Twins who work together share tips for being business partners
- Insider spoke with five sets of twin cofounders in order to understand their motivations.
- They believed that comparisons and rivalries were inevitable, but they played to their dual strengths.
- They said that having a business partner who is close to you can be a great benefit.
Working with your family is quite common: Family businesses generate income in the United States. half the country’s gross national product.
What about a business owned by one of the most closely related entrepreneurs: twins?
Five pairs of twins who run businesses together – in the retail, wholesale, cosmetics, and insurance sectors – shared their tips for dealing with rivalries and comparisons when you’re cofounders who know each other very well.
Working with someone close to you can give a deep sense of support, said London-based Oliver Kent-Braham, who started the insurance unicorn Marshmallow with his twin, Alexander, and their friend David Goaté. It started in the café of a gym and now has a billion-dollar valuation.
“As long as you have the twin there, it’s like, well, you know, if he’s all right, I’m all right,” Oliver told Insider. “Everything he finds interesting, i find interesting.”
Balance is key
Nicole Nichols (37), was born just minutes before Nichelle. She said that she has been the “big sister” in their relationship since then.
At the Guilty GrapeThe Dallas-based lifestyle and wine business they cofounded with Nicole is responsible for the operations, campaigns and sourcing of the wine. Nicole works on the back end, creating spreadsheets and focusing their attention on the bottom line.
The twins, who often say the exact same thing at the time, believe their strengths complement each other.
Nichelle said, “I am very visual.” “I need a map and a plan. When she is trying to be too dangerous, I’m like, Wait a minute. Pull it back a little.'” Nicole immediately replied: “When she is trying to be so safe, I’m like ‘Let’s go, it’s possible!’
It’s the same formula for Luke Buckmaster, 22, and Owen Buckmaster (22), who started selling pizza bases to businesses through their UK company. Doughboys,In 2020, made $400,000 in their first year. Luke manages sales and marketing while Owen is operations- and finance-focused.
Owen said, “We can see each other’s strengths as well as our weaknesses and we can work together to make the company run better.”
Torsten PieperInsider was told, by an academic at UNC Charlotte that twins playing different roles in a company can be beneficial.
Pieper stated, “You might be tempted to not challenge a twin sibling, or you might be tolerating actions or decisions that are wrong, so having an organized system or personal process in place that checks and corrects that or corrects it can be helpful.”
A close bond
Oliver, cofounder of Marshmallow was interviewed without his brother, but it’s not often for them to be apart. Oliver stated that Alexander will be missing from his life only 2 to 3% of the time he has been alive.
Oliver, a twin, played doubles tennis for Great Britain as a teenager and admitted that there was friction: “There are so many arguments on doubles court when your 14.”
Alexander and Oliver now live a 10 minute walk apart.
Their closeness allows them to succeed as part the small fraction of businesses run by co-CEOs. But, being at one with your customers is not the only way you can grow a business.
Luke and Owen were initially wary of working together in a business environment, as they worried about how it might affect their bond. Both of the twins left school at 16 citing a dislike for authority. They also had different jobs before they decided to work together.
They were born in Sudanese refugee camps after their parents fled Eritrea.
Their father encouraged them from an early age to create their identities. Helena said that twins grew up comparing each other, and Feven added that their dad believed that twins were “kind of unhealthy.”
Of the twins Insider spoke to, they seem to have spent the most time apart, having attended separate colleges — though they did rack up a $300 phone bill in their first month apart.
Helena said she runs the more “boring” side of 2•4•1 Cosmetics, while Feven tends to have her “head in the clouds,” but it’s a combination they said works.
Feven and Helena share a home with their partners, but work together at Helena’s.
Deirdre O’Neill and Helen O’Neill, 37 year-old twins from Cork (Ireland), run Hertility HealthA home fertility- and hormone-testing service. After years of being apart, they decided to start the business together. However, they were happy to swap places at school to help one another skip class.
Deidre said, “We have lived our lives looking the exact same and being lumped into a twins category that has made it hard for us to be individual people.” This included dressing differently and choosing different career paths.
Deirdre became an M&A lawyer, while Helen’s interest in being a twin led her into genetics.
Their unique experiences proved to be a winning combination in their genetics business.
Helen stated that having her twin when pitching for funding felt like a comforting blanket. Deirdre was able to focus on all she was proficient in, and Helen could focus on what she was good at.
Marketing “The twindom of it all”
Twins are special because only 1.6 Million twin pairs are ever born annually around the world. according to the journal Human Reproduction.
They are a double take that can be applied to marketing.
Research starting with the Institute for Family BusinessResearch shows that companies that promote themselves as family-run are more likely to be trusted and better placed in the market to attract talent.
Phillip Phan,Johns Hopkins University professor of business, Dr. Johns Hopkins, said that even in businesses where twins do not intentionally use their connection in marketing, it is still evident.
Phan said, “And that brand value is the family value.” “It’s a very extreme version of a family business.”
Phan stated that family businesses are naturally concerned about their communities because they often have a connection to the community in which they work.
The Nichols sisters believed that the best marketing is when they are together at events such wine fairs. People often gravitate towards them instinctively.
It is called the Twin Effect. Nichelle stated that people are very attracted to the twindom of it all.
Being so similar can have its upsides. Nichelle joked that Nicole would be able to pick up conversations she had with Nicole at events and vice versa.
Being twins can also prove to be a frustrating burden for companies that are less dependent upon the personality of their founders. Luke and Owen both stated that some clients and investors may view twins “nontraditional” founders and may be less likely trust them.
Helen from Hertility even had one investor tell her that they didn’t invest with siblings.
Oliver said that twindom isn’t very effective at marketing insurance. Alexander and Oliver try to avoid being labelled “Black founders” or “Black twins”.
Helena and Feven also said: “It is important that people see us as individuals, not as a weird freakshow.”
All business partners will experience tensions at some point. Phan stated that conflict between twins could be worse for the business than a sibling partnership due to their codependency.
Phan stated that twins are more emotionally and cognitively connected than regular family members. Therefore, decisions that affect the twin families may result in greater emotional variance. “So if there’s conflict, the conflict will be much more severe.”
He stated that emotional ties between twins means “there is on average less likelihood to be conflict.”
Owen Buckmaster stated that any tension between him and his brother is short-lived. “When we have arguments or get into a fight, it never lasts.”
“But I think that it can usually last a long while and drag on even with partners who aren’t twins.”
If a third party is involved, things can get complicated. Some twins say that potential partners will seek out areas of disagreement to force them to compromise. UNC Charlotte’s Pieper says this is a common problem for sibling cofounders.
Helena stated that she was in business with a third party before and that the synergy wasn’t perfect. She said that she feels faster when Helena is with her sister. “We can have disagreements but once we agree on something, we execute it very quickly.”
It doesn’t matter how far apart we are, as long as we’re all together.
All the twins stated that their businesses had changed the nature of their relationships.
Marshmallow’s Oliver stated that although our conversations are less mundane, about 70% of what we discuss is work, the closeness hasn’t diminished.
Insider heard from them all that they are both happy to share their passion for success with each other.
Helena stated, “I feel so, so fortunate to be on this adventure with my sister.” “I feel like I was blessed with the best business partner.”
Pieper stated that twins can work together to achieve success, whether they are “planting trees” and “selling ice in Arctic circle.”
Helen from Hertility shared the following: “I think Deirdre and I are closer than ever, having built something together that we care about so much.”
“I actually wonder what we would have done — how our relationship as twins would have survived — if one of us was on this path alone, because being a founder is a very lonely journey.”
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