Family business accounts for about half a million businesses in Australia, and powers about 50% of our workforce. In many cases it is couples that are driving those family businesses, from high-profile chief executive roles through to partners playing supporting roles in business endeavours.
And while working with family can present challenges often reserved for those Christmas get-togethers, when it really sings, businesses can thrive as a result.
Cyan and Collis Ta’eed – Envato
It’s one of those garage-to-success stories we all like read about. Twelve years ago Cyan and Collis Ta’eed, (together with friend Jun Rung) looked to address issues in the ‘microstock’ arena by starting a marketplace for creative assets. Now the Ta’eeds are worth an estimated $216 million and growing, with the pair sharing the ninth and 10th spots on the AFR Young Rich List in 2017.
“There was a point before we launched — between when we started the planning of the business and site development in February of 2006, and the actual launch date of August — where I was wondering if we should just give up,” Collis told SmartCompany last year.
“The tipping point came when we got to about 20 staff and the focus came about to growing the company and not our product suite,” he continues.
“We never expected Envato to grow as quickly as it did but we hit a hole in the market at the right time, and luckily managed to develop quickly enough to capitalise on that,” Cyan previously told Business Chicks.
Envato has also been named one of Australia’s best places to work for three years.
“We are committed to ensuring that we have the right people and the right environment. This, and related values we hold dear – such as the right to a fair go and providing a diverse and inclusive workplace – have been central to Envato’s success not just as an employer, but as a business,” Cyan said last year.
Jen and Michael Geale; and Mylene and Tim McCullough – Mountain Bikes Direct
Online retailer Mountain Bikes Direct was started by not one, but two couples which, you might argue, could make for an interesting dynamic.
“A lot of people ask us about [working with a spouse] – because we predominantly work from home, and you’re spending a lot of time at home – but I think it’s been good,” co-founder Jennifer Geale told SmartCompany last year.
“All of us enjoy working on a mutual project and we’ve all got young families. With the business, I could take time off when I needed when I was pregnant with our girls.”
In fact, the foursome argue that operating an online platform gives them the flexibility they need to have a family and run a thriving business.
“You might get a response to an email at 2am,” the business’ website explains.
“Because Tim and Mel are currently living in Mel’s native Canada to spend a few years closer to family with their young daughter. Jen and Michael spend their time on the beautiful Gold Coast, mixing up time on the trails with time chasing their two little girls on the beach!”
Geale says that working with her partner also also meant that she’s had the flexibility to work all night when needed.
“You couldn’t make that decision if you didn’t work with your partner. It enabled us to probably just make a real dent on a few things we needed to drive the business,” she said.
Mountain Bikes Direct came 20th in the 2017 Smart50 Awards thanks to a three-year growth in revenue of 162%.
“We have defined our niche, and we’re owning it,” says Geale.
Cathy Anderson and Andrea Beattie – Ginger Brown
When free afternoon newspaper mX folded in 2015, partners Cathy Anderson and Andrea Beattie found themselves facing unemployment.
“It was a choice between finding another full time job in journalism — which were becoming more scarce by the minute — or going out on a limb and building an agency that focused on digital and print content more broadly,” Anderson says.
So that’s exactly what they did, launching their own business called Ginger Brown.
“We started it with a ‘we have no clue if this crazy plan will work, but let’s give it a roll’ kind of attitude,” she says.
“There have been times when we thought, ‘would we be better off with a job’ but ultimately this is about a lifestyle and, although it can be demanding, it is also very satisfying”.
When asked what it’s like working so closely with her partner, Anderson says in some respects it makes things easier.
“There is inherent trust and respect between us as human beings as well as professionals,” she says.
“We lived and worked together before the business so proximity that other working couples struggle with wasn’t a problem for us. But sometimes it can be isolating given we mostly work from home and, inevitably, our personal worlds will flow into our professional lives.”
However, for this agency, which sees itself increasingly in demand, business is booming.
“At some point in the future we will learn how to switch off from our devices and find a much better work life balance,” says Anderson.
And, if you’re wondering about the name?
“We did name it after the respective colours of our hair — Andrea is the Ginger and I am the Brown.”
Monica and James Meldrum – Whole Kids
More than a decade ago Monica and James Meldrum decided to put their home-owning dream on hold, instead funnelling their $100,000 deposit to start Whole Kids, an organic food company, which launched in 2005.
“In early 2000, while travelling in Indonesia to deliver an aid program to children living in poverty, I vowed to make a difference to children’s health,” Monica Meldrum told Fairfax in 2016.
“On returning to Australia and witnessing food-related illnesses amongst children and an abundance of over processed, heavily marketed children’s foods, I decided to do something about it and created Whole Kids.”
For the pair, the business was never solely about making money. In fact, the family still rent a home nearly 13 years later.
“It was more about developing a business with a social conscious than making profit,” Monica said in 2016.
Since launching Whole Kids the pair have had children of their own, which only drives the company’s mission further.
“Your world changes when you have kids. Your priorities change,” Monica told Laura Trotta in 2016.