You’ve had the light-bulb moment to create a business that combines your passion and strengths, but the thought of going it alone stops you in your tracks. So how about working with a trusted friend, sibling or partner to get that idea off the ground? Is it a recipe for disaster or a business dream? We find out…
Komal Patel, 31, and Yasmeen Ali, 42, co-founded accessories label, House of Jekoya
“We had both talked about setting up our own businesses for some time, until one day we realised that we would be better off collaborating, especially with our different areas of expertise,” explains Komal.
The Dubai-based friends, who met through a mutual acquaintance in the UK seven years ago, used their shared love of fashion as their starting point to create a couture jewellery and accessories brand, called the House of Jekoya, in late 2012. “I had the chance to put my design skills to use,” says Komal, “while Yasmeen, with her knowledge of semi precious stones, was able to source materials and manage the artisans who produce our stock.”
They now regularly exhibit their wares at various markets and craft fairs, and have already developed quite a following via Facebook and Twitter. The friends say they share the same outlook on life, which helps with working together. Yasmeen says: “I regard Komal as my younger sister and am here to help guide her as much as possible, especially as her family are all in London.”
Do they find it difficult to stop talking shop? “We’ve not really drawn a line to say ‘right, after 5pm, we won’t talk business’,” says Yasmeen. “If anything regarding business does come up in conversation outside of work, we both switch our professional attitudes on.”
Komal adds: “We know not to let our personal or emotional responses cloud aour judgment so it never gets in the way of life outside business – in fact, it’s become more enjoyable because we know each other on a personal level and get along very well.”
Their advice for others in a similar situation – work with someone you are compatible with and be aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Yasmeen reflects: “It’s great, I wouldn’t choose anyone different to work with. We are fully aware of each other’s personality, which works to our advantage. Maintaining trust and being open with any concerns ensures we remain on the same page, every time.”
Ian, 29, and Inger Houghton, 27, are the husband and wife duo behind Scandinavian Health & Performance (SHP)
“I must give Ian credit for starting the business,” begins Inger. “We would never be in Dubai if it wasn’t for him. While I was very excited about the thought of moving to a foreign country to set up a company, I would never have had the guts to actually go through with it if it was only up to me.”
The couple left Norway to set up SHP, a gym with a difference, in 2011. SHP, based in JLT, provides a holistic approach to health, training, nutrition and treatment all under one roof.
Ian, who worked as a physiotherapist for Chelsea football club, explains: “Most of my mentors have been entrepreneurs and, at the age of 24, I knew I wanted to move abroad and start my own company. I think the challenge and the adventure of it inspires me the most.”
While Inger sees herself as a ‘tag-along wife’, she has been involved in the business from day one and works at the gym as head of nutrition and as a personal trainer. “All new clients get a nutrition consultation from me when they start training at SHP, and we also offer the service for people who just want help with their eating habits.” Ian, a doctor of naprapathy, offers a form of bodywork that focuses on the manual treatment of the spine and connective tissue.
The couple admit they don’t really separate business and home life and will often discuss approaches for clients and give each other advice over dinner. “I really enjoy working together,” says Ian. “I get to see Inger during the day, even when we are at the office for long hours. And we both understand the demand and workload that the other goes through and can offer much needed support. However, it does have an impact on the business when we take time off together – and it’s hard to play ‘boss’ to your wife.”
Inger adds: “I honestly thought it would be weird to have my husband as my boss, but so far it has worked out. Although when we get home, the roles change completely!”
The couple feel the key to working together is honesty and mutual respect. Inger points out: “Although Ian may feel that I do not have the same drive, enthusiasm and determination as him when it comes to work, he appreciates what I do at home to facilitate his workload.
“Ideally we would have more social time and our working hours would be more efficient, but at this point things are great as they are.”
The Rowlands sisters, Bekky, 32, Sian, 31, and Teagan, 28, created My Ex Wardrobe in May 2011
“It all started over lunch one day when we were talking about my shopping habit,” explains Sian. “The girls often teased me as I love shopping for clothes and had accumulated an excessive amount, far too much for my wardrobe.”
The conversation quickly turned to how difficult it was to sell second-hand clothes in the UAE and, after a few more coffees, the sisters came up with a credible business idea – My Ex Wardrobe.
Bekky says: “We wanted to create a portal to sell mid to high level high street clothing and thought we could start by offering event style sales.” Sian adds: “It seemed natural to work together as we all bring totally different aspects to the table.”
At the start, the sisters worked on every detail of the business together, until their own individual strengths led them to focus on different aspects. Today, Teagan deals with customers, organises sellers and oversees the control of the stock while Bekky leads on the planning and financial aspects of the business and Sian manages the business partnerships, media relations and social media.
The siblings hold monthly pop-up shop events in local cafes and restaurants, where people can purchase clothes and enjoy complimentary pampering, and customers can now sell and browse items and get access to membership perks on their new website.
But how do they keep business and family life separate? “Sometimes we find it difficult as there’s always something to be done, new ideas and new themes. But we do manage to switch off from it at times. Usually when one of us says ‘right, that’s it for today, let’s talk about something else’,” says Teagan.
Working together has also given the business an extra edge. “It’s always fun to tell people we are sisters and see their reaction,” says Sian. “Most people tell us they are jealous that we have our family here and I understand that. Some people can guess when they see us, as they say we all look similar!”
But while the sisters regard each other as best friends, there are some downsides too. “We know each other so well it makes being on the same page really easy. Sometimes though, emotions run high and it can be tough when trying to make decisions. Our way of overcoming this is to walk away, take a breath and start again!” laughs Bekky.
Sian adds: “We sometimes can be too honest with each other. But that's not really a bad thing in business. Too many business partners say what they think others want to hear, and that’s not the case for us.”
The sisters’ advice for people who are considering starting a business with their family? Go for it, but set some clear ground rules on how to deal with conflict from the start. As Bekky says, “Understand that it is not personal, it’s business, and that you all want the same thing at the end of the day.”