When I became an entrepreneur, the smartest thing I did was creating a group of fellow young entrepreneurs called Fresh Founders. Over the years, we’ve helped each other build our companies and the community. In the process, we’ve become good friends. For example, Tobi Lütke started Shopify in his basement and built it into one of Canada’s most valuable companies. Now Tobi helps the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Researchers have confirmed that friendship has life-changing benefits:

  • 30% lower risk of heart disease and stroke

  • 30% lower risk of dementia

  • 20% less depression

  • Better work performance

  • Longer life

  • Higher happiness

It’s the friends that you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.

-Marlene Dietrich

Social modeling

People naturally mimic friends. Hundreds of studies have shown that peers influence behaviors such as eating, exercise, drug use, and achievement.

Therefore, choose friends who pull you up rather than drag you down. Here are proven characteristics of great friends:

  • Intelligent

  • Conscientious

  • High integrity

  • Emotionally intelligent

  • Happy

You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.

-Jim Rohn

How do I identify great friends?

Intelligence is the ability to deal with complexity. Assess it by asking someone to explain a complex topic in a simple way. Then ask hypothetical questions to test for understanding.

Here is an example:

  • What is a topic you know well?

      • Cooking meat

  • Tell me something about the topic I wouldn’t have guessed but I’ll find interesting

      • Barbequed meat tastes good because of the Maillard reaction

  • Tell me about the Maillard reaction

      • It’s a chemical reaction that occurs between amino acids in protein and sugar in sauce or marinade when you heat meat at temperatures above 300°F

  • Hypothetical questions:

      • Would the Maillard reaction occur if you cooked meat at very high heat? How about very low heat?

      • Does amount of fat influence the reaction?

      • What happens if there is no sugar in the sauce?

      • How could you cook meat without heat?

Conscientiousness is a personality trait for being organized, responsible, and hardworking. It’s related to grit, perseverance, and delay of gratification.

To assess integrity, ask others how the person would behave if given an unethical opportunity. For example, would this person tell a lie to get a $20,000 commission?

Emotionally intelligent people are aware of emotions. They’ll say things such as: “You seem sad today, are you okay?” or “You look frustrated, can I help?”

Finally, happy people make you feel happy. A Harvard study found that happiness was contagious—people were 25% more likely to be happy when a close friend was happy.

In looking for people to hire, you look for 3 qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.

-Warren Buffett

Avoid the unhappy and the unlucky. People who are perpetually miserable spread misery like an infection, and they’ll drown you in it. Avoid these people like the plague. Conversely, if you associate with happy people, you’ll share in the good fortune they attract and spread. Seek them out.

-Robert Greene

Getting great friends

Here is a system:

  • Become worthy

  • Go where they are

  • Ask for referrals

  • Invest time

The asset I most value, aside from health, is interesting, diverse, and long-standing friends.

-Warren Buffett

Become worthy

Homophily is the tendency to form relationships with people like you. For example, top students are usually friends with top students. Therefore, if you want great friends, become a great friend. Start with the chapters on “Time management” and “Happiness”.

Also, researchers found that women preferred friends who shared feelings and provided emotional support. In contrast, men preferred friends who were smart, fit, and rich.

Networking is overrated. Become first and foremost a person of value and the network will be available whenever you need it.

-Naval Ravikant

Go where they are

People often make friends where they spend time. This is school in early life, workplace in middle age, and volunteering in old age. Amazing people gravitate to the best schools, companies, and organizations. They also tend to live in bigger cities.

The large towns and especially London absorb the very best blood from all the rest of England; the most enterprising, the most highly gifted, those with the highest physique and the strongest characters go there to find scope for their abilities.

-Alfred Marshall

Ask for referrals

Yossi Vardi is an entrepreneur and investor who helped build Israel’s famous high-tech industry. I once attended a talk where Vardi shared one of his secrets: he recruited the smartest kids and co-located them in a start-up incubator. I asked Vardi how he discovered them. The answer? Ask other smart kids.

Tap into people’s social networks by saying: “I’m looking for new friends and mentors. Do you know anyone interesting? Would you be willing to introduce me?”

Invest time

When you click with interesting people, schedule a follow-up meeting. And then schedule one after that. Researchers estimate it takes 200 hours of shared activities for someone to become a good friend.

We rule out people 90% of the time. Maybe we’re wrong sometimes, but what’s important is the ones we let in.

-Warren Buffett

Personal notes

I’ve learned the hard way that low-integrity friends are bad for my life. Now, I quickly cut out negative people. This makes me happier and frees time for positive people.

If I’m doing business with somebody and they think in a short-term manner with somebody else, then I don’t want to do business with them anymore. All benefits in life come from compound interest, whether in money, relationships, love, health, activities, or habits. I only want to be around people I know I’m going to be around for the rest of my life.

-Naval Ravikant



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  • Doubling number of friends in real life was equivalent to a 50% increase in income

  • Number of online friends did not increase happiness

  • Real-life friends were more important for people who were single, divorced, separated, or widowed, compared to people who were married or living with a partner

Social modeling

Vartanian LR et al. (2014). Modeling of food intake: a meta-analytic review. Social Influence. 10(3): 119–136.

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Carron AV, Hausenblas HA, Mack D. (1996). Social influence and exercise: A meta-analysis. Journal Sport Exercise Psychology. 18(1): 1–16.

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Allen M et al. (2003). Comparing the influence of parents and peers on the choice to use drugs: A meta-analytic summary of the literature. Criminal Justice Behavior. 30(2): 163–186.

  • A meta-analysis of 364 effects with 1,234,193 participants found that peers influenced use of marijuana (effect size = 0.38), drugs (effect size = 0.30), alcohol (effect size = 0.27), and hard drugs (effect size = 0.23)

  • Parents also influenced use of drugs (effect size = 0.23), hard drugs (effect size = 0.20), alcohol (effect size = 0.17), and marijuana (effect size = 0.08)

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  • Over time, they influenced each other to continue achieving at the same level

Proven characteristics

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  • A second study with 80 MBA students asked them to estimate the likelihood that managers would engage in unethical behaviors, and this “dubious reputation” method was effective in identifying unethical managers

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  • A 20-year study of 4,739 participants found that the likelihood of a person being happy was increased by 25% when a friend who lived within a mile became happy

  • Similar effects were seen with next-door neighbors (34%), siblings who lived within a mile (14%), and coresident spouses (8%)

Getting great friends

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  • The homophily principle influences all relationships and is a persistent finding in social network research

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  • A study of 6,000 students over 42 months found they gradually reorganized their social networks according to levels of academic achievement

Hall JA. (2011). Sex differences in friendship expectations: A meta-analysis. Journal Social Personal Relationships. 28(6): 723–747.

  • A meta-analysis of 36 studies with 8,825 participants found that women expected more intimacy/self-disclosure/empathy/emotional support from ideal same-sex friends (effect size = 0.39)

  • Men expected more wealth/status/physical attractiveness/fitness/intelligence/education (effect size = 0.34)

Thomas RJ. (2019). Sources of friendship and structurally induced homophily across the life course. Sociological Perspectives. 62(6): 822–843.

  • A survey of 1,077 people found that the most common sources of new friends were school during youth, work during midlife, and volunteering groups in later life

Davis DR, Dingel JI. (2014). The comparative advantage of cities. Journal International Economics. 123: 103291.

  • A study of 270 U.S. metropolitan areas found that larger cities attracted more skilled people

Hall JA. (2019). How many hours does it take to make a friend? Journal Social Personal Relationships. 36(4): 1278–1296.

  • A study of 429 participants found it took about 94 hours for acquaintances to become casual friends, 164 hours for casual friends to become friends, and 219 hours for friends to become good/best friends

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