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Working with Family

Ever heard you shouldn’t go into business with a family member? Clate and Scott (who are brothers-in-law!) think that’s terrible advice, even though they don’t always see eye-to-eye. They find the care and love they have for each other as family members allows them to do things they can’t always achieve with others. Why? Because they had existing love and care before the business side of it started. Clate and Scott also talk about hiring family and how you usually end up holding them even more accountable than those who aren’t related to you.

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Scott Martineau: Hello and welcome to this episode of the Small Business Success Podcast. This is Clate Mask and Scott Martineau. I’m Scott.

Clate Mask: And I’m Clate.

Scott Martineau: And today we’re going to talk about probably one of the most commonly, the most common bad advice that we’ve been given. And we just kind of laugh at it. But that is never go into business with a family member.

Clate Mask: Yeah, we get this all the time. People will ask us how do you guys do it, how have you made this work. And of course early on people said you’re crazy. You should never work together. Scott’s older sister is my wife, and of course Scott’s younger brother Eric is our chief software architect.

So the three of us as co-founders went into business together as a family right from the beginning. And boy, did we get lots of sage advice about how stupid we were. So we wanted to take a second because we get this question all the time.


People who are thinking about going into business with family members, people who are in business with family members, people who have intentions of building a bigger company with family members. And so we wanted to hit this head on.

Scott Martineau: So a couple of things maybe to set this topic up. I think first of all it’s a little bit interesting. I think it’s important for you to know that Clate and I have a philosophy that in business, this is not like, we don’t feel like entrepreneurs generally should take an approach of government, super, highly political, highly rigid and non-familial.

We think we should create an environment as entrepreneurs where we’re creating relationships that will last for the rest of our lives, and we have very meaningful interactions with people that in essence feels like family. So I think, and we will talk about some specific things I think that are different with blood family relatives.

But you know, what we want to share are what are the things that typically cause, maybe people to shy away from relationships that go that deep. Or relationships that you do create that are deep to start to become nonproductive in the workplace.


Because I think that’s you know, there is a tendency there. I don’t think either of us are trying to say that there’s nothing, there’s no truth to the sage wisdom that people are trying to give us.

Clate Mask: What I would say is, sometimes people say how have you been able to build a business over a hundred million when you’ve got family relationships that are right at the center. And I say actually that’s why we’ve been able to do it.

Because the care and love that we have for each other enables us to have a certain trust, a certain work ethic that supports and honors each other. That allows us to do things that I think you just can’t do when you’re not working together with people you love and care about.

So that kind of goes back to Scott’s point about fostering an environment where everybody really loves working together. Well, that’s, let me just say that differently. Where they really care about each other. And they love each other. Well, that comes much more naturally when you start with a relationship that’s in family where you like each other a lot. So that’s kind of how it worked for us from the beginning.


Scott Martineau: So I think there’s a huge temptation just for human behavior in general to sort of flip flop to extremes. It’s really comfortable in an extreme because you can just be super polarized in the way you’re viewing things. And I think what I’ve found in business is that rarely are you succeeding when you're at the extremes.

Maybe a good example, Clate and I, we’ve always had a very natural tension that you know I’d say it’s –

Clate Mask: Some might have called it scary. Because we get in big fights and people are like whoa, what’s going on? These people are totally yelling at each other. Should we be packing our bags? And we’d be like no, we totally care about each other. We’re just fighting about some philosophical things we’ve got to get to an agreement on.

Scott Martineau: So one example would be Clate is a, I would describe Clate as a very controlled responsible grower. There’s always a drumbeat of growth, but it’s with, it’s maybe more linear in nature. I’m a little bit more of an idealist. I’m like, why are we only focused on right now this next step we’re going…

Clate Mask: How much do you want to make to make next year?


Scott Martineau: So we’ve had many of these conversations and the point is I think the reason why this care and love is so critical is because almost in every single case the actual, the true success that we’ve achieved has been somewhere in the middle, and we have both been required to just bend a little bit. And there’s a lot of bending and adjusting that needs to happen in a successful business. So there’s got to be a foundation of love and care.

Clate Mask: Yeah, and I think that’s a great point, that point about not being so extreme and polarized. And sometimes when you’re working on philosophical points you do pull hard against each other. But it’s important that you work through those things because as you do, you create a really really strong foundation.

I think right at the beginning when we first started working together, I went to Scott and Eric and I said listen, if this is going to work, we’ve got to be totally open with each other. We’ve got to practice communication in ways that probably are much more extreme than people would do if they’re not family members.

Because our relationship with each other outside of work is critical and won’t want to be upset and frustrated when we’re getting together at family functions.


So we’ve got to be open. When things are bugging us we’ve got to talk about it. We’ve got to have these conversations. That set the foundation for one of our values which we call is, we practice open and real communication.

Scott Martineau: Now it’s important to know that we didn’t actually see eye to eye on this for quite some time. Clate grew up in a family of I would just, they’re kind of like Italians. I don’t know, for those of you who are Italians – did we mention this on a podcast before? I think we did. But anyway, I love Italians.

And the view I have of Clate growing up in the Mask household was something like, an issue came up and it was lots of passionate discussion. Possibly yelling. Possibly throwing things. But there was no question that the issues that were going on were being addressed openly. And then there was lots of hugging and loving and kissing and then they’d go out and eat pasta and have a great night.

And the Martineau culture was different. My parents would resolve conflicts by silently walking to the bedroom and quietly closing the door.


And they would go have a conversation. And my dad tended to, he was one of the most patient people on the planet. Sometimes my kids…

Clate Mask: So let me just put this straight. When we first started working together, Scott and Eric, they would not communicate with me when there were issues and I’d be like guys, come on, you’ve got to get this out. And I told them at one point, I’m like I’m going to turn you guys into fighters.

And wow, did I win with Scott. He became a great debater that’s very passionate, and we had some epic conflicts over the years in the early days. You look back on it, it is what created a foundation of strength that we built the company on.

Scott Martineau: Totally. So we would go into Clate’s office and there’s several employees who are situated right outside the office, and we’d start these conversations. Usually they’d start calmly. And they’d hear the yelling, they’d see Clate pounding the desk, maybe that one time. And then you know, we would, but the thing was we were addressing these core issues and things were coming out.


And then we’d walk out and I’ve caused the employees, they were like oh my gosh, is this over, are we done? You know? And pretty soon everybody recognized that just became part of the culture. It’s just what we do. And by the way, it’s something that you need to apply, I believe, you need to apply in your business independent of whether you’re working with family members or not.

That has become one of the foundations of our culture. And we find that when we get into seasons where there’s not open, real communication, you have issues that fester. People go behind others’ backs. You don’t get to the real issues. It’s waste, it’s inefficient. It’s frustrating. So that’s a huge thing. I think we learned, I don’t know if we would have learned it in the same way had we not been family members and had that foundation.

Clate Mask: No, I think that’s why working with family is so great. Because if you really do value that relationship, then you’re going to push through the hard issues and things that come up in business. And if you don’t, if you don’t push through those things, you don’t resolve and the business doesn’t get stronger and better.

And Scott and I can laugh now and joke about the times we had really heated debates about different things. The really interesting thing was that was in the first three, four, five years.


We haven’t done that for many years. I mean, occasionally we get pretty charged up. But it’s not anything like we used to be. I think it’s because one, we established really important foundational principals and philosophies.

And two, we learned to be more productive and effective in the way that we work through conflict. I think the key point though, if you’re working with family, make sure that you use those relationships where you have so much care to actually drive at core issues in the business and improve them.

Scott Martineau: Okay, so one is love. Two is open communication. The third I want to talk about is accountability. So there, no matter what you do there will be a perception that you will not hold a family member as accountable as you would somebody else.

And I think that a prerequisite to going into business with family – by the way this philosophy also applies to non-family members. But the prerequisite is you have to be willing to hold your family members accountable.


Probably more accountable. They will always be held to a standard that’s different. And they need to be aware of that and okay with that. And you need to be aware of that and okay with that.

Clate Mask: This is the tough part. Because the reality is, while the relationship is more important than the business, it can’t be that the working relationship is more important than the business. If the business isn’t more important than the working relationship, then you’re going to have problems in the business.

So the business’s outcomes are more important than the working relationship. But the trick is to make sure that your relationship is even more important than that. So if and when the work relationship ends, you can have a great productive loving relationship outside of the business situation.

And I can tell you from experience, this is hard. I’ve, we’ve gone through, Scott and I have gone through some tough experiences of letting go of people that we love, that are family members that we care about.


And it’s really hard for people to understand it. It’s really hard to work through it. And I can tell you that in a couple of cases it was a long period of time of really hurt feelings. But I knew that it was the right thing for the business. And I also truly believed it was the right thing for all the parties involved.

And I think that if you went back to each of those people they would say the same things today. But actually having the courage and the strength to make the business more important than the working relationship while making the actual relationship more important than everything else, that’s the trick.

And it’s a hard thing to do. But I think if you’ll embrace that accountability to what the business needs and make sure that you have that love and open real communication, you can make amazing things happen working together with family members.

Scott Martineau: Yeah, in our elite programs, the number one thing that I see after people go through our program and they come back the second time, and maybe we’ll meet them again at Icon, is they say we’ve finally let go of that poisonous person in our company that was just holding things back.


And I would say probably 50% of the time, so I think that happens about 70% of the time. About 50% of that, it was a family member. And I can see if in their eyes when we’re having the conversations and they’re getting clear about the culture they want to create. And they're realizing ah crap, there’s no way that my family member is going to make it.

And so I think, you just need to be honest with yourself and maybe the test is you as yourself right now if you’re in business with a family member today, you’ve got to ask the question. If they weren’t a part of the business today, would I actively go seek them out. To what extent would I go to go bring them back on board.

Clate Mask That’s a great way to put it. That’s a really great way to put it. And you’re exactly right. We see people all the time come back, people we’re working with, you know lead or customers in the software and they’ll be working through a personnel issue, a people issue, and a lot of times it is family members.


And that courage to make the change that you need to make for the business while still caring about the person is really something that we totally respect and applaud, because we’ve had to go through that ourselves and it’s not easy. I think if you focus on those three things, though, you can make amazing things happen with people in your family and it’s a lot of fun to work together.

Scott Martineau: Let me give one last litmus test on you know your accountability and maybe just keeping the bar high for family members. So I’ve had, I’ve had several family members, I have several family members who work here but I’ve had several family members who have tried to work here and have not passed through the Keap gauntlet and gotten a job.

And I remember the first time that happened, I was like that is so awesome, that we’ve created a culture and a bar that is high enough that somebody on our team feels empowered to say no to a family member of one of the founders. It’s counter-intuitive maybe the way people think about it.


So that might be a good test for you and maybe a trick if you’re the owner of your company. I am very cautious about the way that I refer family members in. I will typically, if it’s a very close family member that I trust, I will essentially help them get an interview, and I make it very clear that this isn’t…

Clate Mask: All I can do is get you an interview. That’s what I can do.

Scott Martineau: And then you’re on your own.

Clate Mask: It’s up to you from there.

Scott Martineau: So obviously if you’re smaller and you're the one interviewing them, you’ll have to exercise your own discretion. But if you’re a little bit bigger that’s maybe a trick to help.

Clate Mask: Yeah, and one last quick caution. I see this sometimes with companies but especially as they start to grow and things are starting to feel good, a lot of pats on the back, hey you’re out of the struggling days and now you're into kind of stage 4, stage 5, somewhere in that 10-25 employees.

I’ll see a lot of times, business owners start to give jobs to friends and family members, and that’s not something we encourage. You know, if you’re kind of passing out opportunities to friends and family members because you can’t say no, or because you haven’t created a system that really is a gauntlet for how people get into your business, you’re really just asking for problems.


So make sure that you don’t misinterpret our advice, that it’s okay to work with family members as carte blanche to bring in all family members and all people who want a job.

Because as you’re successful, more and more people will come looking for that job that they can get because they hear your company’s so cool or make sure you’ve got a good process for filtering out those who really have the right cultural fit and the right skill set to make your company great.

Scott Martineau: That’s all for this episode of the small business success podcast. Again this is Scott Martineau, Clate Mask wishing you great success in your business. Go out, find some great family members, bring them into your business, make it work.

Clate Mask: And don’t forget to practice those three things: love, open real communication, and making sure that you’ve got the business relationship that is the, how do you say that?

Scott Martineau: This is a powerful ending. Powerful ending. Close it up. Close it up

Clate Mask: I want to make sure we recap those three things so they didn’t get lost in the process.

Scott Martineau: I think we ought to ship it like this. No editing. Don’t edit this part.


Clate Mask: So make sure you practice those three things. Love, open real communication, and accountability to family members who work in the business. All right, thanks everyone for listening in to the small business success podcast. Don’t forget to rate on iTunes and share and subscribe. We look forward to the next podcast. Make sure you tune in.

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