Nicole Bernard Dawes grew up working in her parents' startups: she was often behind the counter of her mother's food shop or leading tours at her father's potato chip factory. She believes that exposure to business fueled her own entrepreneurial spirit.
"I'm the product of a mom with a health food store and a dad with a potato chip company," says Dawes. It's as though those companies had a child of their own. Dawes is the co-founder of an organic snack food company called Late July. "This is essentially the only job I am qualified to do, " she says.
Dawes, like many entrepreneurs, got an early education in entrepreneurship by working alongside her parents. On Thursday, children across the country will follow in her footsteps and visit their parents' workplaces for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. The event, created by the Ms. Foundation for Women in 1993, aims to highlight the importance of education and encourage children to picture their professional futures. For some founders, every day was an opportunity to learn and gather insight on how they would one day run their companies.
Dawes described the family businesses as magical places to grow up, but said neither of her parents shielded her from the hardships or lessons of entrepreneurship. In fact, when she started her own small cookie company at age 12, she already knew how to price her sweets based on budgeting and reinvesting profits back into her venture.
"Because of the way my mom and dad raised me, I didn't just come up with a price," Dawes says. "If you grow up with it, it becomes second nature rather than trying to learn it as an adult."
Dawes' father, Steve Bernard, who died in 2009, helped her launch Late July in 2003. The Boston-based company has since grown to 26 employees and last year booked more than $100 million in revenue.
Alli Webb, the co-founder of the blowout company DryBar, also applied what she learned at her parents' business to her own startup. Her mother and father opened Flips, based in southern Florida, a boutique clothing store aimed at older women. Her parents served bagels or offered chairs to the men who trailed their wives or girlfriends into the store.
"I think it was an education that I didn't realize I was getting, because it was my life," says Webb, whose business approached $100 million last year. "My parents worked really hard to make people feel welcomed, which is what we have always strived for at DryBar."
Not every parent is eager to see their child follow in his or her entrepreneurial footsteps. Several founders told Inc. their folks discouraged them from joining the family firm. Jeffrey Braverman watched most of his family work at the nut company his grandfather launched in the 1920s, but when he told his father Kenny he wanted in, the elder Braverman
told him "he was nuts" --and not in an ironic way.
"He said, 'Why would I want to go into the family business that wasn't a good one?'" says Braverman, who is now CEO of Nuts.com, as the business is known today. "I got it, but I believed there was an opportunity there and I believed in myself--and we did it."
What started as a small shop in Cranford, N.J., blossomed into an online bulk and wholesale nut, dried fruit, chocolate and snack business that booked more than $50 in revenue last year. That growth was the product of a number of efforts, including Braverman's joining the team and taking the business online in the late 1990s.
Braverman wasn't simply handed the CEO job--he says he had to prove himself first--but he absorbed valuable lessons between the decades he spent around the shop.
"I learned to get into the weeds and roll up your sleeves," says Braverman, who got his start sweeping the floors. "Before you hire other people to do it, do it yourself."
Teddy Fong, the CEO of Million Dollar Baby--a children's furniture business his parents started in 1990--was also not groomed to take over the company. "They really encouraged us to find our own path and figure things out on our own because they saw the issues when families forced their kids into the business," Fong says, referring to himself and his sister Tracy, who serves as the vice president of sales. "Maybe it was all just a grand scheme, because we ended up working for the business."
Fong was 6 when his parents started selling crib headboards out of the trunk of a car in Los Angeles. He became CEO 25 years later and helped transform the startup into a $70 million company. Fong says one of the most important lessons his parents taught him was that being part of a business's founding family comes with added pressure, especially if you're the boss. "There is a greater microscope to how you act and what you do than anybody at the company," Fong says.
While Falon Fatemi grew up watching her parents run their own businesses, she decided to create one of her own in 2015. The 32-year-old founder of the artificial intelligence startup Node credits her work ethic to her parents. Her mother and father emigrated to the U.S. from Iran during that country's revolution in the late 1970s and worked 24/7 to create their own businesses, often taking calls during dinner or answering faxes late at night. Fatemi says she slept in the same room as the fax machine and would wake up 3 a.m. to the sounds of incoming messages.
"I was raised under the immigrant mentality that hard work, education, persistence, and resilience is the way to being successful," Fatemi says. "My brother and I were held to some high standards, which we are better for today."
But before her father launched his companies, he brought her to work at the semiconductor maker Advanced Micro Devices on Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. She remembers wearing the protective bunny suits, seeing the machinery that build the computer chips and thinking it was the "coolest thing ever."
"I got so much appreciation from that," Fatemi says. "How cool the innovation aspects were and how cool it was that my dad could be a part of something like that."