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A Family IT/Tech Business?? 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 @06:54PM (#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 Anonymous Coward
        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.

        This calls for sensitive handling.

        Will you marry me? (You realise you'll still only be an employee, right?)
      • Not quite true (Score:5, Informative)

        by A nonymous Coward ( 7548 ) * on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:24PM (#8564195)
        It probably varies by state, but community property only applies to the increase in value. If the company is woth $100K when you marry, and $120K when you divorce, community property only splits the $20K increase.

        My own divorce showed up this and one other oddity. She provided the down payment on the house, I provided the monthly payments, yet her down payment counted as a gift to community property because it was BEFORE the marriage, and would have counted as her own money if we had bought the house AFTER marriage. Two lawyers told me the same thing.

        Community property is not at all intuitive.
      • Re:Careful planning (Score:2, Informative)

        by Zonekeeper ( 458060 )
        How did this get modded as funny? It should be modded informative. In my state, the wife has to sign off on any legal paperwork to do with the business, whether she works in it or not, whether she understands it or not. This can be a bad thing if she happens to be mad at you on the day you sign the loan for that new piece of equipment to handle that new customer. A stupid law, one that I'm not sure a prenup would preclude it's application.
      • by MongooseCN ( 139203 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @09:22PM (#8564803) Homepage
        I believe if you incorporate the business, then there isn't any "owner" of the business. The business is its own entity. The only person who has control of the business would be someone who owned 51% of the shares or more. So the only way for your gf to own half the business is if she bought half the shares.

        Incorporating isn't something only big businesses can do. If you're a small business, look at an S-Corp or an LLC. I'm planning on incorporating my small business when I start.
        • by gcaseye6677 ( 694805 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @10:57PM (#8565259)
          This doesn't really make much difference. If your business is incorporated, but you are the only shareholder, then the business is still yours and could be split in the event of divorce. If you only owned 25% of a business and got a divorce, then your wife could conceivably get 12.5% of it. A corporation can always help smooth out legal issues involving a business, but it cannot make your business immune from the usual estate laws.
      • by rixstep ( 611236 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @04:15AM (#8566557) Homepage
        Having your g/f as a business partner: I dunno.

        But sex at the office is always great.
    • by websaber ( 578887 )
      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 Alan Cox ( 27532 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:06PM (#8564082) Homepage
      I'd be worried about the way family members trust each other rather than have formally signed contracts and business agreements. This is great until something goes wrong then its horribly horribly messy.

      I've actually provided evidence in one case where that happened and the halves of the family were sueing each other in court including some Linux related matter.

      So stick it all on paper then at the end of the day if bad stuff occurs everyone knows where they stand.

      The other arguments I've seen about family business are really about diversification - if you and your girlfriend both work for the same company you can both lose your job at the same moment much more easily.

      In the UK lots of people employ family members just to improve their tax position. Hiring children to create tax efficient ways to provide university funding, hiring wives to use their tax allowances etc.

      I guess the US has similar "opportunities"
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:39PM (#8564271)
        Make sure that any family members included in contracts are specifically aware that tthis is a business relationship, and include that in the contract. In Australia, you can run into all sorts of problems with family members and contracts unless you specifically ensure that it is a business realtionship. In some circumstances contracts can be voided between family members because it is implied that family members don't consider the contract as a business relationship rather thaan a family one.
      • 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 (=

        • Re:A-freaking-men! (Score:3, Insightful)

          by dubl-u ( 51156 ) *
          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 th
      • by fucksl4shd0t ( 630000 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @06:03AM (#8566837) Homepage Journal

        I'd be worried about the way family members trust each other rather than have formally signed contracts and business agreements. This is great until something goes wrong then its horribly horribly messy.

        That's a big problem, where you just trust your girlfriend to do something that you won't let someone who's been with you for 6 months do. It's also a problem when your family member expects 'extra understanding' because 'we're family'.

        In my experience, you can't start up a business without your friends and family. They will be your first employees, your first customers, or both. There's a mutually beneficial relationship going on. It's easier to ask your family member to work for less money, for example. They want to help you out. They get some work experience for the job (if it's a new line of work for them, they could be getting a new career). In the long run, if things go well enough that the business grows and you've made mostly good decisions, your family member gets extra pay, or at least competitive pay.

        I was in a business not too long ago with my best friend, and before that I was involved with my dad. WIth my dad, the problem was that he didn't trust my wife and wasn't willing to share half ownership of the company with me. I wasn't willing to be a puppet partner, and without half ownership I wasn't getting involved. With my best friend, it was a bit different. We hired his sister, his ex-wife (who is still a good friend of his), and immediately office politics came into play and I was the bad guy (his ex-wife doesn't trust me, and I don't believe she ever liked me, and his sister didn't know me well enough to make her own judgement).

        In the past, when I worked with family at various jobs, there were no problems. I worked with my brother for a long time in the restauraunt business, and we lived together. No problems. We didn't have to draw a line between work and play. SOme days we'd spend the evening bitching about work and other days we spent our off hours playing our asses off. At work we didn't give each other any particularly special treatment. In fact, I was in a position of authority at that place, and I had much higher expectations from him than I did most of the others, so he got his ass chewed more and harder than the others. :)

        There's no easy answer to this question, as much as we'd all like to think there is. You're right, Alan, that having everything clear and in writing is good. But if everything that is in writing is more than you have for other employees, it can be very bad. It can be bad when you give your brother a loan but the company policy is no loans (there are ways to work around this, of course, but not in a startup).

        The way I figure it is this: When you hire somebody, you get to know them extremely well, from one side. You learn about their work ethic, you learn about their standards for living. You don't care about who they date, what they eat, what they read, what they do. You establish a working relationship that works, and frequently pushes cultural boundaries. You agree to have differences with regard to religion, politics, and other heated topics. With family, your relationship frequently depends on all of the things you set aside for the stranger who's working for you. And also with family, you don't know their work ethic, and that's the pivotal point.

        The other problem that comes up has to do with the word "partnership". Marriage is a partnership, right? Well, partnership is just a two-person version of "team". One of the problems every couple, every team, and every workplace faces is figuring out how much work each person is individually responsible. In a partnership, it's common to say "We're each responsible for half, no problem, we agree on that, we know it in advance." Then, a few months or years or whatever down the road, you start getting angry because you think you're doing your half and the other person isn't doing theirs. If you've hired your girlfriend,

    • 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.
      • by frostman ( 302143 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @10:43PM (#8565202) Homepage Journal
        Actually, I have found that I do set my own hours.

        It's just that they are "the waking hours." As long as I set them to that, though, it's my choice.

      • You may not get to set your own hours when you work for yourself ... in a sense at least. I "work" much more than I used to when I was a wage slave - the difference is that now, I like my working situation so much, it doesn't feel like working at all. So, while I "work" more, it feels much closer to "play". It's been well over a year since I faced the intense Monday morning bitterness. Every day feels like Saturday and I love it.

    • Re:Careful planning (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TheViciousOverWind ( 649139 ) <> on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:13PM (#8564128) Homepage
      I've worked with a girlfriend in "software development" - One man company, she acted as a sales(wo)man.
      The problem is that when everything goes great, there's no problems, but if she suddenly decides to go shopping instead of working, you can't help but have negative thoughts about it ("Why doesn't she put in as much work as I do?"), and ultimately those thoughts will affect the normal relationship too, you can't just seperate those 2 things.

      Also I were put in a situation where my (ex)girlfriend told me she found some new customers, just to make me happy, because I was feeling depressed one day, and I later found out that she had not even talked to them.
      Of course this is more of a trust issue, but I found that mixing business and pleasure on a full-time scale, was definately not the way to go for me.
      • 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.
      • 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.

      • 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.
    • by bbsguru ( 586178 )
      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 relations

    • 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.

  • 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 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.

    • 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.

      You should have reminded a friend of mine's brother. This friend ran a small, but successful print shop-type business, and hired his brother on full time. Well, long story short, friend ends up in the hospital for a few weeks. When he g

  • by ScooterBill ( 599835 ) * on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:51PM (#8563957)
    1. Your family may get along exceptionally well but keep in mind that any other employees may view the relationship skeptically and even resent you when you take a long lunch with your brother or promote a family member.

    2. Make sure you have a well written agreement between any family members. If there's a falling out, it hurts much more when there's no clear solution to the business interests.

    3. 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. Be generous up front and you'll save legal fees down the road.

    I've found that when the money's flowing and times are good that even big problems aren't much of a challenge. It's when things get tight that even the best friendship can be tested. A family member isn't usually someone you can say goodbye to and never see again.

    Good luck,
    • by TrentL ( 761772 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:56PM (#8564003) Homepage
      3. 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. Be generous up front and you'll save legal fees down the road.

      I think this is the biggest risk. Not only will you have to remain on good terms with your girlfriend, but other employees will resent your relationship with her.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Not only will you have to remain on good terms with your girlfriend, but other employees will resent your relationship with her.

        This is absolutely true. I knew a couple that was living together, and at work one of them was the owner and the other an employee. All the other employees were convinced that the boss favored his partner over them at work, even though he tried hard to be even-handed.

      • >>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 tha
  • 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.
  • As con I would think is you have your girlfriend around you the whole time. Even if its just your mother or brother, could you say them I will cut your loan or this was dumb like you might could with a stranger.

    Of course there are some pros, like she knows you and what drives you mad, so she might do the coffee like you want it ;)

  • Too late! I was thinking about having your girlfriend work at my tech company!
  • 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

  • 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.
    • Re:Get ready.. (Score:4, Informative)

      by kiwimate ( 458274 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @09:37AM (#8567484) Journal
      I'd go further than this. I didn't see mention of current living arrangements, but, whether or not you and your girlfriend are living together, it's probably safe to assume you spend a fair amount of time together outside of work (evenings and weekends). Being with someone a majority of your waking hours is hard. People are just different, and we rub each other up the wrong way. It happens, even if you are madly in love.

      But most couples have some downtime when they're not around each other. Husbands and wives typically work at different companies. Forget about whether work sucks; it's time away from your beloved which can sometimes provide a much-needed break. Doesn't say anything about your relationship that a break for a few hours during the day is helpful; it's just part of being human. Plus you get to go home and bitch about Matt at work to someone who has no insight, no knowledge except for what she gets from you, so she's (almost) always taking your side by default. (Except if she can tell from how you're describing it that you were being unreasonable, in which case she can tell you and you know it's from an unbiased point of view.)

      On the other side of the coin, if you've worked at a typical company before, you know how people's habits get on your wick. Over time, that builds up. But the reason most of us don't go ballistic on our work mates is because (i) we have self-control, and (ii) we don't have to live with them. See, it works the other way around, too! You spend a heck of a lot of time with people at work, and they also rub you up the wrong way. So going home at night gives you a break from them.

      You, on the other hand, are immediately going to lose that enforced break time. Both ways. I seriously hope for the sake of all concerned that everyone is mature enough to deal with this. The potential is there to negatively impact your relationship with your girlfriend, your relationship with your family, and your business. (Quick question: what happens if your brother has to chastise your girlfriend at work and she comes crying to you?)

      So, having just written a very depressing post (sorry), let me offer my best wishes for your success and encourage you to read every post in this article and think long and hard about all the comments offered.
  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:56PM (#8564001)
    One thing to be aware of is that hiring family members has big tax advantages. Children can earn 7K+ per year tax free, and so on.

  • by Rootman ( 110962 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:56PM (#8564006)
    to accept the fact that you may alianate your entire family. I was involved not in a tech business but in a cleaning business with family. It strained us to the point that I had to quit and things were rough between my sister and I for years.

    If all of you are mature abd straight enough character wist it may work. I've seen one or two family business's that have worled, more that have failed.
  • 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?
    • Re:NO (Score:3, Interesting)

      Unless you're able to look your family or friends in the face as a boss/employee relationship, DON'T.

      I really don't think this would be a problem for me. Fire my dad? No problem! Worthless little fuck. Fire my brother? Why not? I threw him out of my house a long time ago when he didn't pay any bills. Fire my wife? Hell yeah! I can't wait to have that make up sex.

      It's not as hard as you might think. Fact is, to start a business, you've got to have what Mexicans like to call huevos. You've gotta

  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:57PM (#8564009) Journal
    Basically, you just need to keep clear documentation indicating who owns the business and who works for it.

    Additionally, you may want to file for LLC status, so if you and your girlfriend part ways on less than friendly terms, she can't take the business away from you.

    If you just barely manage to stay afloat, this doesn't really matter. But if you start making good money (and to support three people, you presumeably can't do all that bad), CYA.

    Of course, this only covers the business aspects of the arrangement. If things do go sour, you may end up estranged from family and your GF leaving for completely financial reasons. But you can't really do much to avoid that, short of listening to your father (Gack! Did I just say that? Damn, getting old, I guess...)

    PS, IANAL, which for any discussion like this, we could all save time by just sticking that in our sigs. ;-)
  • Why struggle? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Just keep them out of the picutre. Family and friends should support your business, refer people to your business, heck, send them a commission check every now and then, but to employ is to destroy.

  • by Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @06:57PM (#8564017)
    As I have just hired on my girlfriend to help out

    I'm thinking of hiring my gf so I can fire her and outsource her responsibilities to 10 women in India.
  • by gregwbrooks ( 512319 ) * <gregb@west-thir d . c om> 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 [] 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 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.
  • What fun! (Score:3, Informative)

    by apoplectic ( 711437 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:00PM (#8564038)
    This can certainly be a challenging situation.

    My wife and I worked at a tax software company at the same time. I was a member of the development team...she was a member of the quality assurance team. The relationship between a developer and a tester can get chippy at times since the relationship is somewhat adversarial. However, having your wife write up defects in your code can be VERY stressful!!

    We had quite a few lovely exchanges, let me tell you! We are still together. And though we no longer work at the same firm, we have started a software company together. I'm the developer...she's the tester. I must be a glutton for punishment. Maybe this is some strange sort of S&M relationship, eh?
  • Doesn't this defeat the purpose of her sleeping her way to the top? I mean, if she's already sleeping with the boss/owner, where else is there for her to go? Especially just for secretarial work. She should have held out for more...
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:03PM (#8564060)
    My wife and I have worked together for 9 years in a small consulting business (we've been married 20 years). It works very well for us because we have complimentary skills, mutual respect, and agree on many issues of business straetgy and tactics. She can do things I can't do, and vice versa.

    If you try to have a boss-employee relationship with your girlfiend or family, things might get ugly when you have to make an executive decision that they do not agree with or respect. You could try establishing "ground rules" but I'd bet that any asymmetries in the relationship, even if prearranged, will lead to grief.

    This is a high-risk, high-reward issue. If you make this family business work, you will have the best time of your life. If you can't get along with family/coworkers you will have the worst time of your life.

    Good Luck!
  • Priorities (Score:3, Interesting)

    by coastwalker ( 307620 ) <.acoastwalker. .at.> on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:03PM (#8564063) Homepage
    My family was involved in a business through most of the last century. Eventually it went bust handing over from one generation to the next. They all lost their jobs and the elders lost their pensions.

    I kept out of it, reasoning that a business that big would end up owning you. Sadly it proved to be the case as nobody talks to each other any more. I'm not saying dont do it but be aware that relationships can come second to business. Also remember that relationships can change over time. Depends on the people involved, many cultures handle family businesses very well, but they tend to be the ones with very clearly deffined social heirarchy. The best bet would be to set out very clearly the rights and responsibilities of everybody involved - employment contracts right from the start. Then expect to adjust as time passes and the business changes.

    A final suggestion is that the number one rule is dont lose a friends or family members money if they invest.
  • 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...

  • Go for it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Trailer Trash ( 60756 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:05PM (#8564069) Homepage

    There are two views on this, and both have validity. If you do it right, it'll pay in spades. Do it wrong, and you'll end up pretty lonely.

    Personally, I'm all about doing business with my family. Simply put, they are the people that I know and trust. If you hire someone, you really don't know them beyond what their resume says and what you can learn in an hour or two of interviewing, which is not much.

    Money magazine had an excellent article on the subject last year, here it is in the archive:

    Silver Spoon - In Praise of Nepotism []

    The article is an interview with the author of a book called "In Praise of Nepotism", and makes some excellent points.

  • 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.
  • "And most importantly how do you handle authority (tardiness, work ethic, and workplace codes) with a girlfriend?" Cut her off. They always do it to us, like they have all the power. But it's an illusion. It always works. Unless they slap and dump you, of course.
  • by benwaggoner ( 513209 ) <> 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.
  • i would not give a family member any special treatment when it came to employment. i'd only hire them if they were as good as the best person that interviewed for the job... even then i'm not so sure.

    i wouldn't want to have to fire someone i'll be seeing at family reunions for the rest of my life. that is, assuming you get invited.

  • We've managed it (Score:3, Informative)

    by ( 262540 ) <> on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:09PM (#8564100) Homepage
    My wife and I have run a tech consultancy business together for about five years. She does database work and I do just about everything else. The key to avoiding conflict has been for each of us to let the other manage his/her own client relationships. (More recently, she has a regular job and just helps out occasionally.)

    I think an arrangement in which one of us reported to the other would not work nearly as well.

    As an OT asside, we met as students when she was working on her second masters degree in an Engineering field and I was in my seventh year as a sociology undergrad. Little did we suspect that we would some day be running a business together! The .com bubble made for strange career paths. But lest you think I'm a jonny-come-lately to tech, I feel compelled to add that I've been programming since I was 12. I didn't major in CS for the same reason I didn't take English as a second language.
  • 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 realiz

  • by Saeed al-Sahaf ( 665390 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:09PM (#8564103) Homepage
    Well, I guess at least you can have sex with your secretary on your desk, and it's not going to be a problem...
  • 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.
  • My experience (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Monkelectric ( 546685 ) <> on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:13PM (#8564135)
    I'm working with my two best friends in the whole world and it has already turned into a disaster (i've known these people since grade school). They came up with a great idea, started the business, incorported, got 3 clients, got stuck on a technical hurdle, needed me, I worked 12 - 16 hour days for a month to solve their problem. Problem is we never discussed partnership/employee, now Im holding the software ransom until I get what I want (partnership, they sure as hell can't afford to pay me) and the business and a 17 year and 10 year friendship sway in the balance.
    • 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 Wolfier ( 94144 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:18PM (#8564160)
    The more family members get involved, the higher risk that your family will run going backrupt if the business goes under.
  • About 10 years ago my parents opened a computer school together. My mom has some education in Human Resources, my dad was a programmer/DBA. They split the tasks so that everything involving people went to my mom, while all things computer related went to my dad. Whenever there was overlap (hiring teachers, which subjects to teach this semester, which computer hardware shop to trust etc..), horrible arguments ensued.

    After a few years of fighting, my dad gave up on having his say, and just started doing wh
  • by gooru ( 592512 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:25PM (#8564204)
    I worked for a small local ISP that wasn't owned by a family but had a lot of family members working there together. They all more or less got along except for some interesting incidents before I got there that caused an ugly rift. But whatever, the company was then bought out and everyone got laid off. It was a good work environment, as everyone got along with everyone else. However, there was a clear amount of nepotism, and once everybody was out on their ass on the street together, that was no good. My recommendation: don't do it. Are you really expecting to stay with your girlfriend with her working for you? Come on. Really.
  • 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. ary&va=cassandra&x=0&y=0

  • How can I make it successful? And most importantly how do you handle authority (tardiness, work ethic, and workplace codes) with a girlfriend?"

    If she really loves you, she'll put up with the tardiness and lack of a work ethic...
  • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @07:45PM (#8564298)
    All this "new economy" stuff is bullshit. The basic factors and economic principles governing any small biz are the same. Hiring family for an IT biz is no different to hiring family for a lawn mowing etc biz.

    If you are going to mix biz and pleasure, then do it with the idea that you will disolve the biz relationships in favour of the personal ones. The one relationship that strikes me as being a bit dicey is the girlfriend. If this personal relationship is likely to disolve, then your biz will suffer if she becomes irreplacable and decides to move on.

  • Here's a test (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jayhawk88 ( 160512 ) <> 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.
  • Title? (Score:5, Funny)

    by The Ancients ( 626689 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @08:02PM (#8564390) Homepage
    As I have just hired on my girlfriend to help out with some secretarial work...

    To simplify it for you - you've just hired the new Managing Director.


  • by rockwood ( 141675 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @08:03PM (#8564401) Homepage Journal
    My father and I once owned a successful local ISP - We resently sold the business, though due to the offer - not by problems caused due to our working together.

    We had one problem with my sister working for us.
    We later determined the reason.

    It was not caused by her work duties, moreso due to the lack of specifying her duties.

    When my father and I started the company we knew exactly (to the letter) what each of our responsibilities were. He handled receivables, billing, banking, and purchasing in regards to available monies, overhead etc.

    I handled all administrative duties, patching, programming, upgrades, analysis, determining expansion requirements for growth and current loads, etc.

    We evenly divide client support. and jointly decided on possible advertising ventures to increase client base - though the final word in this was his. My final word came in the form of implementation, how to, the means to achieve it on a broad ratio.

    Advanced or trouble tech support issues fell toward me to finish them up and bring them to a close.

    When my sister came aboard with a wide range of experience, we simple dropped her in the middle of it, had a single current chore that she needed to accomplish, though after that we constantly felt she wasn't doing her part. We later determined that the flaw was that her duties and responsibilities were not defined, nor were deadlines sets.

    As long as you specifically indicate what each person has on their 'virtual' plate, what their deadlines are - and what vocal power they have in choices made (whether none or only in certain areas of the business), then I do not see an issue.

    Tardiness is something that you should be able to determine ahead of time. Do the family members current work? Have they been previous let go because of missing work? If they been at their job for year, then most likely you won't have a problem. Though in order to curb this, set a mandatory morning meeting every work day. Specify that the meetings are mandatory and missing or being late for more then two a month will mean immediate termination.

    Another possiblity, if you perform a lot of on-site work, schedule these service times at the beginning of the day. The customer will let you know if the person is late or didn't show up. Then if you need to terminate you can say because the client requested that they have someone different service their needs. This takes some of the wieght off of you and puts it directly on the shoulders of the offender.

    Require you girlfriend to do banking first thing in the morning. Banking statements will have time stamps on them and you'll know if she there on time. Let her know that it is mandatory that the banking be done first thing to ensure all cash and deposits are avaiable as soon as possible.

    Working with family provides an immesnse amount of closeness and fun time. I've share numerous times with my father that lead to hours of laughter. Good Luck!

  • by jafo ( 11982 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @08:17PM (#8564471) Homepage
    My experience with hiring and business would steer me away from hiring family in most cases. We've found, after quite a bit of experimenting, that sometimes things just don't work out, and when that happens it's best to just cut the ties and try something else. While it's usually best for everyone involved, there can definitely be hurt feelings from the fired employee.

    We try very hard to make sure that the person we're hiring is a good fit before hiring, but you just can't really tell until they're in place. Much of it is our work environment, which is rather self-directed. It's also kind of isolating, just because of us all working on computers. So, it's fairly easy for people not to fit in to the environment.

    For example. At one point we hired the ex-girlfriend of a good friend of ours. She hated our work environment, and left within two weeks. She was quite bitter about it, for reasons I don't fully understand. She ended up giving our mutual friend an ear-full, apparently, and we've hardly spoken since.

    If everything works out well, hiring a relative could work out great. In most cases you know a relative better than you know random other people you will hire. However, our experience has been that it's much more likely not to work out.

    We've found it's important to be able to easily stop the relationship as early as possible when it's not working out. It's hard enough doing this with just random people or aquaintances. With relatives, I can only imagine it's harder and may cause even more problems if there are hard feelings.

    Take, for example, a business associate of ours. They hired a person to do sales a year ago. They've been paying his salary during that time, and he hasn't actually sold anything. Literally nothing. The contacts he said he had were all the wrong kinds of contacts, and in the mean-time he's spent a lot of time spinning his wheels trying to sell this particularly specialized ASP service.

    You probably don't want this to happen to you.


  • 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).

  • Authority is the key (Score:3, Informative)

    by GoMMiX ( 748510 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @08:29PM (#8564552)
    You can't maintain an authorative position over a family member or significant other. It's a tricky game, and in the end everyone loses. Particularly with regards to involving that 'special someone.' When the relationship gets rocky, the business suffers as a result. And when the business suffers and the relationship is fine, the relationship begins to suffer. You can't maintain a true family life and enforce any authorative position over a sibling or lover. It's a serious mistake to think otherwise. If you are going to involve loved ones within your business, be prepared to lose authorative control over the area in which those people are involved. I've worked in several similar situations. In one situation, I owned a small business (7 employees) that delt in mobile vehicle customization, security, and electronics. I involved my Brother in this venture. Trying to work side by side with my sibling was an obvious mistake that made itself apparent within the first few months. My brother was older then I, and me taking an authorative position over him was something he had a hard time dealing with. As well, him being my brother provided for an atmosphere in which I would behave in a manner not conducive to a professional environment. The solution, I found, was to simply seperate the business into two main areas and seperate our involvement. I placed my Brother in charge of everything 'shop' related, while I maintained control over everything 'office and retail.' I found this to be a positive result. I eventually employed my significant other in a secretarial position. This worked great for her and I, but created discomfort for other employees. Eventually, I cut her position and placed her as the sole employee working with marketing - she works from home. She was happy, employees were happy, and I got 12-14hrs a day away from her. Everyone was happy! *laughs* Later I sold the business. Stress begone! Then, missing the stress - created a new business in a partnership with my Father. Having delt with issues with my Brother in my previous company - I decided to do the same thing. The problem ended up being my Father underperformed and the business suffered as a result. The company eventually went under, and the reasoning is clear. We both lost on the deal, and no feelings were hurt - but it only remained as such because losing $80k wasn't worth having hard feelings towards my Father to me. If you can't stomache a loss as the result of a family member, don't involve them. If you can't relinquish control or behave professionally around those people, don't involve them. The most important point is that YOU will have to be the one to make sacrifices to these people. Your company and other employees may suffer as a result. If you fail to do so, you risk damaging the relationship(s) with family/lover. And probably the most important metal position to take is that of the other parties. Reverse every situation you encounter as though you were the employee rather then the owner. Something you would _not_ do with a typical employee. Essentially, you will be walking on eggshells with these people. You will suffer, they will suffer, and your relationship will suffer. Bottom line, it's a gamble. If your busienss is a complete success and you make your loved ones wealthy - things will probably be great. But, if you suffer the two year lagg time most companies do -- you will likely have some very rough times - and possibly do damage that cannot be mended. It may or may not be worth it. Personally, I do not think it is worth it. Wait until the company is a success - ask family members if they would like to volunteer services occassionaly if they feel the need to be involved. But don't allow loved ones to become dependant on your companies success.
  • by Pedrito ( 94783 ) on Sunday March 14, 2004 @08:34PM (#8564581)
    Your father and friends are smart. Listen to them. Yes, sometimes it works out, but it often doesn't and when it involves family or close friends, the results can be devastating to relationships.

    This is made worse if you're considering partnering with any of them. I generally try to avoid partnerships, but I'm not particularly good at the business side, so for me, if I do partner up, it's with someone who has better business sense than I do. Otherwise I wouldn't partner under any circumstances.

    Here's an example of the kinds of things that can go wrong. In this case, it was a 3-way partnership. My step-mother was partnered with a couple in a chain of stores. They each owned 1/3. Everything was going great for about 15 years. Then one of the partners went full-blown alcoholic and paranoid and decided my step mother was out to get him or something. So, because it was my step-mother vs. a couple and she was the minority shareholder, the couple basically pushed her out of the business. She went to court and won, but in the end, after legal expenses, she didn't walk away with nearly what her share of the business was worth.

    Now, to back-fill a bit, this couple was like family to me. I had grown up with them around for 15 years. And in a matter of months, my step mother was completely screwed out of a business she had worked hard to build.

    The lesson: Business can be, and usually is, brutal. Bringing family and friends into it can get them in the middle, and that's bad for everyone.
  • by ( 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 soren42 ( 700305 ) * <> on Sunday March 14, 2004 @10:26PM (#8565118) Homepage Journal
    Of course, just like anyone else on here, I can only share my experiences with the family business, and my insights and recommendations.

    My grandfather founded an industrial diamond business in the mid-1960's, just him and his brother. (Industrial diamonds are just a very specialized industrial abrasive, used for polishing, grinding, lapping, and other abrasive uses. It's mostly a chemical, mechanical, and industrial engineering-based firm) It was started with just two employees in NYC, and when it was sold to DuPont in 1994 (and eventually to GE's SuperAbrasives division) it had just under hundred employees based in South Florida. As the company grew, the key employees were family members. Just like in your situation, my grandfather's wife was one of the first employees - doing bookkeeping and billing - followed much later by his children, my father and aunt. My mother was actually an employee at the business when she met (and eventually married) my father. By the time the business had grown to ~60 employees, every divison was headed by a family, and several more worked at the lower levels (including my cousin and I, who worked doing data entry and network administration during high school).

    There were a ton of pitfalls associated with having family members work with and for you, and my family learned as we went. Sometimes work problems strained family relations, even to point where my Aunt was fired just to keep peace in the family. Now, ten years after the original family business was sold, my father has started a new family diamond abrasives business, and learned from the lessons of the previous company. His current wife (my mother passed away in 1998), my brother, and I all work at the family business. (I manage the IT department remotely right now, but plan to move back to South Florida in the next several years, as the business grows.)

    Here are the key things that I observed my family learned over the years:
    • Keep work and home life separate - My father and mother had a very interesting relationship. At work, my father was the VP/Director of Operations for the company, and my mother was the Office Manager. She worked for him. At home, as in most marriages, she was the boss. But, there were very clear boundaries between home and work life, and respecting these divisions kept everyone happier and sane. There was no talk or little talk of work at the dinner table, and there was no talk of family life or family problems in the boardroom.
    • Have a set of published rules that apply to everyone - One of the key things that kept our family busniess together was a set of corporate standards that applied to everyone, famly or not. These standards dealt with dress code, vacation time, sick time, tardiness, and other standard HR policies.
    • Show favoritism - As a corollary to the last rule, it's important to have an even set of rules, but occasionally, it's important to break them in private for family members. Family members want to know that they have a little bit of edge because they're on the inside track - and that's okay. It keeps them happy, and prevents Thanksgiving dinner from turning into a corporate affair. It's important, however, that this doesn't become a habit, and that your other employees don't get wind of it - it should be a quiet, special exception.
    • Honesty is of utmost importance - While as a manager, I espouse being honest and forthright with all of your staff members, this is even more important with family. Be up front and open with your relatives. The last thing you want to have happen is for issues to circulate through the "back channels", and have it impact your relationship outside the office.
    • Don't involve other family members - Don't share your business life, gripes, problems, or issues with family members that aren't a part of the business. This applies to siblings, parents, children, or anyone else. Don't gossip about the poor performan
  • 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?
  • I work with my dad (Score:3, Insightful)

    by krs-one ( 470715 ) <vic&openglforums,com> 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!

  • 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 code-dweller ( 669999 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:09AM (#8565603) Homepage
    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 bytor4232 ( 304582 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:33AM (#8565710) Homepage Journal
    I've only worked for familys so far actually. I'm a likeable and social person, so it works out usually. However I've seen it go sour. Sometimes people bring "it" into the office, so watch out for that.

    My wife and I have worked together on two seperate occiasions at two seperate companies. We both moved on, however we worked well together, but then again we are the best of friends before lovers. I think in the seven years we've been together we've only gotten into three or four fights, and two of those were in our first year of marriage.

    I'm working for a couple as their CTO. There is two other "full" time people right now, the CEO and CFO, and my wife who helps out way less than part time. I make a decent living for my area. Anyhoo, we get aloung because we all have similar interests. It works out great. I'm almost up to my first year with this company, and not a bad day has happened, and I've never once hated my boss(s). One of the conditions of my employment was that me and the boss got aloung. Its almost an uncle/nephew relationship really. I immagine if we didn't get aloung my job could be at jeopardy, but I don't see any reason why we wouldn't.

    However the last company I worked for were married. They bickered constantly since they had NOTHING in common. Most of the time they took their frustrations out on the rest of the employees. Everyone hates it there because the CTO is cranky all the time and the CEO is not very knowledgeable in the companies primary asset. When I worked for them I've had several customer compaints about both their attitudes. To this day I'm not sure how they stay in business, except they have the market pretty much cornered.

    I know of an ebay business right now that works out great with three people. The owners are husband and wife. The Wife works during the day and the Husband works at night. They have a less-than-part time employee (their son) who checks stuff into inventory. They work GREAT together, and are one of the more successful businesses on EBay right now.

    One of my best friends owns my usual hang-out. Its "the" major comics and tabletop gaming outlets in the Flint Michigan area. Half the people who work there are family, while the other half are employees. They work for obvious reasons: the product is fun. Its hard to bicker and fight over something as enjoyable as comics and gaming, unless of course your arguing over who would win in a fight, Batman or Captain America.

    Anyhow, it should work, as long as your all mature and have a good time and a healthy relationship. If you don't, well it won't.

    Seems like common sense really, but if your all family, you can't exactly fire your wife, or could you? Just kidding, thats a bad idea. I gotta fly, Harvey Birdman Attorney At Law is on.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @09:45AM (#8567530) Journal
    The owner/founder was married to the president. The Pres was the woman, and she was a bitch. Their daugter worked there too. Everyone got along and were good for the company except for the pres. The pres was more interested in perserving her 'way of life' in the office and not really growing the company. As a small company (20 emps), you can only grow or shut down. We were on the cusp of breaking into big time and all she ever did was to work against that. I could completely prove that she was counter productive to the company. I brought it up to the COO, and he was like 'that's nepatism for ya' He was 10x as fustrated at her for limiting him (he was responsible for gorwing the company, but she never wanted to say yes to any of his ideas (and he had some good ones))

    So you must be careful about the nepotism factor. You either have to stay small enough for it to never matter or for you to luck out and never arrive there. You can't fire your wife/gf.. well maybe you can, but I bet you'll be on the couch or in divorce court.

    I leave you with this:

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant