StartupNation founders Jeff and Rich Sloan worked together as teens, but it wasn’t until Rich’s freshman year in college, when he left the University of Colorado and returned home to attend the University of Michigan and join his brother in building the Battery Buddy, that a business partnership was formed.
That product and that project transformed their lives and launched a 20-year-entrepreneurial partnership.
It’s not uncommon to partner with a sibling. You share history, and your brother or sister can be your best – or a terrible – partner.
Sibling startup scenarios are convenient, says Fred Kiesner, entrepreneurship chair at Loyola Marymount University, in Los Angeles.
“Partnerships are tough,” he says. “It’s very hard to develop trust in a partnership. With a sibling, you’re already off to a good start.”
Sisters doing it themselves
When sisters Maureen Heideman and Beth Zadik opened their storefront kitchen, Ready for Dinner, in 2003, they capitalized on their blood bond.
“We have a really strong relationship outside of business,” says Louisville-based Heideman, who runs the 1,100-square-foot meal-prep shop, which hosts an average of 14 events a week.
Zadik, who is six years younger than Heideman, lives in Chicago and handles the back-office, including the Web site, accounting and IT systems.
Heideman knew from the start that she could work with Zadik, but that may not have been the case with her other two siblings.
“I’m really close with all my siblings, but honestly, I don’t know if a business relationship would’ve worked as well with the others,” she says. “It’s definitely the chemistry, the personalities. It’s being able to be friends and siblings and still being able to work together.”
Leggo my ego
To work with a sibling, you have to “bury your ego,” Kiesner says.
A lot of partnerships fail because of personality conflicts, or because one partner makes a mistake. When it’s all in the family, failure can have unintended consequences on the rest of the clan.
“With siblings, it’s even worse,” he says. “There’s a danger of causing a real rift in the family. It puts parents in a terrible position of having to take sides. They don’t know what to do.”
But don’t let that scare you. Just be aware of the possibility of conflict and talk it out before you make the commitment – just as you would before entering into any partnership.
That’s what Heideman and Zadik did.
“You have to go into it with your eyes open,” Heideman says. “Play the what-ifs and really talk about them before you start, because when you’re working on this new concept you’re so excited and you never really stop to think about what would happen if. You have to come up with a plan about how to get out and still remain siblings and friends.”
Heideman and Zadik work together, but in different cites. David and Philippe Becker run a business together and are committed to spending face-time – family time – together.
The Becker brothers founded Philippe Becker Design, a San Francisco-based branding and packaging agency, in 1998. David runs the business functions while Philippe heads up the creative work. Their complementary skills and mutual confidence contribute to their success.
“We don’t have to second-guess each other,” David Becker says. “Comfort and familiarity are part of the package when you work with a sib.
“The biggest con is separating personal lives from business. We are exceptionally close. We have dinner as a family at least a couple times a week.”
And potentially perfect combination
As boys, David and his middle brother, Daniel, picked on Philippe. Who knew one day they’d be partners?
But when Philippe tired of working for large agencies, and David was ready to go out on his own, they teamed up. And Daniel, a chef and food stylist, sometimes pitches in with brand-packaging projects.
“The net is very positive,” David Becker says. “Most entrepreneurs love being their own boss; it’s that much better when you’re working with someone you’ve loved your whole life.”
Shared blood, shared passions might just be the perfect combination.
“Starting a business is tough, and you’ve got to have somebody who’s willing to give their heart and soul and share the passion,” Kiesner says. “That’s why someone who shares your blood might just be the best thing to happen to your business yet."