It was August 2013 when my co-founder at SportsManias called to tell me that we had raised $1 million in angel funding. I was a second-year in college on my way to the library at the University of Chicago; she was back in Miami, where our company is based. This moment confirmed that our vision for sports journalism wasn’t crazy after all. The investors believed in our mission to blend social media with the reporting of sports beat writers.
“Mom,” I said. “That’s great news!”
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Yes, I founded SportsManias with my Mom, and it continues to surprise friends, investors and partners. People say, “Vicente, that’s really cool, but I don’t know if I could ever do that.”
When I was 1,400 miles away in Chicago, there was no one else I trusted more than my Mom to represent SportsManias in front of Miami’s most respected investors. In fact, I would argue that our mother-son relationship is a competitive advantage in the harsh startup game.
Before I make a case for the mother-son duo, let me be honest: I was not the most willing co-founder, initially. During the winter of my first year in college, starting a company with my Mom was absolutely the last thing on my mind. I hadn’t even declared a major, yet out of nowhere, my Mom called with a plan for my career:
“Vicente, I have this idea to start a sports website for diehard fans. We should do it together.”
“Mom, you’re crazy. Where is this coming from?!”
She refused to back down. She believed that diehard sports fans, like me, were the prime audience for a new type of media experience. In true mother form, she called me every other day to talk about this startup. Instead of resisting, I started to meet her half way. And finally, when I returned home for summer vacation, we hammered out the vision for SportsManias during a car ride.
What I began to realize is that my Mom’s proposal wasn’t out of the blue. We had been developing a business relationship for years. When I was growing up, my Mom ran her own advertising agency, Aymara & Associates, and I used to swing by after school every day to do homework and hang out. In junior high, my Mom invited me into her world. I started to participate in brainstorm sessions and client work. We learned to be in business together long before we officially went into business.
Before we launched SportsManias, my Mom and I had spent 18 years learning to be mother and son. How many other startup co-founders can claim to have that amount of team practice?
One of the biggest advantages of that history is that we can be blunt. When my Mom criticizes my ideas, I know she’s not attacking me personally. We don’t have to do verbal gymnastics with corporate-speak and niceties to make a point. Our family training gives us an edge in communication and teamwork.
As mother-son co-founders, we also share a responsibility to family that supersedes all matters of equity ego and power. Inside SportsManias, we’re building the 21st century news source for diehard fans. Outside SportsManias, we care about the wellbeing, health and safety of all the same people. Our professional and personal lives are aligned, and that’s uncommon in the startup world.
When co-founder relationships break, they make a mess. Friends become arch rivals; companies drown in their own interpersonal riptides. As mother and son, there is no “breaking up” – blood can’t be erased and rewritten over like a flash drive.
Who “Should” Be Your Co-Founder?
I’m not arguing that every mother-son duo is going to be a good match in business. Some people can’t stand to be on the phone with their mother for five minutes let alone run a company with her. Here’s the point that matters: your choice of co-founder should not be limited by cultural baggage we attach to roles and identities.
Ultimately, you need to find someone with a complementary skillset and mutual respect. If that person happens to be your mother, father, sibling, neighbor, dentist, florist, landlord or the guy who crashed into your car yesterday, so what?
A mother-son duo sounds odd because we have invented expectations about the relationship between mother and son, and between ourselves and everyone we meet. The whole adage about keeping family and business separate is based on the assumption that we can somehow separate our personal and professional lives. We can’t. They either feed or starve each other.
At SportsManias, we operate like a family; my mom has practically adopted our Millennial co-workers. If they feel welcome, loved and motivated at work, that’s a good thing. When my co-founder brings in a cake for each birthday, we all grow closer.
Throw out all the superstitions about who your co-founder should be. If your Mom is the right business partner, go for it. My mother, my co-founder and my current landlord are all the same person. I’m ready for the peanut gallery because launching a business with my Mom is the best career decision I have made.
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