How to run a family business

Many start-ups are also family businesses, working with spouses, siblings, or parents and children. If you’ve got a shared passion, it makes sense to make it part of all of your lives – after all, you already know each other inside out. We spoke to Virgin StartUp funded businesses about what it’s like to start up with a family member (or several!)

Nom Noms

Lisa Sohanpal is the co- founder of Nom Noms, an award-winning company creating nutritious ready-meals based around exciting world flavours. She founded the business with her husband Dr Imrat Sohanpal.

Our business actually came out of something we needed as a family - to have healthy home-cooked food, ready to feed our three children at the right time. We both are busy working professionals who enjoy international cuisines, and trying to replicate those flavours and dishes was extremely time-consuming. So I left my high-flying corporate life within the medical devices industry to start up our new venture within the food industry. My husband is an anesthesiologist and pain specialist, co-founder, director and the major investor within the business. He remained working with the NHS whilst I immersed straight into product development and branding around the time our third child was born.

The whole family all got involved during the product development and testing stage. Many days and nights were spent with our close family to create the perfect recipes for our launch. We had chief stirrer, chief chopper, chief taster, photographer, tester, quality control, spice blender, and recipe-builder roles when we started in our home kitchen. Then there were the chief baby-sitters, who were always available free of charge.

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We love the freedom to manage our own time, and create schedules that suit us and our family life. In a family business you make all the decisions together and have no one else to report to, which is great. You have the drive and motivation to make it a success as you are investing your own time, money, heart and soul into the business. The other benefits are that you can trust your family members - you know that no matter what you’ll have their back, and they’ll have yours.

There are challenges, of course: you never stop or sleep. The first and last thing on your mind when you go to bed and wake up in the morning is your business. It’s financially stressful and your work becomes integrated within your home and family life. Unlike working elsewhere you could leave work at work, but not when running a family business. You both need to be supportive of each other’s priorities and frustrations, and take the time to celebrate your achievements together.

We’ve had such a phenomenal response to our soft launch start over the last eight months that we are now gearing up to re-launch the brand across the UK and Europe in a huge way and in the very near future. We will be creating many more exciting opportunities for customers to experience the world of Nom Noms as a convenient, tasty and healthy meal choice for the whole family to enjoy.

Read more: Using your family to bankroll the business

Twicely

Adam and Helen Walker are the founders of Twicely, an ecommerce business buying like-new, branded clothes from people who want a convenient and easy way to sell the clothes they no longer use, and then selling them online to customers who can buy their favourite brands heavily discounted from the original price.

We started the business around the kitchen table late on in 2014, and moved into our current premises in mid-2015 – and the whole family gets involved!

Myself (Adam) and Helen are the two managing directors and run the day-to-day operations of the business. I look after marketing, operations, logistics and IT. Helen runs the fashion buying and retailing side of the business. Both children, Samuel (12) and Eva (10), are regularly involved. Samuel works two afternoons after school photographing stock and helping out with packing and dispatch when needed. Eva, although younger, also gets involved helping list and describe new stock as well as packing and other general tasks.

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We are incredibly focused on the needs of the business. Our financial future is inextricably linked to being able to make a success of Twicely, so there is always a desire to pull together. There is very little conflict as we both understand what is at stake. We can also be very agile - issues can be discussed at any time and decisions reached quickly, often over breakfast or at the dinner table. It's fair to say that we talk a lot about Twicely at home and that allows us to be supportive of each other as each of us really understands what the other is experiencing.

The main challenge is managing the demarcation of home and work life. As you can imagine our work life balance is pretty much skewed towards Twicely and that can leave little space for all of the other 'stuff'. Switching off and finding quality time together as a family is really important to us and something we work very hard at. Not acting like a husband and wife at work is also something that we have had to think about. What works at home doesn't necessarily go down well in an office in front of your colleagues. We have to be very conscious of where the family and professional lines are drawn.

We are extremely excited about the future for Twicely. Sales are strong and customer feedback extremely positive, which bodes well. Our goal is to extend the useful life of all of the products in our customer’s homes that are no longer being used or are under-utilised – such as clothes, electronic devices, leisure equipment and so on. The scale of the opportunity is spectacular, with over £30 billion worth of unused clothes alone taking up space in our wardrobes. We are currently making plans to move into a larger warehouse - our second move in 18 months - and increasing our workforce to handle the growing demand.

Read more: All you need to know about starting a business with your partner

Steam Machine Brewing Co.

Nick and Gulen Smith are the husband and wife team behind Steam Machine Brewing Co., producing bold-flavoured craft beers in the heart of industrial North East England. Their one-way kegs and bottles are sold all over the UK, and they also supply to a strong local market of high-end bars, restaurants, bottle shops etc., as well as serving the public directly three times a week in their brewery.

We started our business as a way to work creatively together away from our previous career paths of a Chemistry Teacher and Sports Manager.

As well as being joint directors and founders, Gulen and I both brew, keg, hand-bottle, label and deliver, on top of serving our high-end craft beers to members of the public in our Brew Room three times a week. Many members of our family assist in a voluntary capacity when they have time, and our aim as the business continues to expand is to employ some on a permanent basis. 

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It’s great working together because we understand each other, and how to overcome our differences in opinion. We can make decisions that aren’t for self-gain, but genuinely have our company at heart. We are lucky that this has never felt like a job, and we get to spend all the hours of the day together. Some people think that sounds dreadful, but we didn’t get married to see each other for a couple of hours every evening, we married because we want to spend the rest of our lives together – and now we do that all day every day. It’s great!

It’s a large workload with erratic hours, and we have to be jacks of all trades. It’s easy to forget there is a life outside of the brewery (apparently!), so we make sure we go and do something different once a week.

One year in and we are currently expanding due to being at maximum capacity, so we’re moving into a premises four times the size. We currently allow the public into the brewery for drinks three times a week, and this has been even more successful than we could have anticipated. We aim to increase the number of days we are open, as well as building a beer garden, which means we’ll be employing dedicated bar staff in the near future too. We are also constantly developing new beers, and exploring the potential of diverse ingredients. Plenty to do to keep us busy!

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