Should you work with family members in your startup?

Should you work with family members in your startup?

You cannot choose the family you are born into, but you can definitely choose whether to involve family into your business – your enterprise, your professional space. As a startup, this decision becomes even more crucial.  Are you ready to take that chance of mixing the professional with the personal? To break the adage of keeping the two apart?

When I began my research for this piece, I found numerous articles elaborating  various reasons why one should not work with family members in a business as it could spoil the personal bond and might also lead to some unprofessional decisions as the company grows. The consensus seemed to be for keeping family involvement out of the initial startup hiccups.

Post my interaction with founders who were running family businesses and have now moved away from them, I realized that the real problem lies in not following some basic simple rules of a family- professional setup. In my view, family members are mostly the best bet to work with for simple reasons like trust, economic stability and understanding in some cases. Here are a few tips on how to work with a family member in the most efficient way.

Clearly defined roles with no interlapping

Close proximity in the work environment is one of the reasons for quarrels among family members or in fact any one else. So why not keep it simple and neat with structured roles. Anand, Founder at WedmeGood says that his interaction with his wife Mehak (cofounder in the same business) is minimal. “We barely exchange 25 words a day in office.” Anand and Mehak have defined roles in two distinct domains in the organisation. This allows them to handle different teams. While Mehak takes care of content and the product, Anand is involved in hiring and operations.

Streamlined Salary Structures

Money matters, if left ignored, can lead to complexeties in any business partnership. Even though you work with a family member, it is important to have a fixed amount or share in the profits kept aside for the partner. The terms of working on paper should be clear and professional. Make sure it is competitive and fair, a family member should not be shortchanged, nor taken for granted. It might be difficult to have a conversation in the beginning about money and profit sharing, but it only leads to seamless functioning later.

Respect the dignity of your family member

 Simple rules like not having disagreements in front of the staff members can do wonders. Always discuss topics that you disagree on, in private spaces. Himanshu Aggarwal, who works with his brother Varun Aggarwal as the cofounder of Aspiring Minds says, “ The best thing about working with a brother is that our comfort level in conversations is high. I can walk into his office/cabin anytime and talk about matters we disagree on. I do not have to think before having a frank conversation. We are siblings and it helps in having private conversations.”

Capability before relationships

This is the most important and often ignored aspect by entrepreneurs. Just because you have a family member who wants to help you in business, you could be tempted to get him/her on board. This is clearly not the right approach. Vineet Gupta, who founded Jamboree Education with his wife Akrita back in 1993 says, “Just having a good relationship with your business partner cannot save your business. It has to be the right mix of capabilities between two people and that should be the reason that you choose to work with a family member.”

The right mix of people skills

While it is quintessential to match your technical skills, the two family members who work together should also have a right combination of temperament which is best suited for the company.  Two aggressive people as partners will often lead to trouble and a pressurized work environment for the employees. Nithin Kamath, Founder and CEO at Zerodha who works closely with his brother Nikhil Kamath (Co-Founder and head of trading) shares, “ I might be the person who is very optimistic about situations and people in the company tend to agree with me when I convince them for something. At times, it helps when my brother Nikhil comes and shows me the other side, he is more realistic in decisions. This makes us  a well balanced team.”

It might not be easy, but it is not impossible either as successful family business partners prove. All you need is some practical wisdom and understanding tinted glasses to reap the invaluable benefit of the loyalty of family and the burgeoning bonding which can be nurtured.

Diksha Dutta is an Indian columnist and media professional. She has a wide experience of writing on startups/VCs/PE during her six-year long stint as a full-time business journalist. At present, she is also working on a book on Indian businesses with Bloomsbury India. Diksha works at Ashoka University, a pioneer in liberal arts education in India. She is based in New Delhi, India.

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