoleMates in the summer of 2008, 18 months after we had first developed the project as students.” As co-founders and close friends, Monica and Becca consider themselves fortunate to work with each other, and find the partnership to be both complementary and constructive. They attribute this to their similar professional background and work ethic: “We were both trained at a large organization and have the same outlook on professionalism” explains Becca. For them, having a similar work ethic (as opposed to a complementary skill set) is the key to a healthy partnership, because that is what breeds commitment to shared goals. They also acknowledged the importance of having open channels of communication with each other: “If a problem arises, we are always able to nip it in the bud by openly and honestly discussing it. Working with your best friend can be the best thing ever – or it can be a disaster that ends the relationship. It’s tricky and requires honesty, commitment and skilled communication,” explains Monica. Starting SoleMates was not without challenges. One of the most trying things about it was dealing with the mixed reactions from close acquaintances when they heard about the idea. It was their mutual and unwavering support that got both of them through hearing differing opinions about their product. “Starting your own business can be challenging, but having mentors and taking inspiration from fellow entrepreneurs is a definite plus, in addition of course, to having the support and commitment of a best friend.” As Monica adds, “Leaving a large organization with a well-established network of people to start your own business can be intimidating, but trusting someone to always have your back makes the endeavor less daunting!” After four successful years, SoleMates is still growing every day. While they are committed to the success of their business, both Becca and Monica still remember to have fun and not lose sight of why they first established the company. Becca is clear: “Being an entrepreneur, you learn something new every day. Some days you might be doing work that is super fun and creative, and the next day you might be waiting three hours to meet with a potential investor.” But at the end of it all, Becca and Monica believe creating something that is uniquely your own and that can help others is an accomplishment that is truly worthwhile. “You just have to remember to enjoy the ride (err… stroll)!”

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