Startup bonds run deep: 4 founding teams with family ties

June 19, 2014
You cannot pick your relatives, but you can pick your business partners. Here's the stories of four Colorado tech companies whose founding team is composed of family ties. 
 

Havenly

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Becoming business partners was a natural move for Havenly founders and sisters Lee Mayer and Emily Motayed. After growing up in an entrepreneurial household, thinking about businesses in new and innovative ways was just in their blood

‘’I can't imagine working with anyone but Lee; she is one of the smartest individuals I know, and is incredibly thoughtful when it comes to scaling teams and businesses, and also happens to be a complete rock star,’’ Motayed said.

The sisters say that each of their strengths balance each other out and they feel lucky to have complementary skillsets.

The idea for Havenly came during a time when both sisters were moving - Mayer with her husband and Motayed was moving into a studio apartment. Both women wanted assistance jazzing up their respective homes without hiring expensive interior designers. After commiserating, the idea stuck and the sisters say that they have gotten infinitely closer because of it.  For most of the past 10 years the sisters had been based in different cities due to jobs, schools etc.

‘’I'm sure every single working relationship, especially one in which you're in the emotional trenches of trying to build something out of scratch, has it's hurdles to face and will evolve throughout the process, but since we've known each other since birth, we're actually able to navigate through disagreements and differences extremely well,’’ said Motayed.

Over the past year and a half the sisters say they have gotten into the groove of working together and can easily who is best suited to spearhead each new initiative and responsibility.

‘’Regardless of whether this business takes of or fails, I know the fact that we've been able to become closer is what I'll value the most in the future,’’ said Motayed.

ReadyTalk

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ReadyTalk founders and brothers Dan and Scott King say that growing up in a solid family has attributed to their successes as business partners.

The high level of respect, trust and confidence between the two allows them to maximize their complementary skillsets.

Although both brothers founded the online conferencing company, Dan serves as CEO, while Scott is Executive VP of Sales and Marketing.

The brothers say their differences are their ‘’secret sauce’’. Dan is extremely interested in organizational development and really understands what it takes to build a great company; talented employees that are highly engaged are the recipe for our success.

Scott’s strengths, on the other hand, tend to be in business development, strategy and product. Scott focuses on how to make ReadyTalk’s products work for customers. The brothers say that their family has grown closer since the two started working together.

‘’All of my kids have actually had to intern at ReadyTalk, which gives them the opportunity to experience the success of the business, and they get to see it through their father’s eyes,’’ said King.

They both admit that it’s important to find time to turn off the business talk however, the brothers say that their family is energized by business conversations and don’t expect them to turn it off.

‘’There is nobody I would rather be in business with. Being able to ride in to work together, going for a run a lunch, or even enjoying a beer on the deck after work are just a few of the perks in doing business with Dan. It’s just fun to have somebody around that you have such a close relationship with,’’ said King.

The brothers say they want ReadyTalk to be an enduring company and hope to leave behind a legacy that will last forever.

‘’There’s always the risk that something bad might happen and I would have to deal with the feeling of letting my brother down, but fortunately that hasn’t happened to us,’’ said King.

Advice for other brothers thinking about going into business together?

‘’Your relationship has to be based on trust and respect. Fundamentally, you are going to face a lot of challenges especially in the early stages of the business, and you really need a foundational relationship that can manage through those difficult times. If you are unsure how someone is going to react in a stressful or challenging situation, you probably shouldn’t go into business with the,’’ said King.

 

Altitude Digital

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Altitude Digital has grown in more ways than one since its inception five years ago.

In 2009, CEO and founder Jeremy Ostermiller and brought on his brother-in-law Devin Yeager, who now serves as COO.

Although working with a brother-in-law may not be a wise choice in all founding families, Devin and Jeremy say the collaboration has been more than positive.

‘’Our relationship is much stronger than it ever would have been without this shared interest and investment in Altitude Digital,’’ Yeager said.

Altitude Digital has grown to about 60 employees in five markets with 30,000 publishers and 1,600 clients using the marketplace for video and online display advertising.

Over past five years the brother-in-laws say that they have grown together both professionally and personally.

‘’It’s great to be able to collaborate with Jeremy during and after working hours. We are focused on one vision and it’s great to collaborate with not only a friend, but also a business partner and family member,’’ Yeager said.

One thing the relationship could not last without? Trust.

‘’Make sure that you trust your family to have your best interests in mind, and that you set a precedent for the line between your personal and professional relationships,’’ said Yeager.

Closetbox

After having twins, Closetbox founders Marcus and Katy Mollmann ran out of free hands and free space in their home. The Mollmann’s now had four children in their Colorado home and needed a way to create space.

''We each had one free hand if he helped one twin each, we had no ability to move anything to move anything into a storage facility,’’ said Marcus Mollman, CEO of Closetbox.

After struggling to haul furniture,  Marcus and Katy created Closetbox. The business targets working families who don’t want to call expensive moving companies but who need help lugging furniture and finding a space to keep old belongings they may not need right now.

The husband and wife duo are both involved in the business however, Marcus, takes care of the businesses day-to-day operations, while Katy is able to be home with the kids but still provides feedback and acts as a sounding board for Closetbox’s marketing efforts.

Marcus says that collaborating with Katy has been instrumental to their growth as 90 percent of Closetbox customers are working moms.

‘’There are a lot of women like Katy, who simply don't have the time, desire or ability to move something, so we serve customers just like her,’’ said Mollmann.

Although Marcus admits that starting a business can be all consuming, the couple aims to keep their attention focused on the family when at home, but he says sometimes business talk is hard to avoid.

Advice for other couples who have an idea and are looking to go into business together? Marcus said that in any business venture it’s important to be sure that everyone knows his or her responsibility. 

‘’You have got to be able to carve out everybody's unique responsibilities and value the expertise they have,’’ said Mollmann.

 

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