Can You Run a Startup With Your Best Friend?

Written by Tom Fairey

10 March, 2022

The Founders of ERIC Festival on Running a Startup, Getting Noticed as a Creative, and the Best Ways to Attract Talent

Samantha Hornsby and Mae Yip created ERIC when they realized that most companies had no idea how to connect with younger talent, particularly Gen Z.

ERIC is a Gen Z careers education platform whose mission is to help underrepresented talent become more informed of their career options and build confidence in themselves. The ERIC app is an informal, immersive, and safe space for Gen Z to discover, learn, and connect with career resources, educators, and creatively-led brands. For companies, ERIC provides a direct channel to a targeted audience where they can develop a talent pipeline and strengthen their brand to position it for a new generation.

Yip is a Newcastle finance and business grad who was a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. She started her career as a marketing assistant at Splashligh in New York becoming a senior associate at PwC. In 2013, she stepped out to found LY PRoductions with Hornsby, a video production company aimed at making video accessible and affordable and which sources undiscovered talent from all over the U.K. — talent that was still affordable and eager to work.

Hornsby got her start as an intern and freelancer before becoming an account executive at MyJam Communication and then working on content for DECODED before teaming with Yip to found LY Productions and then move on to ERIC. She is also the creator and host of What the World Thinks, a not-for-profit audio project that enables people to share their opinions and discover new ways of thinking.

ERIC Was Founded Out of Frustration With the Status Quo

Friends already, Yip and Hornsby shared their frustration with many businesses’ inability to connect with younger generations, especially when it came to starting and developing careers. Companies looking for young talent would post openings on their LinkedIn page, apparently oblivious to the fact that only 13% of Gen Z uses LinkedIn. Or promoting positions on Twitter — and while some Gen Z are on Twitter, they certainly aren’t following corporate recruiting pages. Meanwhile, most job and employment fairs simply suck: Young job seekers were expected to dress up, cross town, wait in lines, and be happy with a free pen or tote bag? No thanks.

ERIC sought to solve that by breaking down the barriers in communication, style, and presentation that seemed to keep the two camps apart. That Yip and Hornsby did it as friends says a lot about their innovative thinking. Bothy recently talked to me on an episode of my podcast, Backyourself. Here’s what they had to say.

What Is Your Top Advice for a Small Business Seeking to Attract Talent?

You have to get in the mindset of your audience, they said. The likelihood is that if you are a professional who has been in your position for more than just a couple of years you have completely forgotten how your audience thinks. ERIC runs industry events for heads of HR, diversity, and talent so they can hear from young people about what they want from companies. The constant theme is that people working in professional environments have no idea what young people want — they are too deeply entrenched in the corporate mindset. Getting inside their minds is the best way of righting the fundamental things that corporations are doing wrong.

What Can Creatives Do to Have a Better Chance at Getting Hired By a Great Company?

Companies no longer really care about your degree, your education, or your experience. They care about your passion. Young people need to show passion and have that come across in everything they do. They want to know about your passions, your interests, and what matters to you.

You can also increase your chances by applying to smaller companies and startups. Many young people going into an industry think only about that industry’s largest companies. But you are much more likely to get hired by a smaller startup, which may have trouble attracting talent.

If You Were Starting Over, What Would You Do Differently?

Yip and Hornsby said they get annoyed with the idea that entrepreneurs have to act in a specific way, whether that be working 24/7 or only thinking in terms of business. That puts pressure on them and is not necessary. After all, they became entrepreneurs because they wanted to work on their own terms, not the terms that someone else engineered. A lot of entrepreneurs, they said, are faking it.

Can You Run a Startup With Your Friend?

In a word, obviously. But it’s not always easy, they cautioned. In the first few years of working together there were many tests of their friendship and its boundaries. They found ways to work off of each other’s strengths, whether that is short vs. long-term planning or particular skill sets. Both also take several days each month to simply be friends and do normal friend things — and never talk about work.

The Takeaway

Hornsby and Yip started two successful businesses by making key realizations about the industry and capitalizing on the strength of their friendship. They grew organically and were self-funded, putting inspired ideas to work and solving problems.

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