Craig Vodnik - Why you need to be careful when hiring friends and family Featured

7:08pm EDT January 30, 2014
Craig Vodnik, co-founder and vice president of operations, cleverbridge Craig Vodnik, co-founder and vice president of operations, cleverbridge

When you’re looking to build your team in business, it’s only natural to look toward your friends and family for both money and time. Friends and family are the ones who stick with you through the highs and lows of entrepreneurship — from that first customer to the cash crunch.

Fortunately, when starting cleverbridge, I didn’t need my friends’ money. I did, however, need their time, and I decided to hire a few of them early on in our company’s journey.

There are some obvious dangers that come into play when hiring people you know:


You risk ruining personal friendships because of personal disagreements

What happens when the boss communicates a strategy that the friend doesn’t agree with? How the friend addresses the issue with the boss can set the tone for the outcome. What about when it’s time for a performance review? Does the friend get a bigger raise because they are a friend?


You create a rift between employees that are friends and employees that you didn’t know before they were hired

The “outsiders” feel out of the loop and start gossiping about the “insiders,” never quite trusting that what the insiders see won’t get back to the boss. Conversely, the insiders need to be careful about how much of their relationship with the boss they share with the outsiders. What should be talked about when the boss and insiders go on vacation together?


A perception of favoritism develops

Since the insiders likely spend more time with the boss, they are probably privy to more information about the business. True or not, the outsiders will often feel that the insiders receive preferential treatment in some way. Perception, however, is definitely a double-edged sword — if outsiders perceive that the insiders agree with the boss on difficult decisions, it can certainly help smooth over any objections.


In order to address these issues, I have some guidelines that should help when hiring a friend or acquaintance:

  • Ensure that there is a clear match between the person’s qualifications and your needs. This may be obvious, but an entrepreneur can fall into the trap of scope creep with a friend that becomes an employee and no one wins.
  • Hold the friend to a higher standard than all other employees. I personally am harder on my friends than people who I didn’t know before hiring them because there can be no hint of favoritism with your friends or else the office chatter can become a cancer.
  • Require that the person report directly to someone else. This also takes some of the favoritism argument out of the equation and hopefully results in the person being seen as succeeding or failing because of his or her own work, not the invisible hand of a friend.
  • Be upfront about who’s the boss before hiring. There needs to be a clear distinction about who is in charge and an understanding that your friendship can’t get in the way of business. 

Hiring friends can be incredibly fun and it can be rewarding to have them participate in the journey. But they need to be treated like anyone hired from outside of the company.

Learn more about Cleverbridge at: 

Twitter: @cleverbridge

Craig Vodnik is the co-founder and vice president of operations at cleverbridge — a global full-service e-commerce provider for more than 300 international software and SaaS corporations. He is also the author of “Building Keystones,” a digital e-commerce industry focused blog. For more information, visit