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Should Siblings Be In Business Together?

Brothers and sisters may know each other better than anyone, but should they be in business together?

Sibling rivalry is normal. Just look at the very public feud, pitting Singapore's prime minister Lee Hsien Loong against his sister and younger brother. Epic family stories weave together threads of love, ambition, passion, and betrayal. Therefore, the business of siblings working together can be fairly problematic.

While the truth is that there are many reasons for unsuccessful sibling partnerships, here are some stories that may offer a word of advice on how to make it work as siblings in business.

A Poke Theory and Alter Ego
Founder Joey Lee on working with sister Vannessa.

When we were little, my sister Vannessa and I, would always say to each other: "One day, we'll open a cafe together.” To have made that faraway goal come to life, and to be working on growing the business together every single day — that alone is really rewarding.

I've always been the more stoic, logical, and sometimes brutally honest one, driving the business strategy in our company, which is necessary because the numbers form the backbone of every business and lead to the possibility of expansion plans. My sister, Vannessa, is almost the complete opposite, because she's the softer, more emotional one, but that allows for a different perspective to our combined leadership. My creativity is confined mostly to the ideation of food and drinks, which is handy given how I oversee the logistics and operations as a whole, but we can never have a fully rounded partnership without her being the creative force to sculpt our brand and marketing strategies. That's not to say that there aren't instances when we clash, as our leadership styles are very different and disagreements do arise, but it's all about proper communication and conveying our perspectives to understand which is the better option, given that we're a team and our decisions should be made together.

Early in the business though, we had to let go of our first full-time staff who was handling HR and finance, thus leaving our accountancy in a total mess. My sister took over that aspect of the business, without realising how time-consuming it would be. She barely had the time to oversee the creative parts of the business anymore, and over those six months, it ate away at her because she had always hated numbers. She would lash out at me many times in frustration. But we both worked hard to grow the business so we could eventually outsource those aspects of the business, which allowed her to focus on what she loved and did best. This was just one of the many instances that tested the mettle of our relationship but the perks soared above the negatives on any given day.

Alcohol Delivery
Co-founders Travis and Suzanne Chia on working together.

Suzanne: Our parents always told us that we make really good partners in business due to the complementing characteristics we possess. We are able to make up for each other’s flaws. We took their advice, gave it a shot, and here we are today. And, they were right. It’s fun as we think alike. Although there are times where we may disagree on certain things, we never let that affect our working relationship. We have a common understanding that whatever decisions we make, it is for the betterment of the company. I think keeping our communication open is important. Communication is key to everything, not just in business but in personal relationships as well. Being open, honest and transparent to each other and understanding our expectations and goals keep us focused as well.

Travis: I felt that we had great synergy in terms of mindset. And when in need, we always turn to each other. We trust each other and have each other’s back. When trust is established, things can progress smoother and faster as well. Of course, there are times when we debate about business decisions but we both understand that to achieve something great, an even greater effort is required. As cliche as it may sound, blood is definitely thicker than water. Always remember that all things can be ironed out no matter the situation, and knowing that we can trust each other in every aspect.

The Working Capitol
Co-founder Saranta Gattie on working with brother Ben.

The Working Capitol is all about fostering collaborations and leveraging different strengths to bring about business benefits. And this also mirrors how Ben and I work together as co-founders.

We have always thought about doing something together but for a long while, we had been too busy pursuing our own career paths. It was truly a situation of having the right concept at the right time that brought us and our individual strengths and experiences together.

I was exposed to the start-up and co-working scene in Myanmar, and at that point of time, my brother had his eye on a landmark property in Singapore. The idea of creating a space where people are inspired to do their best work, was a need we identified with personally and for the market — thus The Working Capitol was born.

It is the perfect fit for our individual strengths and experiences. I focus on growing our culture and community initiatives as the Chief Culture Officer, while Ben focuses on transforming spaces and growing The Working Capitol into a network of sites as Chief Executive Officer. Together, we present The Working Capitol as a compelling proposition to our members as they pursue their passions.

Being “siblings” in business has never been a thing or label for us, as we see each other professionally as business partners when it comes to work. We’re both growing in our respective areas and going through this journey together can be frustrating at times, to be honest, but more so, fulfilling and extremely fun. There’s an inherent trust and respect that sets a great foundation for everything moving forward and every new opportunity seems to bring us closer together.