Family-run enterprises have long been the bedrock of Australia’s small business sector. The help, support and familiarity provided by relatives can prove invaluable, not only in the start-up phase, but also in the generational handover of a thriving business.
But times are changing. Entrepreneurs work increasingly lengthy hours, along with the rest of the workforce, according to recent research.
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Starting up is easier and cheaper than ever before, but that can lend itself to a solitary existence.
If you don’t need the family fortune to launch your business and you can operate a successful start-up while holed up in your spare room with a computer are blood ties that important today?
What happens when you add partners and children to the start-up mix? Do they complicate matters or do they provide a valuable support network that’s not available to single entrepreneurs?
StartupSmart spoke to start-ups on both sides of the fence to weigh up the pros and cons of making your business a family affair.
The benefits of being single
1. No stable income
In order to start a business you often have to forfeit your existing income. That isn’t too bad if the only person you have to feed is yourself but it’s less than ideal if you’re responsible for your partner and/or children.
Carl Harwin, founder of frozen yoghurt business Wowcow says in addition to the challenge of starting up he faced the scary prospect of having a wife and two young children to support.
“There was an enormous amount of pressure,” Harwin says.
“My wife was very supportive and she believed in the opportunity as well but we both didn’t realise the amount of pressure we were actually faced with and how long that would last.
“Our son was born shortly after we moved here (from the US) so then we had two babies … all these things compounded.”
iiNet founder Michael Malone – who initially operated out of his mother’s garage – says being young and single provided the perfect context to start a business.
Malone told StartupSmart: “I could not have done what I’ve done today. I’ve got kids and a mortgage and things to lose now whereas doing this at 23 what did I have to lose really?”
2. Long hours
Matthew Sampson, founder of recruitment firm Aspect Personnel, says starting a business put extreme pressure on his personal relationships, suggesting doing it as a single is preferable.
“When I wasn’t at work I was thinking about work. The level of commitment necessary to successfully develop a business meant that a number of important elements in my life had to take a back seat,” he says.
Sampson has since learnt to strike a work/life balance but says it wasn’t possible initially.
3. Being away from home
The prospect of doing business overseas isn’t an issue if you’re single. But for the parents of young children it is an entirely different ball game, particularly if you’re an exporter.
“Exporting often requires a lot of travelling, which is quite hard on your work and family situation,” Austrade senior economist Tim Harcourt explains.
Cynthia Balogh, national manager of Women in Global Business, agrees that exporting can be tricky if you’re juggling a business and a family.
“There is a perception that if you multiply your business by X number of countries, you multiply the amount of work and investment required,” she says.
“What gives – the caring responsibilities or the business?”
In addition to exporting start-ups also face the prospect of having to relocate interstate or overseas, which can seriously disrupt the family unit.
4. Attending industry events
One of the keys to being a successful businessperson is perfecting the art of networking, which means being prepared to attend countless events.
But if you have a partner and children waiting for you every night you might be inclined to skip the after work drinks and simply head home, often to the detriment of your business.
Kate Kendall, founder of online industry guide The Fetch, says entrepreneurs must be prepared to “get out there and get amongst it”, which is a lot easier if you’re single.
“You need to find a way to get invited to those invite-only dinners and be a part of the conversation … be involved,” she says.
5. Intense incubation periods
In order to test ideas as quickly as possible a lot of business incubators hold sessions for start-ups over a number of hours, such as the 48-hour Startup Bus and the 54-hour Startup Weekend.
During those sessions entrepreneurs form teams to brainstorm ideas before turning them into viable businesses. While rewarding, those events are intensive and exhausting.
Taking it one step further is Startup House, the brainchild of Australian tech entrepreneur Elias Bizannes, who described it as a hostel for entrepreneurs, where they “live, breathe and eat start-ups”.
Can you imagine leaving your partner and kids at home to enter the Startup House or abandon them for days at a time to participate in programs such as Startup Weekend?