(Editor’s note: Tom Aley is the president, CEO and (along with his twin brother) co-founder of RapidBuyr. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
Working with family at a small or medium sized business is hardly unusual, but it often comes with complications the relatives don’t anticipate. Typically, people underestimate the pressures running a startup might put on family relationships – and if you’re not careful, it can damage both the business and the family.
My twin brother Darr, and I have been business partners for the better part of two decades. During that time, we’ve set up and guided a number of successful internet start-up ventures. By necessity, that has made us well versed in how to have a successful professional relationship with a family member. It’s not easy, but there are a few things that can help keep the personal relationship intact as you remain focused on building a successful business:
Trust is paramount – All successful business partnerships must be built on trust, regardless of whether it’s with a family member or a colleague. And as you might expect from twin brothers, Darr and I have an implicit trust in each other, and know that we can rely on the other to make decisions and act in a way that puts the business before personal feelings.
I was once asked if I, as CEO of a company, could fire my brother if he wasn’t performing in his role. My instinctive answer was that it would never get to that point – Darr would already have resigned if he was hindering the success of the business. It is this level of trust in each other that forms the foundation for a strong business partnership.
Recognize each other’s strengths – It isn’t easy to admit your weaknesses to family, but if your business is going to be truly successful, it is imperative to clearly outline at the outset the strengths you are bringing to the company and subsequent roles you will both play. Clear roles and responsibilities help avoid overlap and disagreement down the road.
Listen and compromise – Darr and I rarely disagree about business matters. Maybe it is comes from being twins, but more often than not we are on the same page and share the same vision when making decisions. On the rare occasions we do disagree, the person with the most passion usually prevails.
Ultimately, we both have the best interests of our company at heart. And if things go wrong? Never say “I told you so.” You wouldn’t say that to a colleague — and your brother, sister or parents are no exceptions.
Passion for what you are doing is a must – The most common question we are asked is how we separate our work and home lives – and like most entrepreneurs, we don’t find it easy. Our business is also our passion, so while other brothers may talk about sports or movies, we like discussing Internet start-ups. Our wives usually rein us in and remind us that while fascinating for the two of us, the conversation sometimes needs to be put aside.
When deciding whether to go into business with a family member, the most important question to ask is: Can you work together? In theory you may think so. But in practice, do you have a relationship built on trust, patience, communication and like-mindedness? Take some time to really think about it. Starting a business is a high-pressure activity, and if you’ve found in the past that your relationships with family members becomes strained under pressure, than I’d advise caution and a rethink of your business plans.
(About the Author – Tom Aley is President and CEO of RapidBuyr, the only national and local daily deals site specifically for small and mid-sized businesses. Prior to co-founding RapidBuyr with his twin brother Darr, Tom was an SVP at Dow Jones/News Corp., having come to the company in 2008 after it had acquired Generate, Inc., a software/analytics firm that he and his brother had founded in 2004. Tom was a founding partner at Reed Elsevier Ventures, and has co-lead investments in early stage technology companies including Siperian, Inxight Software, Netli, Nextpage and iPhrase Technologies.)