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Businesses Technology

A Family IT/Tech Business?? 398 398

adzoox writes "As I have just hired on my girlfriend to help out with some secretarial work in my Apple consulting, sales, and technical service business, and considering having my brother work with me soon; I'd like to know what the /. readers think about family in the 'Tech Workplace.' Obviously things aren't hectic like a restaurant, but my father and friends have all warned me against mixing business and pleasure and family. Do any of you have successful family owned IT businesses, eBay businesses, or programming/software consulting engineering businesses and what's been or secret to success? If not successful what unique problems did you encounter? How can I make it successful? And most importantly how do you handle authority (tardiness, work ethic, and workplace codes) with a girlfriend?"
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A Family IT/Tech Business??

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  • Careful planning (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BWJones (18351) * on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:50PM (#8563952) Homepage Journal
    Oh, dude. You are opening yourself up to all sorts of abuse from the Slashdot crowd, but I will try and make some constructive comments to head off any noise.

    I have worked in the past with family on a couple of businesses ranging from molecular modeling and pharmacologic development to health care and real estate and I can tell you sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. You will simply have to find out by jumping in, but make sure that everybody understands that running your own business is hard work. Just in case you did not get that: Running your own business is hard work. Sorry to repeat myself, but I have seen the attitude more than once of people saying "Hey, I will start my own business and it will be cool. I can set my own hours, etc...etc...etc...", but many folks have no idea how complicated or difficult it can be. Beyond your knowledge of the work involved, everybody else in a small start up or small company will have to have strong work ethics, some luck and some insight into the market you are looking at working in. Get yourself a good CPA to do quarterly taxes, have regularly scheduled (but short and concise) status update meetings, and decide before you go in, which people are going to accept which responsibilities. Also, be aware that starting your own business can occupy all aspects of your life including your moment to moment thoughts and difficulties can arise if everybody involved in the early stages does not have the same vision.

    Also, I don't know what your relationship is with your girlfriend, but both of you need to establish right from the start whether or not she is an employee or a partner, and you need to decide for your relationship what the future (if any) holds in terms of marriage. Even long term live-in relationships can have "common-law" implications, so if the business takes off, but your relationship does not, how are you going to deal with that? It might also be prudent to establish early on what the investment shares are as well. Who "owns" the business? Is your brother going to be a partner or employee?

  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:51PM (#8563953)
    The thing about working with your girlfriend is that she's not yet your wife. If the relationship fails, you're not going to just lose her love but also her usefulness as an employee... if you're ready to commit to depending on her on a business level, there should be a ring on her finger. You can never underestimate the importance of the front line secretary, she'll be first person most of your customers deal with... everything she does will reflect on you and your company.

    Your brother, by comparision, can't turn on you as easily. Afterall, if there's ever a problem your parents will end up serving as a binding arbitration process. He might walk away from you, but he's never going to seriously cause problems on the way out like an ex might.
  • by LinuxBSDNotSCO (738941) <mgidding@gmail.com> on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:53PM (#8563973) Homepage
    I wouldn't ever consider haveing my gf work with me. I think it is cool for her to have those skills thoug. If she makes a mistake you wont be able to get pissed. I would explain to your family that you will help them start their oen consolting buisness. But if you don't take my advice I will still wish you good luck.
  • by ScooterBill (599835) * on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:53PM (#8563976)
    "he's never going to seriously cause problems on the way out like an ex might"

    Ha! Don't count on it. Family members can be far more treacherous than business partners who just want to move on. There's usually lot's of old baggage in families.

    M
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:54PM (#8563984)
    If you marry her without a prenup, she will suddenly get ownership of half of the business. If that's okay with you, then you really don't have a problem. However, if that scares you at all, you need to make it clear that she's being paid as an employee and that's all she's getting out of the company.

    However, on the converse, if you make it clear to her that she's getting an ownership interest in the company, she'll have more interest in the quality of the work, and she might be willing to accept lower wages today for the good of the company in the future... since company profits and her own spending money will be very closely related.
  • by websaber (578887) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:54PM (#8563987)
    The problem with having your girlfreind work for you is that if she gets tardy there comes a point were you are just paying her to have sex. The great philosopher sienfeld figured that one out.
  • by fembots (753724) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:55PM (#8563992) Homepage
    In my experience, it is important to have clearly defined, separate roles for each person, so that there will never be overlapping in terms of who does what.

    One problem I had with family members is, it's actually more difficult to void your opinion because you still have a "outside" relationship with that person beyond work.

    So the best way is to do different things in the business, as long as everybody has a common goal/mission.
  • by alan_d_post (120619) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:56PM (#8563995) Homepage
    You all need to go into this on equal footing, or the power relationships of
    your little company will screw up the personal relationships you had with these
    people.

  • Get ready.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Awptimus Prime (695459) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:56PM (#8563998)
    Get ready to see what you and your family's social skills are made of.

    If you all enjoy being around each other and are not the typical types who burn bridges or act like hicks, then everything should work out fine.

    Personally, my family and I would never be able to work together due to different beliefs and views on just about everything. Combine that with being stubborn and you have a powder keg waiting to go off.
  • NO (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lukewarmfusion (726141) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:57PM (#8564008) Homepage Journal
    Never work with friends or family. There are, of course, some exceptions.

    Will you have the guts to fire your girlfriend if it comes to that? Or will you simply keep paying her? How about your brother? Unless you're able to look your family or friends in the face as a boss/employee relationship, DON'T.

    Think of all the bosses you've had. Remember the really bad ones? Do you want that position?
  • by gregwbrooks (512319) * <gregb.west-third@com> on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:59PM (#8564032)
    There are so many hurdles to starting a business that worrying about whether you can tell your employee to "shut the fsck up and get back to work" without having to hear about it over dinner that night. Having said that, look around in your community: In other cultures (Indian, east Asian, etc.) it's very, very common for a single family or multiple families to band together and make a business work. Some suggestions:

    • Employees, not partners. Unless you need the equity, it's a lot easier to get out of employment arrangements that go south than out of partnerships.
    • Maybe you treat them nicer than employees, but treat the *paperwork* just the same. Everyone gets an offer letter that spells out salary, benefits, hours, expectations, etc. Everyone gets reviews. Everyone has to document their time. Is it likely someone will sue you? No, but it *is* likely that disagreements will turn nasty if things aren't down on paper.
    • If you can grow your way into it, have someone outside the family in a management role. Things go better if there's someone unrelated in the middle.
    • Ask yourself: Do you really need the help? This is true whether you're hiring family or Joe Techie off the street. Employees are a steady expense in a world of uncertain cash flow -- make sure you're stretched *damned* thin before you commit to the expense.
    Good luck! Oh, and noodle around my weblog [greg-brooks.com] for advice on business development and promoting your business.

  • It all depends (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mgeneral (512297) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:00PM (#8564036)
    In general, I am against mixing family and business. I am a partner in a network computing consultancy. For one, I never sell or do work for family and friends. Its not the fact that they always want the "family-discount-plan", so much as the implied lifetime warranty that pursues.

    In regards to working with family, I've seen it fail more times than it works. Having seen my wife work for a friend, and the subsequently starting her own business and hiring other friends...I've seen many relationships too easily soured by the friendship-employment misunderstandings.

    Anyhow, with that said, I'm a partner in a company, 14 years, with my brother and mother. Now the key to our success is that we each brought unique talents. My brother is business sales and marketing, while my mother is business finance and accounting...me? of'course, I'm technical...why else would I be on /.

    So my secret, if I had one...but I don't, because I openly share it, is don't mix if you bring similar skills. I think unique skills are required...then the family factor adds some value to it.
    -mgeneral
  • by siliconbunny (632740) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:05PM (#8564068)
    I've worked with family in a small programming enterprise on the side. It all worked well because we have a good work ethic (ie no disputes over not pulling weight), and because we respected each other's expertise: I did the coding and documentation, and no-one messed with it. But I didn't do anything with the marketing or management unless I was asked to help. Otherwise, clash of territory can == clash of egos == friction == personal fallings out.

    Your enterprise currently sounds like this, and if it's just employment/contracting your relatives, and not equity in the business, there's probably less at stake. Be fair, be impersonal (ie no "you're fired because you beat up on me in the 8th grade") and treat them like you would any other worker. If it comes to a close call, be prepared to have to work out whether the business or the person is more important to you, and sacrifice the other.

    However, if there's any question that equity is or might be involved, then anything more than a trivial enterprise needs to be set up right from the start. Otherwise, there is a very good chance of a falling out, and if there aren't procedures in place to handle it, it can get very messy -- not just acrimonious, but litigious to a point where the business itself cannot operate and falls apart, and everyone scrabbles over the still-twitching corpse. Especially if someone senses $$$$ in it for them...

    I'm a lawyer now, and it may sound self-serving, but if there's any chance your relatives might work for any serious amount of time, or this business might make a serious amount of money, get a lawyer to settle the basics, in a binding form. Now, *before* there may be big money at stake, and before any disagreements have arisen. Put in place a process to deal with disputes (eg one of you wants to expand, the other wants to consolidate). Put in place a mechanism to handle what happens if one person wants out, or if you all want to go your separate ways. Do they just get cash, or do they get to take a chunk of your assets out too?

    If it's just employment, you may feel that even asking for an employment (or consulting/freelancing) contract might be considered offensive. But you may want to check with a lawyer about ownership of IP created by your brother or girlfriend, though, if that's relevant...

  • and after that (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StevenHallman76 (455545) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:05PM (#8564072)
    thinking slightly more long term.. let's say your business goes really well and you decide to hire someone else, someone not in the family. It puts that new person in a very akward position because they have to deal with typical office stress with the added dynamic that everyone else in the company is in the boss' family. not cool.
  • by benwaggoner (513209) <ben DOT waggoner AT microsoft DOT com> on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:07PM (#8564087) Homepage
    My wife and I have run a home-based consulting business together for three years now. The business is going quite well. I have a few suggestions that seem to make a difference.

    First, it isn't going to work to have your significant other as an employee. She'll need to be a partner. A power inequality in the business side isn't going to work well with what should be an equitable relationship otherwise. This doesn't mean that everything has to be done by consensus - each party can have their area of responsibility (for our company, my wife does the books and infrastructure, and I do the sales and actual consulting. We supervise marketing jointly, since it isn't something either of us is that strong in).

    If your SO is really an employee, how are you going to be able to negotiate a raise, or vacation time, or whatever? You won't be able to treat her "just like an employee" at work and then not elsewhere, and even if you could, you wouldn't want to.

    Also, if you work and live together, you'll need to make sure to get some time apart in your lives. It can be rather hermetic to spend all day with the same person in the same place. This has gotten a lot more complex for us now that we have kids.
  • by mangastudent (718064) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:09PM (#8564101)
    To amplify a bit on some other good replies:

    Do not hire anyone you are not willing to fire, with the attendant consequences.

    Unless you are a master at dealing with people, non-family/friend potential hires or employees will view such a situation with extreme skepticism at best. Me, I spot a business owner one family member to handle the money, but beyond that I never go to work for a company that has more family/friend employees unless I'm desperate.

    In the three or so situations where I didn't realize ahead of time the situation (and one very early startup composed of a set of friends and one brother who was a brilliant programmer), I had very bad experiences, but then none of the managers were very experienced.

    Bottom line is probably "how big do you want your company to become?" If you go the route of nepotism, you'll be very lucky if it ever gets big (unless you have a lot of talented relatives you can hire! :-) You simply won't be able to hire or retain "outsiders" as you need.

    Note this is somewhat akin to "high trust" vs. "low trust" cultures. E.g. (not to single them out, but they're a familiar example), Chinese tend to keep a company inside the family; this limits the type and scope of their companies, and in cases like Wang putting his son in charge of R&D, can (help) kill a company. (It's not likely Wang the company would have survived the transition to PCs, but this sealed its fate (I had a friend working in their R&D at the time)).

  • by mdfst13 (664665) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:09PM (#8564102)
    Just agreeing with the parent post. When you own your own business, you are not your own boss and you do not set your hours: your customers are and do. At best, you can choose when you will work your extra hours and what customers to pursue. However, you will find that you can't really turn away customers, just determine which to actively pursue (going door to door allows you to determine which doors, etc.).

    One has *more* bosses when one owns a business, as all the customers can tell you what to do. At least when you work for someone, only that person determines your salary. On the bright side, you do have more flexibility when one of your "bosses" fires you, as you have others to pick up the slack. However, if that happens too much, you won't be able to find new customers.
  • Marry her (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:09PM (#8564106)
    Employing a family member is a mess. Full partnership is the best thing there is. You may fight like mad but you all know that you're fighting for the same thing. It doesn't make the fights any less intense but it does remove the poison of office politics.
  • by krray (605395) * on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:09PM (#8564109)
    I say GO FOR IT. Do you like and trust your family (I do mine)?
    Coming from working at the major portion of the family business I had no issue working across the hall from my brother. Father running it at the other end of the building. Mom down the hall handling personnel. Heck, the admin assistant to the VP of sales is now my wife.

    Dad started it and we all fell into it over the years. $250,000 to start and grew it to a 20 million dollar little biscuit over the 15+ years we all worked together. The good times were great and the bad sure didn't rip the family apart.

    Economics of it just were not worked -- and what ticks me off is that we weren't getting RICH. I saw many business' come and go over the years with the owners having boats, race cars, jets, too many houses, etc. Sure, there was a nest egg being set aside in various assets -- but the business was MAKING money (then :). Shut the big portion down last year and pretty much went out separate ways -- not big business like the corporate setup before, but ironically we all still work together in one manner or another and of course still have a couple of other spawned family ventures in the works.

    No, it would not have been possible without all of us working _together_ -- both in the thick and thin.

    Heck, I've hired friends into the business over the years (and even had to lay off some of them -- including myself and my wife :(). I've even seen a friend fired from one job (working part time) that was another business from another branch of the family tree (bar tending and drinking the product doesn't work well :). His main job was no issue (and drinking at lunch was warned as a no-no :) ... and even though he's a borderline alcoholic -- he's still a friend (and employed again :).

    Who are you going to trust? Keep your enemies nearby and at arms length. I wouldn't want to hire them though. I'd hire my brother or my wife in a heart beat. I trust them.
  • Re:My experience (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LostCluster (625375) * on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:23PM (#8564190)
    There is the problem, you entered into the deal without a clear meeting of the minds as to how you would be compensated. There needs to be a deal as to what work units are going to be counted, and what the value per work unit was going to be.

    That kind of heroic technical effort should be admired and respected... when it's not, well, the business could just plain colapse.
  • by retro128 (318602) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:30PM (#8564224)
    IMHO, mixing your personal life and business is a very bad idea. Your statement And most importantly how do you handle authority (tardiness, work ethic, and workplace codes) with a girlfriend?" is a perfect example of that. The answer to that question is: You don't. Are you really going to be able to sit her down in front of you and reprimand her as a superior? Even if she takes it without throwing something at you, it will probably go in one ear and out the other. The same goes for your brother. If one of them isn't doing a good job, do you think you could "fire" them? I guarantee that doing so will give you major problems in your personal life, and you just might end up stuck with lots of dead weight just to avoid it.

    However, if you insist on having those personally close to you work for you, you can't treat them as employees because of the reasons outlined above. You're going to have to give them a piece of the promised land - That is, they get a stake in your company. If the company does well, they do well.

    Now, the problem with that scenario is how you are going to handle it if somebody has had enough and wants out of your business. If it were me, I wouldn't be down with someone jumping ship and yet still being able to get their share of the company in the event it's sold. So, what you'd have to do is buy that person out, and that could get expensive for whoever's left. Do you see what I mean about a "can of worms"?

    If you are dead set on this, consult a business attorney, as well as other people who actually run businesses based on this arrangement. Understand VERY, VERY well the implications of having people close to you work under you, or I think you will be in for a toasty walk though hell.
  • You are DOOMED! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by deacon (40533) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:34PM (#8564246) Journal
    I have seen the inside of several "Family" businesses.

    They all share a common trait. The "Family" partners all hate each other with a passion which glows cobalt blue in the dark.

    What's even worse, none of the "Family" members feel they can leave to do something else, because it is "Their" business. So they are stuck with people ("Family"!) they have come to despise, hate, and ridicule to other employees (that would be me in this case).

    In the long run, it would be less painful, less expensive, and more productive to just mangle your genetalia with some sort of pinching/cutting instrument than to do what you are doing.

    I realize that you will not believe me, and that I shall be modded down as a troll for pointing all this out, but 10 years from now, when you and your GF et. al. are at each others throats, you will think back and say to yourself:

    That Deacon person, he saw all this before!

    I leave you with this link, which I am too lazy/inept to embed.

    You will have to remove the extra space after you use leftbutton to copy and middle button to paste in the url bar.

    http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Diction ary&va=cassandra&x=0&y=0

  • by bbsguru (586178) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:36PM (#8564255) Homepage Journal
    I echo everything in that reply, and add this. Planning, yes. Also a really devoted and scrupulously honest Attorney. (no it's not an oxymoron).

    No matter what employees you need to have, g/f's and family change the dynamic.
    I have at times employed my mother, my daughter, my brother-in-law, and a couple of others whose relationship was not so easy to define. The problems you foresee are real. The ones you don't expect are deadly.

    The best person for the job is the one you must have. Carrying relationship baggage around can be more than many businesses can handle, no matter how good the relationship might be.
    The always assumed reason for decisions can be hard on your dealings with other employees. Customers may be reluctant to criticize the work of someone 'in the family'. Most of all, you may be easier (or harder) on someone because of the relationship.

    The most important reason not to have family in the workplace is this. Home should be a refuge from the world, at least the work-world. Keep your work life separate from your family life, and you will find it easier to lave the problems of the day behind when it's time to go home. Bring family into the workplace, and the work day never ends.

    I know, we're all fanatics about our work, it's what we love to do, etc. etc. etc.
    Bull. If you don't provide yourself with a life outside of work, what are you working for?

  • by Daneurysm (732825) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:37PM (#8564259)
    I started a small LLC with a good friend of mine about 2 years ago.

    At first things went slowly. We finally made the transition from working full time at another job and part time at our own to part-time at one and part-time at another.

    Then we made the jump and quit the 'backup plan'...

    Things went well for the first few months, ~$75,000 in sales, lots of random wire jobs, a couple deployments...we were wracking up quite the numbers in the business account.

    Then we hit a very long slump of 'no work' ... most of our steady revenue came from not-for-profits, and it was the time of year when they had to preserve what remained of their budgets... we got slightly stressed. The business account slowly dwindled, and we paid our selves less and less each week. I expected times like that, I was fine... but my partner/best friend of years and years didn't take it quite so well.

    He then picked up a full time job, assuming we'd never work again.

    A day after he starts at his new job I get a call with a job offer for us. a 1 month contract for XP upgrades/deployments.

    Murphy's Law in action...

    That slight spike in our business made him quit his new job, we complete the contract and were okay for a couple months. Then we hit another lull, which I planned for. He claims to have had another job...

    It ends up he was taking calls from customers, doing all the work himself and keeping all of the proceeds accordingly. When confonted on the issue he claimed that he had to because splitting the profits wasn't paying him enough to keep his head above water financially.

    This was enough to ask him to have our articles of incorperation and tax license rewritten, excluding me.

    And this was a very close friend of a very long time. I now refuse to ever deal with him in any circumstance now.

    My main point being that certain people under financial or mental duress panic. I would have preferred to have never found this out and kept a friend. Like a previous poster has already said "You can't really eliminate a reletive from your life so easily."

    Tread carefully. I have seen it work out before, I have also worked with a handful of relatives before. The accusations of nepotism were rampant. And if you think inter-office politics are scummy now, just try it when it involves girlfriends, friends, and/or relatives.

    Jusy my $0.02 Take with an appropriate amount of salt.
  • Old adage (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nnet (20306) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:43PM (#8564286) Homepage Journal
    Familiarity breeds contempt. This applies to family owned businesses as well as non family owned. Heed your fathers advice.
  • Here's a test (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jayhawk88 (160512) <jayhawk88@gmail.com> on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:47PM (#8564307)
    Think back to the day you hated your girlfriend the most. The one day that, for whatever reason, you just couldn't hardly stand to be around her, and could barely control your tounge enough to not say something you would regret forever. A day where you seriously wondered whether she was really the one for you, and had doubts about your relationship.

    Now think about what that day would have been like if you would have had to spend an extra 8 hours with her.

    Doing something like this is certainly possible depending on the couple, but the real question is, why would you risk your relationship in this way? Hiring your brother, sister, parents or 3rd uncle twice removed is easier, because you (presumably) don't have to go home with these people at the end of the day. Even hiring your wife is better, as you're legally obligated to stay with her, and (also presumably) have already decided that your love for her is stronger than any argument.

    But hiring your girlfriend is just asking for trouble. Not be be condescending, but your girlfriend can be a secretary anywhere. I understand that essentially telling your girlfriend "No I don't want to hire you" is going to be a delicate situation to say the least, but you need to find a way to nip this in the bud.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:51PM (#8564320)
    and will they accept it? If you think that would be an issue, then don't do. Business is business which is seperate from work, and nothing is worse than having a family member bring down your hard work.
  • by TykeClone (668449) <TykeClone@gmail.com> on Sunday March 14, 2004 @08:06PM (#8564420) Homepage Journal
    Just make sure that you have them do some real work - something, anything - otherwise it will not be deductible to the business.
  • by iocat (572367) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @08:25PM (#8564533) Homepage Journal
    I'd actually argue that you *don't* want to have to draw clear lines about whether or not she's an employee or partner, friend or whatever. Here's why: if there's even an INKLING in your mind that things might get messed up down the road, and that you better draw clear lines right away, just forget the entire thing. Unless she's already your real 'partner' in everything you do, don't bother trying to work with her too.

  • sexual harassment (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pohzer (561713) * on Sunday March 14, 2004 @08:27PM (#8564545)
    I don't see this having been mentioned yet -- so here goes.

    If your gf is hired by you, then you have a supervisory position over her. If by chance there is intimacy in the relationship (at work or away from work) you have big problems. Should she desire to (!) she can basically control you and your business, since in the eyes of the law everything you do may be part of a pattern of harassment. Fire her and it's because she didn't deliver what you wanted. No raise or raise not big enough? Must be because of that special extra relationship -- and your unfairly trying to coerce her. Give a raise to someone else? Must be because of that special relationship... just think about how it would be played out if you ever went to court for divorce!

    Unfortunately many times the harassment extends to volunteers as well. And travel? It's been ruled that hotels, motels, bars, etc are all extensons of the "office" when on business travel.

    Consider this *very* carefully. Perhaps you can make her YOUR supervisor, give yourself the stock/control, and enjoy the flip side of the situation (everything she does can be viewed as harassment against you).

  • by sakusha (441986) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @08:37PM (#8564599)
    You have to learn to let go. I remember reading an interview with the head of a courier company. He started all by himself, the sole employee, and built up a big clientele. He prided himself for never ever losing a single package, and he did his utmost to always deliver on time. But as his clientele grew, he had to hire more couriers. And suddenly, the new employees occasionally lost packages and were behind schedule. He finally came to the conclusion that nobody would ever be as conscientious at the job as he was, and he had to take human nature into account, and built procedures to allow for human error. And most of all, he had to learn to let go of his tendency to be a control freak.
  • by gone.fishing (213219) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @08:38PM (#8564606) Journal
    At first I just wanted to say "this guy has already made the worst mistake" but then I realized I knew nothing of him, his relationships, and his brother and his girlfriend. At that point I realized that I know of a couple of family businesses that work and I thought about them. In every case, all of the people in the business are mature, responsible and have a real stake in making the business work.

    For you to make this work, you have to make sure they are more than employees, they all need responsibility and need to understand that the business's success or failure depends on their individual contribution to the team effort!

    Of course, since you mentioned Apple, I have to assume that you cater to a bunch of creative types and that smells like trouble enough to me.
  • by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp@@@Gmail...com> on Sunday March 14, 2004 @08:44PM (#8564631) Homepage Journal
    Never work with friends or family, unless you and a wife run a business (NOT a girlfriend). And they have to be there with you from the beginning. Families that employ their kids usually do so as soon as they're old enough to work, in places like groceries and restaurants, and usually they're immigrants with high work ethics. The kids have more of a subserviant attitude to parents from foreign countries anyway, so it works out. Not among Americans, though.

    If you're hiring a relative just to give them a job, well, that's a recipe for disaster. Same for friends. Same for girlfriends.

    Marry her first, and if it works out and she's willing to work long hours with you, THEN bring her on.
  • by wideBlueSkies (618979) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @08:44PM (#8564633) Journal
    >>What happens if your girlfriend, God forbid, breaks up with you? Can you handle seeing her at work, knowing she's not your girlfriend anymore? The reverse is also true, she could resent you. Have a reasonable employment agreement for this.

    Here's one. Say you break up with her, and then decide that you don't want to see her at work evey day. So you fire her. Which is I think is at least a natural thing to think about.

    Now, would she be able to sue for discrimiation? Her case would most likely be that the firing wasn't job performance related. Not sure, but it's just a thought.

    Anyway, this is a really good thread, and there's a lot of good knowledge in here. I've been thinking about starting a business of some sort, and have seen a couple of my initial questions answered already. This is why I love the net, it's great when a community of folks can get together on a topic and bring knowledge and ideas to the table. Nice job /.-ers. :)

    wbs.

  • Bad Practice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @09:00PM (#8564711) Homepage Journal
    Never work with/for relatives.. Or friends.

    Its a good way to kill both relationships.
  • by Kris_J (10111) * on Sunday March 14, 2004 @09:01PM (#8564715) Homepage Journal
    A local resturant only hired family as waiters. This seriously turned up the suck on their service. While the food is great, I stopped going because of this service. You're probably setting yourself up to have to choose between customers and friends/family.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 14, 2004 @09:07PM (#8564743)
    interesting how the parent got modded "Offtopic" while the reply in kind was "Funny". As things go, watch out this post getting its "Troll" tag soon.
  • by M. Baranczak (726671) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @09:26PM (#8564822)
    This is all true; but also consider that running your own business gives you a lot more flexibility in dealing with "difficult" clients. As an employee, you can't just tell that client to go fuck himself, no matter how much you think he deserves it. As a freelancer/proprietor, you're free to make the calculation on your own: is the profit on this gig worth the aggravation?
  • Agreed... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sterno (16320) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @09:45PM (#8564903) Homepage
    Read this guy's post again, he makes a very good point. Both you and your girlfriend are going to need to be able to seperate your work life from your home life. You both need to be very realistic about this or you are setting yourselves up for disaster in both the business and the relationship.

  • Say it with me (Score:3, Insightful)

    by davmoo (63521) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @10:14PM (#8565060)
    This is probably redundant, but at the same time it cannot be emphasized too much. The best advice you can take is four simple words...

    Put It In Writing.

    Spell out exactly what job duties are, what pay is, when consideration for raises takes place, etc. Make sure to include perks and benefits as well as actual money. Also, make it clear whether these people are partners or employees. And make damned sure, if you're in the US, that you take care of their income tax witholding, Social Security, and so on.

    Finally, have a lawyer look over all the paperwork before it is signed. Trust me, you'd rather pay the lawyer now than what you may have to pay out if there is a problem down the road.

    Oh, depending on your situation it may also be to your advantage to incorperate the company, at the very least as an LLC. Another thing to discuss with the above mentioned lawyer.

  • by Dylbert (139751) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @10:40PM (#8565180) Homepage
    My parents own a consulting company that my father runs, doing various IT and environmental work. My brother and I work as employees for the company, on our own seperate contracts. It is not a rare occurance that we work on the same contracts.

    The key is communication and role seperation. Make sure if somebody's got a problem, its out in the open and fixed as quick as possible. Role seperation in this case is threefold - Boss, workmate, and father. When we're working together, its workmate. When we're being paid (or sorting out the books), boss. When we're outside the workplace, dad.

    As far as work ethics are concerned, the individual side isn't really a problem. When you're working as a team however, it might pay to discover whether you really work well together before you jump into it.

    Hope this helps.

  • by wytcld (179112) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @10:42PM (#8565192) Homepage
    This may sound weird but ... what cultures are you each from? What is the prevalence of family-based businesses in the generations just before you? If you both happened to be Taiwanese, for instance ... well then family ties is the only way to do business, because the local cultural ethic is that then you don't screw other family members over with the sort of business practices which are standard when you aren't related. But if you are Japanese, the ethical bond between fellow workers doesn't depend so much on blood family, but instead on recognition of each other as a sort of artificial family ... so bringing real family ties into it would just muddle things. As a result, Taiwan has thousands of family firms where Japan has a few large keiretsu. Yet both cultures end up conducting very successful business.

    Or perhaps you're both Sicilian, or Jewish, or WASP, or.... The point is, do you share between yourselves common cultural wisdom on a business within the family, so that you'll know what each other is expecting and what you can expect of them? And if it's a cross-cultural thing, are your family-business models compatible?
  • Re:NO (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 14, 2004 @10:54PM (#8565251)
    I personally subscribe to the old saying "Never get your meat where you get your bread and butter"

    Works for me.
  • I work with my dad (Score:3, Insightful)

    by krs-one (470715) <vic@openglforuCHEETAHms.com minus cat> on Sunday March 14, 2004 @11:18PM (#8565345) Homepage Journal
    I work with my father at a small software company, and have since 8th grade (I'm a freshman in college now). We get along excellent, and I'm not aware of any employee that resents our relationship. I think the key is that I am not a typical 19 year old: I don't like partying that much, I could care less about going to clubs, etc. all I like to do is work and train (see sig). Thus, my father and I work really well. The employees there all appreciate my hard work (well, recognize it at least). I'm very close friends with one of them.

    Of course, this is not a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. When the company first started, he hired my aunt (his sister-in-law) as the secretary. It worked out alright, but she eventually quit (or was fired, I forget which). So, thats just something to keep in mind.

    All in all, I suggest you follow what the law says (about marriage, and who owns what, etc). I'd invest some time and money in a lawyer and CPA. Good luck!

    -Vic
  • From experience... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by v1 (525388) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @11:25PM (#8565372) Homepage Journal
    I spent a summer working at a store that was without a doubt the "worst case scenario" for a family-run business. The new owner was an honest, hard-working, trusting woman. Unfortunately, her two sons (and their wives) were a pack of thieves and constituted the rest of the staff besides myself. It was not unheard of for the store's till to come up with less cash in the evening than it started with in the morning. Store supplies, namely food, were regularly eaten for breakfast, lunch, and even prepared and taken home for dinner by most of the staff. Money was commonly withdrawn from the till to go next door to the gas station to get pop or snacks at lunch or at any other convenient time. Money was even taken from the till just as they would be leaving for the evening if they wanted to pick up something on the way home. The timeclock, "mysteriously broken" before my arrival, I fixed, amidst the dirty looks I got from the rest of the staff. (this put an end to their cheating on their time cards)

    I realize this is probably not the scenario you're in, but it's worthwhile to keep the ideas in mind. Despite my discussions with her on several occasions, she refused to stop believing in her family, although she admitted she knew the basics of what was happening from day to day. In the end, six months later, it cost her her business.

    There's a reason most employers don't let people with "personal interest" in eachother be in manager/managed positions relative to eachother - it's not easy to ignore your feelings and deal out level-handed management to your friends or family. You might want to consider hiring a part-time or on-contract personnel manager. Maybe just someone you know professionally from somewhere that you pay a modest fee to, to act as a manager and reviewer for your staff. Someone whose judgement you trust, and whom you are willing to listen to even if they have something to say that you're not going to like hearing about. Having this person around to conduct evaluations, discuss problem issues, etc., could easily prove worth the cost, considering your circumstances.
  • by C10H14N2 (640033) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @11:38PM (#8565429)
    My family ran a business with 12 non-family employees for 25 years. Along the way, extended family members (cousins/nieces etc.) and friends came on. BAD NEWS. Office politics happen in all businesses. When you mix outside emotions and alliances, you risk turning your livelihood into a Shakespearian tragedy. The conflicting interests can destroy not only your business, but every aspect of your life. Most people come home from work and can leave business at the office. You can't do that when your coworkers come home with you. In addition to speaking to a lawyer, speak with a psychologist--seriously. Proceed with extreme caution.
  • A-freaking-men! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TrentC (11023) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @11:50PM (#8565510) Homepage

    As a person who is finally seeing the end of the tunnel to an unhappy 6-year "marriage" to a corporation a couple of friends and I formed, let me tell you...

    1. If any one in your corporation or business insists that you don't need documentation, meeting notes, or contracts, they're either completely naive or planning to screw you over at some point.
    2. Anything to do with money must be discussed, agreed upon, and enforced. All you need is one of your partners to bleed a little from the company here or there ("I'll put this DVD player on the corporate credit card, no one will care...") to seriously affect your bottom line, not to mention causing problems when it comes time to do the books.
    3. A corporation is like a marriage; both need real work and a serious commitment if they're going to succeed. If anyone thinks they can just "phone it in" or consider themselves the "idea man", the other partners need to knock some sense into him, and fast.
    4. I would seriously reconsider bringing relatives or love interests into the business. My father, who ran his two of his own businesses for 25 and 30 years, told me "never go into business with someone you want to remain friends with." And if your romantic relationship goes sour, it will definitely impact the day-to-day business (and you want to be really careful if it comes to terminating her employment).

    Jay (=

  • by code-dweller (669999) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:09AM (#8565603)
    You will probably get a lot of grief from folks about doing this. I know I do... but so far, I've been quite happy and so have my friends/family.

    I've seen this work really well and really badly. There are some tricks to it, and it definitely has to be the right group of enlightened, well rounded, reasonably self-actualized people to make it work. Dysfunctional families need not apply!

    Right now I have my brother, my wife, and my oldest son all working with me and it couldn't be better. We all get along, we all do our jobs, and we are having a great time doing it... Even better, we have a level of trust and companionship and sensitivity that goes far beyond what people ever expect to see in even the best "conventional" office setting. One nice thing that goes along with this is that as a team we out produce every "conventional" group we come up against.

    A couple of the "tricks" that seem to make this work (there are really too many to list):

    • You must agree on ethics and business practices. If you don't then there will be constant conflict.
    • You must be very clear on responsibilities and on the chain of command. This can work even in "flat" organizations (my favorite) but it must be in place.
    • Take care to manage expectations carefully. It is much easier for family members to make assumptions about what others will or should take responsibility for, or what they will do as a "favor". If your group has trouble with this in the family unit then you will never make it working together - or worse - you will and it will be a living hell. This one is particularly dangerous and easy to slip into! I can't over state it. Be particularly careful of your own expectations - you NEVER want to find yourself in the position of taking advantage - even a little bit - even if the target of this advantage is begging to have you do it! Keep things fair and well in check. Ask yourself - if my xyz came home from another job and told me this story would I still think it was fair?
    • You must trust eachother implicitly and you must have a completely "open book" policy. If you find yourself in a position where you need to hide information from someone it is time to get them out.
    • You must have similar goals and thick skins. Remember that everyone is in this together.
    • You must be constantly watching out for any signs of blame casting or other divisive behaviors. If you see it, it is time to settle it and remind everyone that this can't be allowed. It's no different than any tight knit team - but it can be a bit more explosive and a bit more dangerous.
    • Don't hire family or friends that aren't up to the job. If there is a better candidate elsewhere then they should get the job. There is no room for entitlements! Be sure your other employees know this too - by demonstrating it regularly.
    • Be extremely mindful of non-family employees and what they percieve. You will be surprized what seemingly happy employees are thinking that they won't tell you - especially where working family members are concerned. You must be very clear to every employee that is a family member - they are responsible for earning the trust and respect of every other person around them and they must really focus on this - it doesn't happen automatically. They should think of this as an extra job. The other employees around them should feel absolutely certain at all times that the family member has their position because they are the best one for the job - not becuase of any kind of favoritism. It helps (though this sounds like a contradiction) if the family members work longer hours and take on tough assignments more readily than normal employees do. This helps to demonstrate a level of effort and committment that will put the regular employee(s) at ease about what they will always view as a special position. There's no way to keep them from viewing things that way - but you can make sure they feel the special position is justifiable.

    Those are some of the hilights -

  • by 0x0d0a (568518) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:39AM (#8565739) Journal
    I dunno...this might be exceptionally nice when it's working nicely, but it seems like the times when you have problems are *really* going to suck.

    Part of a boss's duty are being an asshole when necessary. Sometimes you need to lay down the law ("No, you can't have Monday off -- we absolutely need someone and we're shorthanded."). That's going to be *rough* if you're talkign to a gf.

    Second of all, there's some point in most relationships (especially a gf rather than a wife) where your gf is going to be pissed off at you. Most people cool off at work or away from the other person. You're going to be throwing yourselves together and forcing yourselves together every day, without providing a mechanism for either of you to escape.

    Third of all, there are some times when most *employees* get pissed off at or frusterated with their boss. Dilbert is popular for a reason. Do you want your girlfriend to be pissed off at you at home because you let go a friend of hers at work?

    Fourth of all, this creates a tough power role problem. In contemporary society, the gf/wife generally has a much closer degree of power to the guy than a boss/worker does. Can you really "change roles" at work and home?

    Fifth of all, percieved favoritism from other employees can, I imagine, be bad for a workplace environment. ("Oh, she doesn't have to do *anything* at work because she fucks the boss.") Every tiny percieved favor could be built up.

    Sixth of all, the reason your gf is your gf and not your wife is because you haven't yet absolutely decided that you are able to stand each other day in and day out. Why commit to doing so?

    Seventh of all, people joke about having sex at work, but honestly the temptation is there, and it's liable to make people feel less comfortable.

    Eighth of all, do you really want your girlfriend and you coworkers gossiping about you day in and day out? And what about with your brother thrown into the mix?

    Ninth, can you really spend this much time with your gf? Yes, there are people that work at home (I was just reading Jeff Vogel's homepage) and constantly come in contact with a wife, say.

    If it works, fine. My own father ran a small business in addition to his regular job in which our immediate family worked, but it was much more of a hobby, to help teach us the value of a dollar, than a primary income source. We had a blast...but we worked in more of a contractor-like manner -- if we did X, we got paid N dollars. I'm not sure that I'd want to work with family in a regular business. I also think that I wouldn't involve a gf if at all possible.

    But, hey. Maybe it'll work out just fine, and you'll have a ball. There's an awful lot of companies that have anti-nepotism and anti-relationship rules, though. I suspect that it's founded on at least some grain of truth.
  • Hiring relatives (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dmccunney (715234) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:53AM (#8565809)
    There are a couple of problems with family businesses, and reasons why hiring friends/relatives can backfire. The fundamental issue will be that your girlfriend and brother will now be your *employees*. If everything works out, that's not a problem, but what if it doesn't?

    Let's say thier performance just isn't adequate. Can you *fire* your girlfriend? How about your brother? (And what will happen to your relationship with them if you do?)

    Maybe they handle thier jobs just fine, but every business runs into slow patches. What happens if the revenue to pay thier salaries just isn't there, and you have to lay one or both off?

    And on the other paw, what happens if the company really takes off, and you have to hire yet more staff. Will the new folks feel they won't have a chance at advancement because you'll give preference to family regardless of merit? (You might not behave that way, but convince your employees of it...)

    Are you hiring your girlfriend and possibly your brother because you can get them cheaper than hiring on the open market? That's a whole can of worms in itself.

    I'm not saying you shouldn't do it -- merely that it carries a set of risks you should be aware of going in.
    ______
    Dennis
  • by tomtermite (246492) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:58AM (#8566088) Homepage
    I have successfully employed almost every member of my wife's family (including father in law). They are the most conscientious, hard working, clever people I've come across, so it has been a no-brainer.

    Family employees have a down side -- you (and they) can't be too sensitive, and have to leave work problems at work. But just the security of knowing I can ABSOLUTELY trust them makes up for any negative aspects.

    Go for it!
  • Cover your ass (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Vskye (9079) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:01AM (#8566101)
    I was a former business partner with a "supposed" good friend of mine. I invested $20k in cash, and I was burned for $30k... not counting the $12k "estimated" back state taxes, that was the judgement against me. (living "way" out of state)

    Rules: Always pay a CPA to do your books *every* month. Hold meetings, and keep track of ALL sales, especially shipping via second address situation. (i.e., charge card to second party stuff) Do NOT sign at the bank for being a CPO or whatever unless you're "TOTALLY" aware of everything. Yep, I got burned... big time, and now that previous asshole partner is sitting in prison for 20+ years, but I still got burned for around $45k.

    Results of this: My credit is trashed, had to move out of state and introduce my family to a shelter for the first 2 months. (did get a job right away though, as a janitor vs a systems admin... but it pays the bills) And the other hardships you can just imagine, but it's working out.
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:28AM (#8566202)
    People think a contract is always a written document, but that's not really the definition. A contract happens any time two or more people agree to make an exchange goods, services, and/or money... it's just that the writen document is a very good thing ot have in situations where proof of a contract is needed.
  • by Vagary (21383) <jawarren.gmail@com> on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:59AM (#8566288) Journal
    That's a very good point: it's more important to be formal than it is to be written. In reality, most verbal contracts are vague and writing them down tends to make people put a little more effort into specifying them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 15, 2004 @04:22AM (#8566579)
    You're a brave soul. That's what business owners are, risk-takers, entrepeneurs, folks that balance risk against potential reward. Me, I've done that myself, several times. I grew up in a family business, dropped back out of college to try to attempt to save it from bankruptcy, then ultimately re-created it from the ashes when it failed... all on credit card loans, 2nd mortgages, etc. At one point, I employed my grandmother, my father, my brother, my sister, a cousin, plus most of the employees I'd grown up with who had worked in my family's failed small business.

    The thing is, I didn't do it because I wanted to or because it was a good time to launch a business or because I had a good business model. I didn't really even LIKE that business. I just did it because I wanted to try to replace those peoples' lost jobs, and to help out family. I succeeded in that goal, and the business grew too. My parents retired their bankruptcy, their tax debts, and earned enough to retire from the proceeds within 10 years using that business.

    I was lucky to get away alive. Unfortunately, running that business and having to supervise my father's work made me absolutely miserable, and it eventually lead to unendurable conflicts and bad feelings that divided my family to the point that we haven't spoken with one another in about a decade. I achieved my goal, damn near lost my mind in the process, and to this day, I don't know why my spouse didn't leave our marriage.

    If you're going to be a risk-taker, I advise you to know whether you're an entrepeneur, a dreamer, or just a risk-taker. Know what you expect to accomplish and what your family/ girlfriend employees or partners expect to do and what their roles will be. Know it by putting it ALL in writing and talking with one another about it. Know that it's almost impossible to keep the personal from business decisions when family and sexual politics are also involved. If you still think this can work for you, you have some absolutely huge brass ones, and you have huge faith in yourself, your family and your girlfriend.

    I advise you to write what you will do to resolve the conflict if your business vision gets into conflict with family considerations or the intimate relationship. This especially applies to diverging goals. This plan should include which relationships you would seek to nurture if you found you could not pursue them all. If you can agree on this, you have a slim chance. If you can't plan before the crisis how to deal with it, you are headed toward either a business, family, or personal relationship failure. It's that simple.

    Good luck to you. I wish someone had explained to me 20 years ago that good intentions, benign best wishes, and simple faith alone wouldn't do it all. I tried to keep all three, and found I didn't WANT to stay with that business or my family anymore after 3 years, and managed only to marry the girlfriend. We've been married for 19 years now, but I had such grander, naive notions about what family and friends could do with simple verbal understandings and trust in one another. I was so wrong. With family and friends, it's even MORE critical to have all decisions and expectations transparent to all involved and in writing from the start.

  • Advice: don't. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jotaeleemeese (303437) on Monday March 15, 2004 @06:43AM (#8566954) Homepage Journal
    The best family relationships can be broken by a business environment.

    I really love my close relatives, I don't want to spoil that blurring the line between family and business.

    If you do so just when you thought the working day and stress was over you may find yourself discussing business during dinner or during family gatherings. Do you need that? I don't.

    And what is the point? You can join forces with friends or colleagues to which the emotional attachment is far less strong and with whom you can have properly drawn contractcs without anybody feeling guilty.
  • by DMadCat (643046) <dmadcat AT moondans DOT com> on Monday March 15, 2004 @07:51AM (#8567097)
    You forgot the best part... who's going to set the payscale and who's going to handle raises?

    My parents went in with my Aunt and Uncle (dad's brother) and my Aunt's brother and his wife on a grocery store in a very small town in Ohio back in the early 70s.

    By the time they were finished, my Aunt's brother and his wife were divorced and battling over their part of the store, my Aunt and Uncle decided one day to go out and buy a car through the business and not tell anyone. My Aunt worked there for maybe 2 of the 20 years it was open, paid herself under the table and no one knew (or could ask without questioning their trust in her and ruining the relationship) how much she made.

    By the time they finally sold the store (something they couldn't all agree on as my uncle viewed it as his store) they only got about a third of what it had been worth when they started discussing selling it and my parents and my Aunt and Uncle don't speak anymore.

    This was only a brief rundown of the high points of the last years. There was the time my Aunt's brother fired my brother (working as a meat cutter there) which put my dad in an awkward place. All sorts of fun when you mix family with business.

    My advice? If you're going to do it regardless of all the warnings you're given here, if you do nothing else hire an impartial accountant to keep the books for you.
  • by spacerabbits (710068) on Monday March 15, 2004 @08:20AM (#8567177)
    Will you marry me? (You realise you'll still only be an employee, right?)
    A prefessor of mine always said: "Never touch the pay-roll".
    Of course, if you touch it before it might not be aplicable :-)
  • Re:A-freaking-men! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dubl-u (51156) * <<2523987012> <at> <pota.to>> on Tuesday March 16, 2004 @01:27AM (#8575994)
    Excellent, excellent advice. I just wanted to amplify one point:

    If any one in your corporation or business insists that you don't need documentation, meeting notes, or contracts, they're either completely naive or planning to screw you over at some point.

    Yes, yes, yes! Starting a business is really exciting, and everybody feels like things are going to go great. It's so easy to say, "Gosh, we can do the paperwork later." I have made this mistake myself, and always regretted it.

    Take full advantage of that happy initial period to get something written down. It's sort of like having insurance: you get it precisely because you hope to never use it. At the very least, make sure it covers the basics: who puts in what (money, time, connections, etc); who has to do what; how and when people get money out; who is in charge; what happens if there is an unresolvable disagreement. Keep in mind that the partners can always decide to change the agreement later; the agreement just makes clear what people must do when they can't agree.

    And good luck!

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