You share the same genes, same upbringing, same values. It’s one of the longest relationships you’ve had in your life. It’s no wonder that many aspiring entrepreneurs look towards their siblings when building a startup.

When Sara Nyyssölä came up with the idea of a quality second hand online clothing store, the first person she pitched it to was Laura, her older sister by two years.

“She immediately got excited and said let’s do it! In the beginning, we would take photos for the online store in our parent’s garage, so they were involved too”, Sara reminisces.

She immediately got excited and said let’s do it!

Now the sisters have been running WST (a short for We Started This) online and in a physical location for 5 years. Their goal is to make second-hand shopping as enjoyable as buying new.

In the beginning, both sisters did all kinds of tasks. Today, work is shared on a “who does what best” basis. Laura is in charge of marketing and partnership, while Sara is more hands-on with the product.

“My strength is that I plan a long way ahead and dream big. I trust in our product and think it will take us a long way. Laura is the more pragmatic type who wants things done ‘right’. She sees and fixes details that I wouldn’t even notice. Without that we wouldn’t go very far”, Sara says.

Experts believe that the best way to go about family-run business is, to be honest.
Krista Elo-Pärssinen, a senior advisor at the Finnish Family Firms’ Association, encourages siblings to do just that: look at your sibling with an honest eye and think, do we know different things?

“Don’t start doing business with your sibling just because they happen to be your sister or brother, but because your strengths and know-how complement each other”, Krista advises.

Krista has seen plenty of powerful sibling combos. Usually, these teams have several things in common.

“There’s a respect for who the other person is and what they can do. It’s also essential to define clear roles. What are you responsible for and what am I?”

Undefined or unclear roles call for trouble. In family-run businesses, there’s always the danger that playground quarrels find their way to the company.

“Sibling relationships are often defined by a past competition for their parents’ love. As long as there’s more support than competition, it can be a wonderful combination, because siblings know each other’s weaknesses and strengths best.”

Sara knows the importance of this, too. She knows what her sister likes, how she acts under stress and what she’s like when she’s angry. Those are things you can’t scan in a job interview.

“At any given moment, I know I can call Laura and she’ll never leave me alone in a difficult situation. Because I have this insane trust in her and her goodness as a person, all smaller disagreements cease to matter.”

In fact, according to Sara, there’s a big chance WST wouldn’t stand today if it had not been founded on a solid sibling relationship.

“Speaking people on board with a good idea is easy, but when things get rough, it’s harder to find a shared direction. Laura and I share the same values and tenacity to keep going at this.”

The best part about working with your sibling is the fact that you know each other well.

“Laura is such an amazing person. The fact that I get to see her every day means the world to me. For me, work is about spending time with people I love. I am happy to realize this now, and not 10 years later, looking back at these times.”

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Sara’s considerations for founding with a sibling:

Do a due diligence

Look at your sibling and ask, do they know something I don’t? While you’re trying to build a team with a versatile skill set, having another you will not help. In the beginning, the team is all you have.

“You should share the same vision and values, but have different strengths. Laura knew much more about photography and graphic design, which helped us forward. Taking your sibling on board because you don’t need to pay them as much may be an expensive decision in the long run”, Sara laughs.

Think back on your fights

Be mindful of how you have dealt with tough situations in the past. If you have a fiery history with your sibling, you may want to be cautious with partnering up with them.

“Has someone always sulked after a conflict? It’s perfectly OK to have different opinions, but nobody’s goal should be to get to say the last word. Usually, future behavior can best be predicted by the past.”

Bring a neutral person in

If you have strong family and friendship ties in the founding team, it might be a good idea to bring in some neutral ground. In WST (where the third partner is Sara’s and Laura’s good friend Marta Jaakkola), Sara credits their fourth partner, Axel Toivonen, for this.

“Axel joined the team purely on a business basis. He has a mindset for scaling and growth. Every time someone comes in from the outside, new ideas challenge the way we have always done things. A startup should always be ready for that challenge!”

Would you start a business with your sibling?

By Milla Lappalainen.

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