The Bonds Of Blood And Beauty: Indie Brand Founders Dish On Working With Family Members

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 11 founders and executives: What are the pros and cons of working with family members?

Maria Barillaro Vice-President, TōN Cosmetics

One of the major advantages to working with family is that you don't need to censor yourselves. You can discuss ideas openly and not feel badly disagreeing with one another. You know that, even if you don't see eye-to-eye on something, you'll put it behind you and continue working together, for the good of the brand, like nothing ever happened. Just like in our personal lives, we are honest and open with each other, and never hold a grudge.

One of the down sides, though, is not being able to separate your personal and professional lives. Work and personal time just sort of blend into one, and the line gets fuzzy fast. Every text exchange and sisters’ movie night revolves around business talk. Work just becomes your main topic of conversation, and it comes home with you every day. But, on the plus side, you can totally get away with being late for work because what kind of sister would fire you for that?

Akua Okunseinde Co-Founder, Karité

As sisters, we are lucky in that we have a similar and clear vision for our skincare brand. As such, we don’t have to spend a lot of time building consensus and alignment in order to move our business forward.

Another benefit of running a family business is that, whenever we meet up, whether for family events, dinners or casual catch ups, we naturally talk about our business. In this way, Karité is a brand that’s always on and rarely is there a time that we aren’t working on it in some capacity. Some may see this as a con, but we see this as productive.

One downside of having a family business is that we are so used to working with each other and are used to our own dynamic, which makes us hesitant to consider hiring employees outside the family. As our business grows, we will need to consider taking advice and potential freelance and consulting work from people outside the family.

Christinah Nicolaisen Co-Founder, Eleni & Chris

As mother and daughter, we are different in so many ways, yet we both share a high level of creativity, passion and drive. Working together as family has actually been easier than we thought. Having the same company vision and direction for the brand is essential for quick decision-making and go-to-market speed.

Here are just a few of our secret ingredients: Having mutual respect is absolutely key to having a strong foundation to build upon. Being open-minded as well as straight to the point gives us a good balance. We hear each other out as well as say what we mean. It's also great because we spend much more time finding solutions rather than focusing on problems.

And, lastly, professionalism and a good dose of discipline is important to make good decisions in the boardroom as well as around the dinner table.

Lauren Bilon Founder, Plume

Running a family business has been both an incredible blessing and a constant challenge. The most special part of this process is working with my husband. He is at times my mentor and truly inspires me to be my best. We love to brainstorm together and collaborate on new ideas. The problem solving and creative thinking brings us closer.

We laugh. We goof around. We’re really open with each other and also treat everyone else in the company like family, so we enjoy this level of openness throughout the whole team. Also, coming from a 9-to-5 job in a past life, the flexibility of working hours – when we’re not working 24/7 of course – is also a great option to have.

In terms of challenges, travelling a lot and being separated from my children can be very difficult. They are young and at times do not understand why we need to be away. We make sure to prioritize those special moments and savor our family time when we’re all together. From a financial standpoint, having all of our eggs in one basket makes our household finances much more stressful. There’s no option but to succeed and this can create a lot of pressure.

Amra Hajdarevic Founder and CEO, Terra & Co.

I couldn’t think of anyone else I would rather be in business with than my sister Azra. We both want the same things and know that no matter what happens, we have each other’s back. We both have different strengths that complement each other. I’m very business-oriented, while Azra brings the creative breath to our company. We challenge each other in positive ways and, if we have creative differences, we are able to discuss it and work out a compromise.

Andrea Rodriguez Co-Founder, Ariza Beauty

I love working with family. We have so much fun, and I’m grateful to have their unconditional support. We’re so close that it'd seem like our office would be more laid-back, but we actually hold ourselves to higher standards. We have a constant competition running for who gets in earliest and stays the latest. I feel a lot more pressure because I don’t want to disappoint them. I also feel a strong duty to see our business be successful not just for myself, but for all of us.

My family knows me better than anyone and would call me out in an instant if I was slacking or not giving a project my all. When we first got started, I felt like we didn’t quite know how to separate family and business, and we would bring work home with us, which would cause stress. However, over the years, we’ve learned to establish a healthy distinction. We have a professional relationship at the office and a personal relationship at home.

Stephanie McGraw Founder, New Heights Naturals

The best aspect of running a family business is control over strategic decision-making.  I’ve spent just under a decade as a law attorney, and it’s nice to be the boss at New Heights Naturals. I decide where to devote resources, which projects are priorities, and I have the final say.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in decisions about marketing and PR. Unlike the legal or financial aspects of running a business, where decision-making can be more black and white, marketing is qualitative. There is more than one right answer, and it is very exciting to be the one to get to decide.

On the flip side of that, especially as a small family business, being the boss is just one of many hats I wear. Running our company is time consuming, especially because it truly is mine. I am invested in our success and constantly working on some aspect of the business. For example, even if I am at the park playing with my kids, I am still snapping pictures to use as content for our Instagram account or doing market research chatting with other moms about products they use and products they would like to see in the marketplace.

Allison Taylor, Co-Founder Le Prunier

Running a family business together has been incredibly rewarding thus far. We wake up feeling so lucky to do what we love every single day. We’re always working as a single unit, and there’s a level of innate loyalty and trust that is unbelievably valuable.

That being said, we do disagree from time to time, but those disagreements generally always lead to greater growth and better ideas. We also tend to place extra pressure on each other to deliver our best work because we know each other so well. It can be difficult to draw the line between work and our personal lives. There’s a lot of crossover but we love what we do, so it’s really hard to complain.

As part of the new generation, we’ve focused on infusing creativity and innovation in an effort to keep things fresh. I think we’ve managed to find a really good balance. We each make sure to find time to work out, meditate, maintain a healthy diet and relax on the weekends, which is key. At the end of the day, we’re so grateful to be continuing the family tradition.

Lisa LeBlanc Co-Founder, KlenSkin

I started my career as a receptionist at my mother's dermatology practice. Over the next several years, my business responsibilities expanded, and I soon realized that her entrepreneurial spirit did not fall far from the tree.

Working with my mother has been a rewarding experience. We have had this opportunity to create a brand from inception sharing the same goals and vision for the line. Together, we enjoy celebrating our accomplishments and working through the challenges.

One issue we regularly have to work on is dividing work from family time. Work comes up constantly and trying to find that balance is something we must remind each other of. Our mother-daughter team has grown from one seemingly impossible goal to a whole line of historic products, and there is no other person I would rather work with on this journey.

Sania Vucetaj Founder, Sania’s Brow Bar

The pros are that you know everyone has a personal interest in the business because one day they will inherit it. The success of the business becomes more personal since everyone has more at stake, unlike working for corporate America.

You get to better enjoy your day because it feels less like work when you’re surrounded by family. We all have our own personalities, but it becomes less of a struggle creating a unit when you know everyone’s personalities and what to expect beforehand as opposed to inviting outsiders, which can change the dynamic of the workplace.

Trust is key when handling customer service, quality and accounts. Who can you trust more than your family, especially when it comes to finances? Working with family is peace of mind, knowing that the place will be taken care. With my business in particular, clients trust my daughters and niece because they know that they’ve been exposed to the industry their whole lives and were personally trained by myself. The girls have the same passion because it’s always been a discussion in our household growing up.

Now for some cons. It’s sometimes hard to juggle the family/coworker relationship. After work, it may be difficult as a boss to turn off the boss switch and transition back into a non-professional relationship. Also, it becomes harder to know when we’re not at work to give it a break since its always on your mind and there are always concerns and issues to discuss.

Accountability is huge. If you ask the girls that work for me, there are definitely days where I am all about the tough love, but they know it comes from a good place. Sometimes there is this tug and pull between being harder on family because you know that you cannot push them away and expect more from them. Because my daughters and niece are best friends as well, sometimes discussions in the workplace can stray away from brows, so I have to make sure that everyone is always focused and being the most productive they can be.

Kristine Sperling Founder, Makes 3 Organics

All of life’s choices have their pros and cons. When my husband and I left our corporate careers, we knew intellectually what we were getting into, but nothing can truly prepare you for what is ahead.

Starting and running a family business, and building a brand has been the hardest thing we have ever done. There isn’t a business book, podcast or seminar that can really convey the tactical, financial and emotional challenges you will face. But, at the end of the day, it’s what drives us that really matters. It’s what we believe in that gets us across the finish line.

We are still building our business, so there are long days and weeks, and we feel every operational and financial bump in the road. Boundaries between work and family get constantly crossed, and can bring disharmony into the marriage and the household unless you are aware of how you respond to the stresses and adjust appropriately.

As hard as running a small business is, we wouldn’t trade it for the world. We love having a positive impact on our customers and receiving unsolicited emails from them thanking us for making clean, non-toxic products that work, and it’s these same customers, through their support, that enable us to employ three people and help support their families in addition to our own.

Uncertainty, disharmony, financial stress, family stress. Why would anyone in their right mind do this? We do this because we are innovators, and we want to change the petroleum-dominated personal care industry to one that is plant-based and friendly to the wellbeing of people and the planet. Our mission is much bigger than just our small company.

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