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6 Things to Know Before Working With Your Family

My brother-in-law was my first hire, and now he runs my company with me. Here's how we keep from strangling one another.
ALL IN THE FAMILY: Joe Reynolds and Ryan Kunkel run Red Frog Events together. They're also brothers-in-law.
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At 3 a.m., the fire alarm sounded and my sister's college dormitory—filled with half-drunk undergrads—cleared, myself included. Shivering outside in sweats and a hoodie, I shook hands with the guy my sister would soon date and later marry. That same guy, Ryan Kunkel, would eventually be the best man in my wedding and lead Red Frog Events with me.

When it came time to hire my first employee, Ryan was an obvious thought. Not only was he one of the smartest, kindest, and hardest working people I knew, but most importantly, his skill set complimented mine perfectly. I offered Ryan the job and he accepted a week later (after several long walks with my sister). He was excited...although my mother was certainly stressed that all of her children's livelihoods now depended on a little company that essentially plans scavenger hunts.

Managing super-fast business growth with a family member is challenging. Sure, we debate (the joke in our office is that we wrestle in our bunker, the private conference room between our offices), but it's only because we care so much about Red Frog being a healthy, thriving organization for the long haul. We spend countless hours meeting, strategizing and traveling together. Every Wednesday we have late-night meetings and he stays in my guest room to spare his long commute—Red Froggers call these our "cuddle nights."

We then see each other on the weekends at family functions and on family vacations. All this time together works for us because we've learned balance, and we genuinely like each other.

This isn't the case for everyone, so be cautious about hiring a relative. I recommend asking yourself these questions before hiring and working with a family member:

  1. Is he or she actually the right person for the job?

  2. Can your relationship handle the challenges associated with running a business?

  3. Do you fully trust him/her?

  4. What's your exit strategy if it doesn't work?

  5. Can you spend significant time together (in and out of the office)?

  6. Is the rest of your family supportive of the decision?

Ryan proved to be the perfect compliment that I'd suspected he'd be. We still lead Red Frog Events together and will many for years to come.

Last updated: Mar 21, 2012

JOE REYNOLDS | Columnist | Founder, Red Frog Events

Joe Reynolds turned a $5,000 investment in an event production business called Red Frog into a thriving $45 million company in just four years. Red Frog Events was named the 2011 U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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