Having a co-founder in business can often be a huge bonus – two heads are generally better than one. And what about a co-founder who, quite possibly, knows you better than anyone else in the world? We speak to three Virgin StartUp-supported sister pairs to find out what starting up with a sibling is really like.
Gini and Eccie Newton, Karma Cans
Karma Cans provide nutritious, bike-delivered lunches across London.
My sister and I are incredibly different, and so are our skill sets. Eccie could make the most amazing lunches, which she did, but without me no one would every try them. Karma Cans was formed when really I was helping her out. She was making incredible lunches and we decided to combine our skills for fun, not as a long-term plan, but as a hobby on the side. I kept selling and she kept making, and before we knew it we were in business together. We never once thought this would ever happen. When we discussed our career dreams, this was never one – but we realised we had discovered something great, and we could perhaps make something amazing together.
There is an entrepreneurial streak in our family. We have been exposed to this way of thought our whole life, so we were not afraid to work for ourselves. From a child I have always had little businesses - from selling cigarettes at school (not my proudest project), to old Macbooks at University. Eccie too has a great business mind.
The biggest advantage of working with your sister is honesty. Honesty is grounding! When you work with friends or colleagues there is an openness which does not always come easily. If something is wrong as sisters, we are the first to tell each other. We can even be too honest, but recover quickly and act on it with no hard feelings. We get to celebrate something we have created daily together, and get to watch each other grow and adapt. It’s pretty amazing.
There are of course challenges. When we started the arguments were awful, Eccie once actually threw a package of chickpeas at my head…it missed. But over time we divided our roles up, we gave each other freedom and control, while trying not to get involved in each others sides as much. This division of labour was key to our relationship, as you learn to trust each other. The other challenge is the separation of work from family and life, but at the end of the day that is also a benefit of starting your own company, it is life-encompassing and we just have to make a special effort to not always discuss Karma Cans.
We as people have changed and grown with Karma Cans, but our relationship is the same. We both like to have fun, and we know when to take a step back and remind ourselves that this is important. We have watched each other have to step up in incredibly hard situations and therefore know each other’s weakness and strengths more then ever before.
Alina and Ammara Masood, Cofi Coo
Cofi Coo create beautifully-designed children’s quilts that fold up into pillows.
Going into business just happened by chance, as we both had interest in starting a business from early on. The idea of being self-employed was quite attractive and we saw an opportunity which we grasped.
We have always loved solving problems and creating opportunities, whether it be through part-time ventures or work. Alina had a small Graphic Design business whilst in College and Ammara took part in a young enterprise scheme at her Sixth Form. We always knew that we wanted to start our own businesses; it was just a matter of time.
One of the biggest advantages of working together is being able to freely express ideas without hesitance. Also, you know each others’ strength and weakness, and so work around that. There are times when we strongly disagree with each other but we always work together to come to a consensus. There is also an aspect of trust and loyalty that you can only have with a family member.
Trying to keep a balance between personal and professional life can be challenging. Also, it’s difficult to switch off and yes we are guilty of discussing work even at social gatherings. There's a 7 year age gap between us so initially we had completely different interests and goals in life. However, since we have been in business we now share more common interests, friends and get along well.
Communication is key – as obvious as that is you must ensure you have a common vision for the business and both are clear about each other’s personal goal as well, so that it does not cause any conflict and that you are on the same page. Also, don’t take each other for granted as you can sometimes forget to compliment each other’s good work, which would come out naturally if it was someone else.
Lois and Michela Wilson, Saint Aymes
Saint Aymes create luxurious edible art that tastes as good as it looks.
We have always been very close and have helped each other through everything. Because we both come from the same background, we both had similar aspirations and goals. We also have similar interests and principles and so it made sense to work together.
We got our entrepreneurial streak from our parents. Our dad had an insurance firm with his friends and our mum ran her own nursery. In addition we are attracted to entrepreneurship because it allows you to be fully in control of your life. That doesn't mean it's easy, but if something is coming over the horizon you can strategise and do what ever you need to in order to stay a float. When you are an employee sometimes it feels like things just happen to you, such as redundancies and poor management.
A major advantage is that when it comes down to it, we know we can trust each other. Watching someone grow up and being with them through every stage means you know the worst of them. So I guess it's better the devil you know! In the world of business, people come from everywhere and you have no idea what their true intentions are. It's a relief to have each other to figure people out. We also can have a very honest dialogue that gets right to the issue, meaning there are no hidden hurts. Another advantage is that because we have the same family and goals we can celebrate together, and that celebration is amplified.
We are also best friends and running the business means that it runs into all our time. People ask what we do for fun in our free time, and we say "Free time? I know not this concept!" However it's good to spend so much time together because if one of us were doing this alone, the relationship would have suffered. Another challenge is that we have had to learn to resolve arguments quickly and maturely because there is no room for this in business. Running the business means we are closer than ever.
It’s really important to respect your sibling and put your ego aside when it comes to resolving things. Long drawn out sulks don't work when you are running a business, so learn how to be responsible, accountable and honest, and try to see criticism in the constructive spirit it's given. Also, when you do give criticism, be constructive.
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