09th Mar 2018
Sisters are doing it for themselves, especially when it comes to business. This International Women’s Week, we’re celebrating Irish women who’ve teamed up with their siblings to craft successful careers. Below are five sets of sisters who work in all sorts of industries, from beauty to e-commerce. While their jobs may vary, their message is the same: sisters make excellent business partners.
Lisa and Vanessa Creaven
Sisters Lisa and Vanessa Creaven co-founded Spotlight Whitening in 2016. “We are practising dentists in Quay Dental in Galway, and our main focus at the clinic is cosmetic dentistry,” Lisa explains. “We saw our patients struggle to find a teeth whitening product that worked, was safe and affordable – we couldn’t see anything on the market that catered for those needs and that we could stand by. That’s why we created Spotlight. Everything we do in the company is pretty much 50/50. I have two young kids so Vanessa probably takes a more forward role when it comes to travel, but we are on the phone with each other about twenty times a day!” Travelling is an important part of their business as their whitening strips and toothpaste are being exported across the UK, Norway, Finland, and the United Arab Emirates.
When it comes to working with family, Lisa says it has its pros and cons. “The honesty and trust are there regardless, and that’s the biggest thing in business. We probably get away with saying a lot more to each other than if we weren’t related! But it is hard to switch off. We are both so invested in the brand that every family occasion runs the risk of turning into a mini Spotlight huddle!” Don’t let that turn you off though. If you’ve been considering starting a business with your sister, Lisa says, “Go for it. Working with family is the most rewarding. The bond and trust is there, and thankfully we’ve been able to share our success together. Also, they have to love you no matter what!”
The Creavens have had nonstop success since the company launched and they’re not showing any signs of slowing down. “We have a Spotlight pop-up shop opening in Dundrum Level 1 on 26 March,” they reveal. It will be open for four weeks and we can’t wait to get out there and meet our customers!”
Jennie and Grace McGinn
Jennie and Grace McGinn recently set up Sister The Agency, a digital and e-commerce consultancy business to help brands reach their online potential. Having already worked together for eight years on prior businesses Prowlster and Opsh, they knew this next venture would be a success. “After a few life moments (including babies and weddings) we saw an opportunity to work together on bespoke projects,” they tell me. “Sister The Agency was the incarnation of everything we’d learned from our prior businesses – combined with everything we wish we’d learned! It was built in direct response to businesses approaching us for help and guidance. After so much time working in tech, start-ups, lifestyle and content, we understand the needs of small to medium-sized businesses, and we can provide real value to larger organisations who need to zone-in on particular aspects of their business.”
Jennie and Grace both know where they stand with one another. “We both have our main commitments,” they explain. “Grace is creative director in iClothing and Jennie is head of digital in Chupi, but we then work with a raft of businesses on bespoke projects. We’ve always had the perfect blend of skillsets – Jennie does business development, sales and marketing, while Grace is brand, tech and web – it’s a lovely equilibrium. The best thing about working with your sister is that you have each other’s backs – you go above and beyond for each other and always encourage one another. Sometimes, you’d like family to just be family – but all the advantages and benefits of working together as a family far outweigh any of the challenges.” All that being said, they advise siblings who are considering starting a business together to talk it through fully first. “Be very clear about your skillsets and your weaknesses – address the weaknesses from the outset so they don’t become a problem at a later stage,” they note. “Be frank and honest about what you expect from working together on a business level, but also, very importantly, on a personal level. Are you all aligned in methods of working? In revenue expectations? Do you work weekends? Do you use Whatsapp as a mode of communication? Knot out all those details and you’ll have a great base to start.”
The McGinns have figured out all of those stumbling blocks and now Sister The Agency is booming. “We’ve just wrapped up a really enjoyable project with Kildare Village and are currently working with the absolutely brilliant Heidi Higgins. We’ll be rolling out another ‘Accelerate Your Business’ workshop this weekend, and we will most likely roll out a series of informal networking events to supplement the workshops – creating fun, feedback loops for attendees to keep the learning going!”
Katie and Helena Ryan
Katie and Helena Ryan are co-founders of Wellfest, an annual wellness event that combines world-class professionals in fitness, mental health, and nutrition. “We decided to go into business together because we both had a passion for all things health and fitness. We spend a lot of time together and when Helena and our friend Fionnuala came up with the idea, we decided it would be a great event to start together. We also get on really well, so that helped!”
It all started when Helena and friend Fionnuala Cleary came up with the concept, which they then discussed with Katie and friend Anthony Kelly. “We all loved the idea and so together started to brainstorm what the event could look like. Anthony had a lot of experience in advertising and events so he was the perfect choice to join forces with. From the beginning, we each had similar roles within the business, we all just wanted the event to get up and running. However, over the three years our roles have divided up naturally and they play to our strengths.”
“The best thing about working with my sister is that we can both enjoy the success, and most of all, we have a lot of fun doing it. In a lot of cases, going into business with family is not recommended – but we haven’t had any problems yet. If something is not right we just say it how it is! Our plan is to expand the brand and hopefully make Wellfest a global event – but we’re taking baby steps as we are only in our fourth year!”
Lastly, Katie says, “Our advice to anyone thinking about starting a family business is to make sure you have a good relationship with each other first.”
Sophie Cafolla and Vicky O’Dwyer
Sisters Sophie Cafolla and Vicky O’Dwyer set up The Stork Box because they wanted to help other mums like themselves. “For us, the Stork symbolises purity, longevity and protection. We wanted to create a business that delivered information and products which helped people enjoy the journey of parenthood and thus The Stork Box was born. We sell pre-packed maternity hospital bags, unique modern gift boxes and have our own clothing line for newborns up to children of six years.”
“We are extremely close and spent lots of time together,” Sophie tells me. When it came to the deciding their roles within the business, it was a no-brainer. “I was always going to be doing the day to day running of the business,” she says, “as Vicky is a full-time obstetrician and gynaecologist. Vicky’s role is about providing key information for what we should put in our boxes, especially the maternity hospital box. Each item and brand we choose is done for a very particular reason. She also writes for our unboxed newsletter and gives talks at our Mummy & Me: Unboxed events. Her professional expertise is what makes us different to other companies out there. The best thing about working with her is definitely the fact that we trust each other so much. With trust comes ease and respect. We value each other’s opinions and what we both bring to the company. We haven’t encountered any difficulties working with each other so I am hoping this continues! I think this is probably because we make sure to look at The Stork Box as a business and we can separate the business from our family life.” Their strong personal and working relationship has allowed the business to grow. “We are launching our Milestone Boxes this month which is a subscription-based box service for baby’s first year. There are four boxes for the baby’s key development, each with five products for baby and a bonus gift for mum. We also have some exciting new clothing coming out in the latter part of the year, along with some additional products for mums so be sure to keep an eye out!”
Sophie notes that versatility and the ability to stand out from the crowd is essential for sisters entering business together. “Research your market as much as possible, talk to your target market, look at competitors and ensure you have a unique selling point. Most importantly, be open to change. You may have a path in mind but you never know what direction the business will end up taking. Ensure that you can work with your sister on a business level and be practical.”
Lynsey, Leah, and Sarah White
Belfast sisters Lynsey, Leah and Sarah launched their self-tanning brand, Lusso Tan, after nine years building their award-winning The Secret Day Spa. “We knew product development was
the next step,” Lynsey tells me. “The company roles came to us naturally – Leah excels at the day to day, I enjoy and have a flair for the business side of things, while Sarah is always on point with new ideas and product development. We complement each other very well. We will always rely on each other and trust the others’ advice. We share a passion for beauty and wellbeing, so a dream shared at a family dinner suddenly (and quite naturally) evolved into a family business!”
“We always have each others’ backs. While we can disagree and voice our opinions, we will always do what’s best for the company and for each other in the end.” Lynsey explains that the most difficult aspect of starting the business was finance. “Taking a financial risk at the beginning is heightened when you and your sisters have all your eggs in one basket! Not being able to enjoy family holidays together is something we’ve learnt to accept, as it’s important to have someone holding the fort at home!”
“This is just the beginning for Lusso Tan! We want to do for tanning, what contouring did for make-up. It’s no longer about just applying a tan – priming the skin and adding a finishing touch is where it is at in 2018 and no one does it better than Lusso Tan! We are also passionate about changing the industry’s current marketing strategy from featuring half naked girls. We want to show strong, independent women with their clothes on who want to look better with a tan in everyday life situations.”
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