By , Vicente Fernandez
Published May 03, 2016
It was spring of my freshman year at the University of Chicago when Mom called, out of the blue, with the strangest suggestion: “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 ignored my question and instead remained adamant about her startup idea to establish a sports media company. Sure, I had always been a diehard sports fan, and my Mom had long been a casual one. But it was exactly this gap between conventional fans and sports crusaders that had caught her attention.
We diehards practically have our own separate language and culture: Mom wanted to bring us all together in a new media mix.
For the rest of that academic year, 2010-2011, Mom -- whose name is Aymara Del Aguila -- called every other day to talk about this startup, which I had not yet even signed on to. But the wheels began turning. After all, we knew that local beat writers produce the best sports journalism, while millennials get their news from social media, not newspapers.
What if we combined those beat writers -- with social media -- to give social media users that great spots content? To answer that question, we co-founded SportsManias, in October 2012.
Investors, advertisers and friends continued to be surprised that I had started a company with my mother. Yes, the woman who raised me is my co-founder. Yes, I still live with her. And, yes, it is the best career and business decision I have made to date. In fact, starting a company with your mother, father or sibling can be a strategic advantage. The adage about never mixing business and family is just, well, bunk.
SportsManias continued the professional relationship my mother and I had already built organically. What I mean by that is that I grew up in her Miami advertising agency, Aymara & Associates. After school every day, I would go to her office, which, incidentally, is now SportsManias’ headquarters. I did my homework there, and by junior high, she began to include me in brainstorming sessions. We talked about life and business on the car ride home, just as we still do today.
Because my mother and I share blood, we have several advantages that typical co-founders lack. First of all, we’re blunt. We voice opinions without filters, and there are never hard feelings. Before going into business, we spent 18 years learning to be family; we established a level of communication and transparency most co-founders never attain.
The average startup strives to solve an important problem and make money. And my mother and I have both that ambition and a shared commitment to the well-being of our family.We've found that this two-pronged responsibility acts like an anti-ego tonic. The startup is not about me and my aspirations -- it’s about us and the people we both love.
Some entrepreneurs who go into business as friends come out enemies. Co-founders may break up; mother and son cannot. This means that we have no alternative but to solve any differences, and that makes us a resilient leadership team. Blood is our secret weapon in the startup arena.
Investors and advertisers have a lightbulb moment when they figure out that my mom is my co-founder. The most common reaction is, “That’s really cool, but I don’t know if I could ever do that. . .” I think, however, that parent-offspring co-founders can do great together if they have two things: complementary skillsets and equality.
Perhaps people imagine the moments when their moms yelled about dirty laundry on the floor and unmade beds. That’s Mom being the mother, not the co-founder, who ran her own company for 25 years and understands marketing, revenue models and management. I value her opinion in those areas; she values my perspective on social media, content and sports culture. Mom doesn’t “parent” me in business, because we’re equals.
That said, our office does have a family dynamic. A lot of our employees are around my age, so my mom has "adopted" them as her own sons and daughters. When there is a birthday, there’s a big cake, lunch and the whole shebang. Instead of building a façade between our personal and business lives, we recognize that the startup life is life. Family is an inextricable part of our culture.
I’d be lying if I said that running a startup with my mom is always easy. Unlike most co-founders, we know everything about each other. Hell, we live together and often drive to work together. When personal decisions intersect with business, there is no hiding the collision.
So, be forewarned: If you start a business with your mother or father, you need thick skin. Friends will ask, “Have you lost your mind?” But, you can tell them no, if you believe, as I do, that your parent is the right co-founder. One day, when you finish each other’s sentences in the boardroom, you'll laugh with everyone else.
I’m proud of SportsManias, I know that being a mother-son duo has helped us succeed. Mixing family and business is not a blunder. In a startup, this legal form of "blood doping" can become your competitive advantage.