Working with Your Sister

April 06, 2016

Working with Your Sister

Nell and Maggie, Founders of Hi Little One, way, way before the founding of Hi Little One

{I wish so badly I could remember what she said just then. Looks pretty juicy.}

This is one of two pictures, of just Maggie and I, that we had before starting Hi Little One. We’re sisters of course, but when you have six other siblings and 8 years between you, there aren’t a ton of “couples” photo opps.

Maggie and I haven’t always dreamed of starting a company together. In fact, I don’t think we really thought about it at all until this particular idea presented itself. Before starting HLO, the roles in our sisterhood were well defined, and we were both very comfortable in them. She’s the older, wiser, more stable (and better dressed) sister. I am only slightly younger (funny how the age gap shrinks as we both get older), more visual, more spontaneous, more….brunette one. Growing up Maggie helped my mom out at home a lot, and played an almost maternal role within our siblings. I have twice as an adult spent the summer living in her basement (2005 & 2008), so to say she has often been a second mom to me is accurate.

I don’t think either of us knew what to expect when we started working together, and this first year of business has been a crash course in getting to know one another as professionals.

For example, I am more type A (high strung?) than I originally thought, while Maggie brings a better perspective of work-life balance. I’m good at making products, she’s a boss at sales. I have a greater capacity for risk, Mags is good at thinking pragmatically and bringing us back to our goals. We are both great idea people and brainstorm really well together.

It seems like everyday we are faced with a new challenge and in the process of sorting through it, we get to know each other a little bit better.

And sometimes, it's just not easy working with your sister. We're both quicker to hear a short tone in the other's voice and less likely to let it slide. I’ve spent my life trying to impress her as my big sister, being an amenable younger sibling. Now working through disagreements is part of our every day, and it can be awkward at times.

But other times, it so apparent that I couldn’t do this with anyone else. Like when I am out of ideas and stressed and need both a pump up from my sister and a productive conversation from my business partner in the same 5 minute phone call—she’s got it. Or when I fall in love with ideas that just aren’t that good, Mags is comfortable being completely honest and killing my dreams saving me from heading down a path of no return. Or when I had a painful miscarriage this January and really, really didn’t feel like running a baby company at all, much less presenting at a conference that same week, Mags made it “OK”. OK to cry it out for awhile, OK to just act normal when I felt normal, and OK to switch back and forth every 30 seconds for the two days we were in Salt Lake. There’s no way I would have gone on that trip with someone who was just a business partner.

Working with family, and the ups and downs that go with it, is a topic not entirely foreign to us. Our Dad ran a construction company with his cousin, that was started by their dads, that was an offshoot of their grandfather's lumber company. Three lessons were reiterated through our childhood: work stays at work, never fight over money, and family comes first. Still, this first year has felt like unchartered territory. When do we work? How do we work? Who gets the final say when we can’t agree? This venture has been more challenging than I anticipated in just about every facet of the business, but if the payoff is just knowing my sister in this new way and having had this time to grow with her, then it’s been more than worth it.

Should you start a business with your sibling? I say yes! Just make sure you have as good of one as I do.