Starting a business isn’t for the faint-hearted. Is it easier — or harder — when you work with your sibling?
Ask two pairs of siblings who are on a mission to tackle sustainability issues through business — and who are using familial brain power to get it done.
Mexicans Daniel and Emmanuel Byrd launched a start-up called Agave Networks, a technology company which helps manufacturing and construction sites achieve net-zero waste by letting other businesses use excess materials. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Belgians Cedric and Chiara de Vlieger partnered in their existing family’s bridal business, Marylise & Rembo Fashion Group, and helped transform it into a more sustainable operation.
What’s it really like to work with your sibling? Poets&Quants spoke with all four to find out.
DANIEL AND EMMANUEL BYRD: HELPING BUSINESSES REACH NET ZERO
Daniel and Emmanuel Byrd got their undergraduate degrees from Tecnologico de Monterrey, a university in Mexico City. Emmanuel — the older of the two by just a year — studied computer science and engineering while Daniel studied industrial engineering.
In 2015, they worked as interns for the same manufacturing company — Emmanuel in an IT role and Daniel in production inventory management. There, they realized how much excess material the company had sitting in their inventory. They decided to do something about it.
With the company’s permission, they took the excess materials and sold them to businesses that could make use of them. This gave them an idea; they wanted to help businesses, mainly in manufacturing and construction sectors, achieve net zero waste by sharing or relocating their excess materials to other businesses that could use them.
Once pursuing master’s degrees — Daniel went to Imperial College where he studied innovation, entrepreneurship and management and Emmanuel remained at Tecnologico de Monterrey where he did a master’s in computer science — they launched Agave Networks in 2021. Now, the business is incorporated in Mexico and the UK, and they both live in London.
‘WE DON’T HAVE TO SPEND TIME NAVIGATING THE INTENTIONS OF THE OTHER’
Despite only being one year apart, they describe themselves as being very different. Emmanuel says he’s more analytical and process-driven, whereas Daniel is more business-savvy with people-focused. But according to Daniel, what they both have in common is “grit.”
“We are passionate people who like taking on challenges,” says Daniel. “When we commit to something, we achieve it.”
Emmanuel believes that the biggest benefit of working together is that they have both of their best interests at heart. “We don’t have to spend time navigating the intentions of the other,” says Emmanuel. “We have the same way of communicating. We know how the other person thinks, so we can get past superfluous challenges.”
‘NURTURE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR SIBLING’
For other siblings who are thinking of going into business, Emmanuel recommends that they start by working on their relationship. “You’re not going to have it easy just because you have a bloodline,” says Emmanuel. “Nurture your relationship with your sibling.”
“Be open and communicate about your goals,” adds Daniel. “And start small. Get to know yourself and each other in a business environment.”
While the pair has big dreams for the next few years, they’re real about the fact that they don’t know what the future holds. “Even if our business doesn’t make it, I know we will look for something else — a new business, adventure, experience in life — together,” says Emmanuel.
CEDRIC & CHIARA DE VLIEGER: MAKING THE BRIDAL INDUSTRY MORE SUSTAINABLE
While Belgian Cedric and Chiara de Vlieger didn’t start their business from scratch, they’ve applied the Byrds’ same entrepreneurial spirit to their existing family bridal business — Marylise & Rembo Fashion Group.
This business has existed for four generations. It started as a hat shop in 1926 in Antwerp, Belgium, before evolving into bridal accessories and eventually bridal dresses under the business name Marylise. In the 90s, the siblings’ father took over the business and launched it on an international scale. Then, in 2008, Marylise took over Rembo Styling, which was another Belgian bridal brand on the market. Now, Marylise & Rembo Fashion Group has just under 500 shops in 25 countries across the world.
But neither sibling knew that they’d join the company when they were studying at the University of Antwerp. For Chiara, she says she naturally fell into it following her degree in communication sciences. Since the company aligned with her interests, she joined in 2010 and worked her way up to head of design.
Cedric carved his own path after studying applied economics — also at the University of Antwerp. Determined to gain as much experience as he could, he took a consultant role at Deloitte and lived in the U.S. for four years. He realized that he didn’t want to be a consultant, and to his surprise, he became interested in working at his family business.
Working together wasn’t a decision the pair took lightly; they hired external advisors to help them determine whether or not they had complementary skills. Turns out, they do: Chiara has a knack for all things creative, while Cedric’s expertise lies in logistics and operations. Upon realizing it was the right fit, Cedric officially joined the company in 2017 and is now the managing director.
MAKING SUSTAINABLE CHANGE
The pair have continued their education at Vlerick Business School in Ghent, Belgium; Chiara undertook a course on SME Excellence whilst Cedric did a master class on supply chain management.
Since, they’ve achieved several milestones in the business. Not only have they launched another brand, Carta Branca, which is an avant-garde bridal collection, they’ve also made considerable progress in making Marylise & Rembo Fashion Group a more sustainable business. Now, all of their products are made in Portugal rather than China. Plus, they don’t produce any stock; every dress is made on-demand once purchased. They’re also working with local universities to determine new ways to reuse dresses, and they’ve hired a company to reuse their waste materials.
Over the next few years, the siblings are on a mission to increase the number of sustainable fabrics in their dresses. “This year, all of the linings in the dresses are sustainable,” explains Chiara. “Gradually, we want to increase that level of sustainable materials used.”
‘YOU NEVER HAVE A GUARANTEE — THAT’S AN ILLUSION’
Along with hiring outside help to define their differing skills, they also got help in creating a “family charter,” which acted like a roadmap to address potential conflict. This, Cedric says, helped them build a foundation upon which they could thrive as a family business. “You never have a guarantee — that’s an illusion,” says Cedric. “But at least you can have a strong base to start.”
Chiara feels that the biggest benefit to them working together is their open communication.
“With Cedric, I know what he wants to say just by looking at him,” she says. “At this point, it’s easier to work with him than somebody from outside of the family.”
She recommends that siblings looking to go into business together work on their communication and seek outside advice. “For us, the family charter is something we recommend other family businesses create,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to get external help.”
DON’T MISS THE BUSINESS SCHOOL PUTTING SUSTAINABILITY AT THE CENTER OF ITS MBA
Comments or questions about this article? Email us.