Running a business with a sibling

For some people, the idea of starting a business with a sibling is unthinkable – they are the person you fight with when growing up and then compete with in adulthood. However, for others, there’s no-one they’d rather share the journey of entrepreneurship with. Paul Young, Co-Founder and CMO of property transaction platform Settled explains how running a business with his sister Gemma works for them…. 

Why did you decide to launch Settled together?

The early seeds of Settled were sown when we were both young; our Dad has been involved in the property industry for a long time; this certainly influenced Gemma and I in our early careers when we both spent time working in estate agents (me as a mortgage adviser and Gemma as an estate agent). It was here that we got to see the inner workings and began to see many of the problems that still drive us today.

Our careers took a different course when we both developed an interest in the then ‘emerging’ tech and internet industries. I joined one of the big advertising agencies and later worked for a marketing tech start-up. Gemma went to work at Google where she stayed for many years, working across different markets.

Throughout this time we saw the internet’s impact on so many industries, everything from online travel to banking and on demand video. Pretty much every industry was profoundly impacted by the invention of new digital solutions, except property. 

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We continued to see friends and family go through common and seemingly unavoidable stresses, strains and expenses when buying and selling homes. So in 2014 we decided to take the plunge, leave our jobs, and start Settled.

As the business has grown our partnership has also evolved. In its simplest terms Gemma is co-founder and CEO and I’m co-founder and CMO. Being co-founder means you’re pulled into almost every aspect of the business at different points, but as we grow and hire more amazing and talented people, we’re getting to spend more time in our respective CEO and CMO roles.

What are the challenges of running a business with your sibling?

It’s no secret that founding a business is difficult and that at some points, co-founder relationships come under serious pressure. The good thing is that Gemma and I have been dealing with the ‘brother and sister’ dynamic all our lives, so know how to be with each other.

While we sometimes have differences of opinion, we are quick to discuss our ideas and find a solution that enables us to move forward. We aren’t afraid to disagree with each other and we know that when there is a problem, we can speak directly and frankly to each other.

We try not to mix the personal with the professional, and while at work, we are committed to making Settled everything we believe it can be. Outside of that, work chat is banned (mostly!).

If you wouldn’t want to sit next to someone at a Christmas dinner, then maybe they’re not right for the culture of the business.

What are the benefits of running a business with your sibling?

I often hear of co-founders relationships being put under so much pressure that they break apart. Sometimes these relationships are new and purely business focused, so if things aren’t working, the natural progression is to go separate ways.

I see big benefits in working with your sibling. You couldn’t know them any better - you know their moods, what’s going on in their lives and how to approach different situations. You will also be there for each other no matter what. 

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How does the fact that you’re siblings affect the culture at Settled?

We like to think of Settled as a big family. We hire people who, like us, have a genuine passion for what it is we’re trying to do. We also hire based on a family-centric concept - the Christmas dinner test. It was introduced to us years ago but we still discuss it now. If you wouldn’t want to sit next to someone at a Christmas dinner, then maybe they’re not right for the culture of the business. Of course, everyone at Settled has passed the test!

What advice would you have for other families considering going into business together?

Before diving in, take a moment to talk through the journey you’re about to embark on to make sure it’s right for you. If you feel it is, then go for it. Like any business, make sure you define the areas you own and are accountable for and make sure you communicate regularly.  

Lastly, as much as possible, keep work in work. Our careers are a part of our lives, not our whole lives, so make sure you find the time to just be a family. 

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