What I Learned Founding 8 (Yes, 8!) Companies With My Family

What are the advantages and pitfalls of starting up with family members? A woman who started eight businesses with her son and ex-husband offers advice. By Judy Estrin (CEO, EvntLive, Inc.)

Throughout my career I have loved building companies that leverage technology to solve problems in new ways, creating new markets or industries. In late 2011, after a several year break to write and promote a book on innovation, I jumped back into the startup world when my son David Carrico and his fellow co-founders of EvntLive welcomed me to the team first as investor and executive chair and now as CEO. EvntLive is an online venue that allows you to watch concerts anywhere, anytime. We have developed a new type of service and business model to bring live performance music to more fans and provide an additional revenue stream to artists and the music industry. David’s experience in the music industry and business development ability, complements my technology, business and entrepreneurial skills.

What is it is like to work with my son? A pleasure. He is smart, talented and driven (yes, I am biased, but it is still true) and just what you want in a co-founder. And as his mother it makes me proud every day as I watch him tackle the challenges of entrepreneurship – learning and growing. We have always had a very open relationship based on a deep respect for each other as people in addition to our strong mother/son bond. The biggest downside is that he now calls me Judy and not Mom.

This is not my first experience working with family, I co-founded seven companies with my ex-husband and thus have learned the benefits as well as how to avoid some of the pitfalls of intermixing my work and personal life. Those of you thinking about (or already) working with a family member, or even a close personal friend might consider the following:

  • Don’t bring your personal family dynamics into the office – or if you have to, do it behind closed doors. Every personal relationship involves both good and bad habits and triggers. Being aware and conscious of how you react while working is critical to you and other co-workers. Make sure that roles and hierarchy in the office are clear, especially if it is different than at home.
  • Don’t always bring the office home. It is a huge benefit to have your family understand what you are going through, why you have to bring work home and to be able to talk about it. But respect when the other person needs a break from work, even if you don’t, and be able to tell them when you need to take a breather.
  • Make sure you give each other professional and personal feedback along the way. You can’t avoid friction, but you can minimize its long-term impacts by acknowledging it and being respectful of each other even when you disagree. Dealing with disappointment in a co-worker who is also a close friend or family member is harder because it is more personal.
  • You may be comfortable with the blurring of boundaries when personal and working relationships overlap – but others around you may not.  Be open; make sure people know they can discuss the issue.  Don’t get in the habit of people believing that talking to one of you is the same as talking to the other and stay away from favoritism.
  • Finally, this is not a situation I have had to face, but you should talk to each other ahead of time about what happens if things don’t work out.  What if you simply can’t work together and maintain a healthy personal relationship – what will you do?  Who will be the one to leave?

For many, working with family should be avoided at all costs – but when the relationship and situation are right, it can be a wonderful and productive experience.

Women 2.0 readers: Would you ever consider starting up with a family member?

61645183_640About the guest blogger: Judy Estrin is CEO of EvntLive and JLABS, LLC. She is also the author of Closing the Innovation Gap. Prior to co-founding Packet Design in 2000, Estrin was CTO for Cisco Systems. Beginning in 1981 Estrin co-founded three other successful technology companies: Bridge Communications, Network Computing Devices, and Precept Software. Estrin has been named three times to Fortune Magazine's list of the 50 most powerful women in American business.