How co-founding a startup with your sibling can turn out to be either the best, or worst, decision you ever make.
Since starting Dashmote with my brother Dennis in 2015, one of the most common confusions we face every so often happens when meeting new people. If we meet new people at networking events, startup conventions, or other business related functions, people are often confused by the fact that we look so similar, have the same last name, and are both founders of Dashmote - often ending up in the assumption that we are the same person. Though this can be a funny way to break the ice and to introduce ourselves in a more interesting way, it’s just one of the many side effects that we didn’t think of when embarking on the adventure that is Dashmote 2 years ago.
Working alongside any sibling, in any way, can more quickly lead to arguments and scuffles, or belly laughs and hugs than with a non-relative - which is why embarking on a business venture with them can turn out to be a horrible or fantastic idea, depending on your relationship. However, with success stories of Rocket Internet (founded by Alexander, Olivier, and Marc Samwer), Stripe (founded by Patrick and John Collison), and many more, we see that a sibling duo can turn out to be one of the secrets to success in launching your startup.
Once you decide however, or perhaps give in, to the idea that your sibling will be your fellow co-founder, you will be immediately faced with unique challenges as well as benefits that come up in day to day startup related activities that stem from the deepness of the relationship and lack of barriers that come with growing up together.
You know each other's’ strengths and weaknesses.
Having grown up together, Dennis and I know each other better than we know ourselves sometimes. Dennis understands that I have strengths related to finance and business development relationships, and I understand that when it comes to making executive decisions for the good of the company, leading people, and keeping up moral, Dennis shines through. Using this knowledge of one another, we can easily divide day to day tasks, and ask each other for help quickly because of our deeper understanding. Not only hard skills, but also soft skills such as people skills and stories from experiences are much more accessible and we can apply each other's skills as if they are our own to different situations.
Arguments on a whole other level, but can always be solved
Growing up, sibling rivalry could get fierce at times - especially when it came to playing games against each other. We didn’t know it then, but this experience turned out to be an early test drive period for us in finding out how we could manage our arguments as best as possible but still work together and solve the issue at the end of the day. Which is why we still have arguments that are reminiscent of our youth, but we are always able to put our differences aside and move on quickly to the solution since we can express ourselves fully without the barrier which is usually between two unrelated individuals.
Celebrating the milestones together
Normally after you have completed a sale, or won an award, you can’t wait to share the experience with your friends and family - even if they may not completely understand the struggle and the meaning this has for you and your company. Because I work daily alongside my brother, however, every small milestone and victory is thoroughly celebrated and appreciated by each other in a special way - because they were right alongside of you. I remember one particular event where I won my first pitch competition on behalf of Dashmote. This was the first victory I felt I could share on a level with my team but also with my brother - who saw the struggle and growth, and encouraged me along the way.
Mixing family life and business life
Having a sibling who works alongside of you in your company provides an outlet for you 24/7 to talk about virtually any aspect of your life. This is definitely a positive aspect, and a bit of a luxury; as you can always discuss with them what is going on in your head regarding business out of the office, and what is going on in your life inside the office. Two brains are better than one and being able to brainstorm your ideas with that person at any point possible leads to better ideas generated and more communication.
Also as another positive - it’s easier to explain to family what is going on with the company, since only one of your has to do the talking on behalf of both of you. This comes quite in handy at the family dinners with the always fun “how's everything going?” question.
You’ve always got eachothers’ backs - that sibling bond
I remember always having a sense that my brother’s always got my back, and my best interest at heart - never had to worry about an hidden agenda. When someone puts you down, or picks on you, you know your sibling will say “Hey- no one can do that to my brother except me!”
During our time at Startup Bootcamp (Accelerator program), I started training my pitch and received the feedback that I was terrible, and it wasn’t really possible to get any better than what I was able to do. When my brother heard that he dedicated time and patience to helping me train so that I could prove them all wrong. In the end, because of his help and my motivation, I was able to deliver one of the best pitches in front of 500 people during Demo Day - a milestone I definitely wouldn’t have been able to reach without his ongoing support.
Here are some final tips I have for you, in making your startup work with a sibling as your co-founder:
- Only consider it if you have already have a healthy connection with each other - this means arguments and fights may occur - but you know how to get past them
- Develop a systematic process to avoid conflict - like carving out separate areas where each sibling is in charge
- Always include non-family members with special expertise in top-level decision making - we at Dashmote have a great third co-founder, Matthaeus Shreder, who is always able to balance our decision making
- Always keep in mind that at the end of the day there is no one that can replace your sibling, so respect each other and know that no argument is stronger than your bond
I decided to write this blogpost in order to share my personal experience of how I continue to manage working successfully alongside my brother, and ceo & co-founder, Dennis at our startup Dashmote, and to share with you the good the bad and the ugly that comes with this. I hope that with this post it will help you in making the decision to see if it’s right for you - to enlist the help of your sibling in your new venture.