This Raksha Bandhan, Startups Teach Us about Sibling Revelry
Starting a business certainly is risky, so why not do it with someone you trust more than anyone else—i.e. your dear old sibling?
Cain and Abel, Venus and Serena Williams, the Jackson 5, Kansa and Devaki, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, the Wright brothers, the Bennet sisters, the Brothers Grimm, Anil and Mukesh Ambani...famous sibling relationships, whether amiable or otherwise, cut across the realms of mythology, religion, literature, monarchy, aviation, entertainment, politics, sports, and business, among several other fields. Having witnessed power duos such as the Turakhia brothers and Kyazoonga's Bhatia siblings, the startup world is no stranger to alliances among sisters and brothers.
On the occasion of Raksha Bandhan, we asked startup founders about the ins and outs of running their businesses alongside their familial partner(s)-in-crime. Expecting to hear sordid details of competition and conflict, we instead chanced upon entrepreneurial lessons redolent with trust, compatibility and friendship! (And maybe a dollop of benign leg-pulling!)
"Our skills complement each other really well, so it made complete sense for us to partner to start something that we both love!" says Akanksha Chhabra, who launched Pastels and Pop, a Punjabi handicraft store, with sister Aarti in 2015. While Akanksha, a self-confessed people's person, manages employees and daily business operations to ensure that deadlines are met timely, Aarti is the creative core of the company and heads the design team. This mix of compatibility and complementariness explains why so many siblings turn business partners in the first place. "We've grown up together and the sibling bond is so unique in its own way. I know how to get things done from her and she knows the same. I'm more analytical and she is more creative, hence it's the right balance to carry out our business," says Rohan Sharma, who works with sister Prakshi to manage RK Jewellers, a family business started by their parents in 1995.
Trust is another key motivator at the core of business partnerships among siblings. As children, siblings often spend more time with each other than they do with parents, friends or teachers or even by themselves. That's a sound foundation that can be leveraged for life. "Starting a business certainly is risky, so why not do it with someone you trust more than anyone else? It's always important to have trust in your colleagues, especially at the top, and family ties make it that much stronger," adds Rohan. Akanksha agrees: "Between us, there is a sense of comfort that we wouldn't have with anyone else in the world. We can trust each other blindly; we can be brutally honest with each other and still be there to support one other when needed."
Sibling collaborations, however, are no cakewalks. Intertwined with all that trust, intimacy and understanding are two distinct personalities and approaches to life. "There are real disagreements at times," concedes Rohan. Despite shared values and ethics, the perceptions and opinions of any two individuals will naturally always vary. "But for us, the most important thing is to overcome those disagreements and help our business grow. Since we are siblings, we may conflict but can neither hate nor run away from each other. Ultimately, we have to find a solution," he explains. "As siblings, you have also spent years getting to know one another via a range of experiences that have given you enough idea about one another's operating style, strengths and weaknesses. In contrast to a coworker or friend, your brother has had time to not just accept but also learn how to work around the oddities you have had since you were too little to hide them," points out Anurag Jain, who set up Cardekho and GirnarSoft with brother Amit.
Akanksha is rather thankful that shared childhood experiences and upbringing have not subdued the diversity in opinions in the sibling dynamic at work. "I'm the more careful, calculative operator, always thinking of future moves, while Aarti is the one with strong instincts, always spontaneous and courageous in action. In any relationship, personal or otherwise, there needs to be a healthy, ongoing conversation. Our natural rapport always keeps the dialogue flame burning," she says. Rohan believes that individual weaknesses surface as each other's strengths in the sibling business partnership. "People say that if you want to be successful, you should surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. And we did exactly that," he says. Aww!
What, then, is the trick behind balancing a partnership with a sibling and retaining individuality as an entrepreneur? "Being two peas in a pod shouldn't necessarily mean that there is no individuality left. We might look alike, but each of us has different quirks and interests. These aspects inform our daily decisions which we take as a team, so you'll always find flavours of Aarti and Akanksha in every move we make," says the Pastels and Pop duo. "We completely trust one another's business acumen and capabilities, so we never need to encroach on each other's domain. At the same time, there is a sense of responsibility and accountability that lies within both of us, which makes us communicate more often, even if that means having a strategy conversation at the dinner table or in the recreation area," adds Amit. With all that shop talk, may Lord have mercy on their families!
All these brothers and sisters agree though that no matter how old they grow together as business partners, picking on each other in jest will never get old! To that we say, may a touch of irreverence be the order of the day this Raksha Bandhan!