Written by Allie Schratz, Editor of Business Review Australia
The name-calling and hair pulling. The petty arguments and tattling on one another. The toy-sharing debacles that end in tears – anyone with siblings knows the going wasn’t always easy in a house with brothers and sisters. To go from childhood rivals to adult business associates is a whole other matter, and for many, the transition just doesn’t work. However, for some siblings, building a professional relationship and creating a successful business venture is achievable. So, what are their secrets to success? We asked four Australia-based sibling enterprises to weigh in on how they made it work.
1] Build on a stable, trusting foundation. For Kelly Baker-Jamieson, who founded the food-inspired gift website Edible Blooms in 2005, adding younger sister Abbey as her business partner just made sense. “We have always been really good friends,” said the 2011 Telstra South Australian Business Woman of the Year of Abbey, a former teacher. “A good foundation for going into business with a sibling is a really good friendship.” Over the past seven years, the business has blossomed along with their working relationship: their chocolate, fruit and cake pop bouquets have made Edible Blooms one of the highest trafficked gift sites in Australia, and just last month, the duo launched the organic plant delivery service Green Thumb Gifts along with Kelly’s husband.
2] Balance personal morals within the business plan. Expectant mother Alisha Watson knew from her first experience that investing in good quality sleepwear was the key to comfort during and after pregnancy, but it seemed the shops were devoid of anything stylish and functional for a changing body. So, she called up her younger sister Anna McGregor and proposed the idea to develop their own line of sleep and loungewear. “It was one of those typical light bulb moments when you discover a gap in the market,” said Anna, who now runs the Melbourne-based maternity retail company Sorella & Me with Alisha. Anna’s background in international community development proved vital to assisting Alisha with market research, as well as Anna’s desire to implement strict supply chain standards that require organic, fair trade materials and just manufacturing practices to be utilised. “We talked a lot about the importance of developing a fashion label that was ethical, and it was rewarding for me to bring these values into the business model,” said Anna.
3] Utilise independent strengths. The New Zealand sister trio Gina, Vicky and Aileen Young came from three very diverse professional backgrounds to form the couture coffee brand Vella Nero: Gina had worked in accounting, finance and law; Vicky’s fields of expertise were commerce and science; and Aileen was doing marketing in the fashion industry. All three were feeling the stress of their fast-paced fields, so during a get-together a few years back, they shared a thought: “If we’re working this hard at our corporate jobs, we should really do something for ourselves.” Though worlds apart professionally, they shared a common love: food. “We wanted to be able to produce our own product and be hands-on [during the] manufacturing process. The discussion led to coffee,” said Aileen, the youngest of the three. Today, the sisters run an award-winning sustainable roastery, boutique and caffe bar in Sydney’s CBD that allows each of them to use their independent strengths: Gina handles the business administration, Vicky is the resident roasting expert and café manager, and Aileen runs the sales/marketing and food side of Vella Nero. “We looked at where our strengths were and [make sure to] manage our own areas,” said Aileen.
4] Believe in your business partner. Josh and Andrew Frith became part of Australia’s first generation of digital agencies in the mid-1990s, but getting there wasn’t all smooth sailing. During his first introduction to the internet by Japanese entrepreneur Joichi Ito in 1988, Andrew wasn’t convinced that this innovation would catch on: “He showed me this thing called email. He was so excited and I didn’t get it at all; I thought it was a crappy old computer with a text message on it,” said Andrew. Fortunately, he didn’t hold onto this view for long, and over the next several years, the duo set up many successful web-based enterprises in the US and the UK. In 1996, Josh formulated a business plan for one of the first digital agencies in Sydney, known today as The Dubs, which has become a leading social media, digital marketing and web development business with the Frith brothers at the helm.