It's no secret that starting a company with a family member can be — well — tricky business. It's possible for disagreements to spill into your personal relationship, and at their worse, they can lead to lifelong grudges. But on the flip, diving into entrepreneurship with someone you already know and trust can be the ultimate recipe for success. Yes, there are pros and cons to working with family, but what it really boils down to is taking the leap with the right person (that is, you should have a healthy relationship to begin with).
"The volatility or ease of your relationship at home is a great indicator of what it's likely going to be like to work together," says Rebecca Fraser-Thill, a career coach and psychology instructor at Bates College. "Therefore, if you know that the two of you tend to butt heads often and/or end most conversations as arguments, you may want to seriously reconsider blurring the lines between family and co-worker."
Ahead, a career coach and three pairs of siblings-turned-co-founders share the ups and downs of working together. From leaning on each other for support, to fighting like teenagers, to speaking with complete honesty (for better or worse), these duos all have one thing in common: mutual respect for each other. Thinking about starting a business with a family member? Be sure to read this first.
Pro: Knowing Your Co-Founder (Really Well) Before Setting Up Shop
When it comes to co-founding a company, there's definitely a benefit of knowing your partner's talents, quirks, and how well the two of you mesh together. Kat Hantas and Nicole Emanuel, sisters and founders of 21 SEEDS, an infused tequila company, say founding their company was practically destiny. "Going into business together was never a question of 'if,' it was a question of 'when,'" says Hantas. "From the beginning, I was the dreamer coming up with big ideas and Nicole was the practical one poking holes into those ideas."
Further, the sisters say that their already-established relationship enabled them to hit the ground running. "Knowing each other as well as we do enables us to move quickly," Emanuel points out. "We didn’t have to spend the first few months of the business getting to know each other, learning how best to communicate with each other, or how to argue and move on. This allowed us to divide up the work and get it done without getting in each others way."
In fact, Australian-born twin sisters Zoe and Kim Roebuck, co-founders of all-natural skincare line Dr Roebuck's, say that the person you go into business with is more important than the business, itself. "Pick your partner before your path," they advise. "The partner is really critical because it becomes your life and what you do every day. Why would you put yourself in an environment where you’re working with people you don’t like and don’t trust?"
Con: It's Tempting To Argue Like Relatives, Not Colleagues
However, the ladies of 21 SEEDS admit that their comfort level can be a disadvantage when it comes to conflict. "Sometimes the older sister to younger sister dynamic creeps in and we are right back in our teenage bedroom screaming at each other over a stolen sweatshirt!" says Hantas, adding that their third co-worker, Sarika, is sometimes a witness to these disputes. However, they're working on keeping it professional during their feuds. "Arguing with family can be irrational and heated, and while we know at the end things will go right back to normal, we realize this can be unsettling for others to watch," she says.
Expert Advice: "First and foremost, don't try to win your other family members over to 'your side' of the argument," recommends Fraser-Thill. "That's tempting, but absolutely unproductive. Instead of talking about the conflict with others, create a system for working through conflicts directly. When this exchange happens in a vulnerable, supportive space, you can work to empathize with your family member and find a solution that addresses both of your narratives."
Pro: You Can Be Honest With One Another
When it comes to working with relatives, "there's no red tape or politics!" says Sophie Bakalar and Jeremy Canade, the brother-sister team who founded Fable, a luxury pet line. In fact, bypassing the pleasantries can help the business progress forward. "We can just say exactly what we mean and how we feel in the moment without worrying about the other person taking it personally. We've been doing conflict resolution basically since we were born, so we're extremely comfortable with dealing with disagreements."
The Roebuck sisters add that in addition to being straightforward with each other, they know that conflict will never result in bad blood. "We know each other inside and out, and can be honest and direct with each other, which allows us to move ahead faster and not hold grudges," they say.
Con: Keeping An Open Mind With Each Other Can Be Difficult
When working with someone you're close to, you might expect to agree on just about everything. But when differences of opinion arise, it's essential to keep an open mind and listen to the other side — just like you would a colleague. "We haven't worked on a product design company before and we've been surprised that we don't line up in design preferences as much as we expected," says the duo behind Fable. But thanks to mutual respect, they always find a middle ground. "We definitely have slightly different aesthetics, but ultimately think when we compromise, it leads to something even more special."
Expert Advice: "Help amplify each others' strengths rather than trying to get them to behave like you," suggests Emanuel. "Going into business with anyone requires respecting each others' boundaries. This is even harder with a sibling because you have a shared history, [but] if you can stay in your lane, you can use that shared history to accelerate everything."
Pro: The Support & Trust Is Unparalleled
"Assuming it's a healthy relationship, having a built-in support source all day, every day, is absolutely invaluable," says Fraser-Thill. "There's a trust in family members that can take years to earn with a non-familial co-worker, as well as a deep understanding of their quirks, strengths, and goals — which they also understand about you."
The Roebuck sisters wholeheartedly agree. "We know now that even when things seem tough, they always get better and sisterhood will always come first. You need to get through the hard times to learn the lessons that will make you successful later on and be able to grow together as business partners."
Bakalar and Canade make a final argument for working with family. "Family business are the cornerstone of corporate America and have, historically, been very successful," they point out. "There's a recent bias against working with family, but we think mixing business and pleasure is a way better alternative to colder, more corporate approach of founders who don't know each other well and are only in to make money."