NEW YORK — Inside a crowded New York subway station, Abiodun Johnson tapped Esosa Ighodaro on the shoulder and told her that he liked her outfit.
Ighodaro thanked him, they exchanged names and phone numbers. Then six months later, they started a business together.
“We were total strangers,” says Ighodaro, who along with Johnson co-owns CoSign, an app that lets users add links to Facebook and Twitter photos to the websites of stores where others can buy the items they’re wearing.
Starting a business with someone you barely know may sound strange. But it’s something more people seem to be doing these days.
And experts say it’s not such an outlandish idea. In fact, at times, it can be a better option than going into business with friends or family since the high stress of running a business can strain those relationships.
No one broadly tracks who entrepreneurs are choosing to start businesses with. But experts say more people are opening up to the idea, partly because today’s entrepreneurs have more opportunities to rub elbows with talented, like-minded strangers during networking functions and through social media.
Giancarlo Massaro and Steve Kovar connected more than a decade ago on a web forum. They kept in touch online for years and then in 2012, decided to go into business together — even though they’d never met.
They started ViralSweep, a business that helps companies run sweepstakes and marketing campaigns on online. Massaro and Kovar say their complimentary skills are what drove them to do business together. Kovar does ViralSweep’s programming and web design and Massaro handles marketing and its clients.
To this day, Massaro and Kovar have only met in person twice. They live nearly 2,000 miles apart: Massaro in Cheshire, Conn., and Kovar in Austin, Texas. Massaro says the business relationship is calmer than a previous one he had with a brother he went into business with.
“We butted heads a lot more,” says Massaro. “Arguing was natural. It’s something we’ve done all our lives.” While some entrepreneurs are meeting at events and online, many strangers are connecting serendipitously and deciding to go into business together.
“Serious entrepreneurs are radar detectors for passion,” says Dr. Shawn Clark, an entrepreneurship professor at Pennsylvania State University’s Smeal College of Business. “They bond quickly with people who share that passion.”
Still, some experts caution people not to rush in to anything too quickly.
Dr. Caroline Daniels, an entrepreneurship lecturer at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., has seen many entrepreneurs meet at accelerators and other mentorship programs that start a business and then break up. She warns students to wait at least six months to make sure they are compatible before starting a business together.
“Serendipity works a certain amount of the time, but not always,” Daniels says.
Raminta Lilaite and her business partners didn’t waste any time starting their business after they met.
She found her business partners while on vacation in Mexico two years ago. She met Ruta Uleviciute at a friend’s party and they hit it off. The next day, they met for lunch with their fiancées.
While eating, the four of them came up with the idea of creating a full-service real estate company that would help foreign investors find land to buy in Tulum, Mexico, hire contractors and deal with the entire process of building a home.
“A few weeks later, we were registering our company with a lawyer in Mexico,” says Lilaite.
Shortly after that, Riviera Maya Property Consultants was born. Lilaite and Uleviciute say the arrangement works for them because each partner has a specific skill they can bring to the business, whether it’s sales, architecture, project management or marketing.
Plus, Lilaite and her fiancée live mostly in New York and Milan, where they can find new clients for Riviera Maya Property Consultants, while Uleviciute and her fiancée live in Mexico and can oversee construction.
“We are a perfect foursome,” Lilaite says.
When Ighodaro and Johnson met in a Times Square subway station, neither was looking for a business partner. Johnson had planned to move to New York and wanted to meet new friends. Ighodaro, he says, looked like someone “cool to know.”
But they began to talk on the phone after meeting and came up with a business idea during one of their chats. Johnson told Ighodaro that he saw an actor wearing red shoes in a car commercial and couldn’t figure out where to buy them. Ighodaro told him she had the same problem when she saw clothing or bags on social media that she wanted. CoSign was launched in 2014.
Johnson and Ighodaro say they like working together, even though family members were skeptical at first.
“It’s great to have a partner who’s there no matter what,” says Ighodaro.