Surviving and thriving in a sister start-up

Two beautiful women with different skin colors stand together. Abstract minimal portrait of two girls in earth’s natural tones. Concept of sisterhood and females friendship. Vector illustration

Growing up, Van and I were always the best of friends. The closest in age of three sisters, we always shared ideas, outfits and secrets.

So, it was obvious when Van, a full-time emergency nurse, said she wanted to develop her own hospital scrubs to challenge the norm of often ugly, always uncomfortable and annoyingly pocket-less hospital attire.

While the initial idea was intended as an exercise, we quickly realised this was a serious market gap, and so we began to explore how our concept may be used to revolutionise the way the medical profession looks and feels at work with something fresh, functional and comfy.

And then, the global pandemic hit.

Shortages of scrubs were making headlines, and our concept grew into a serious mission as we realised there was a real opportunity to provide the profession with a product that was not only of high quality, but enabled them to perform their duties with confidence – especially in a high-pressure COVID climate.

And so, Scrub Lab was born.

As an accountant by background, I was not naïve to the challenges that start-ups face, let alone navigating the journey with my sister, who although my best friend, thinks in a completely different way to myself.  

Since we officially launched close to six months ago, a number of issues have surfaced that have challenged our communications style, our ability to leave “business at the door” and our relationship as a whole.

The journey over the last few months hasn’t been without its challenges, from the Melbourne lock-down itself, through to the delays on the ports and its impact on our ability to fulfill stock orders. These challenges have only served to teach Van and I important lessons about business and about effective business partnerships.

Reflecting upon just how far we’ve come, there are a number of areas we’ve grown as business owners that I wish I could go back and tell myself (because isn’t hindsight a beautiful thing).

Have an open mind

Firstly, it would be that you need to approach everything with an open mind, and a greater appreciation for your business partners strengths, tendencies and personality traits.

While we are family, we also have our own sets of values and beliefs. Be willing to hear feedback, consider alternative solutions to problems, and understand and accept you aren’t always right.

Balance business with friendship

Coming into this, Van and I were sisters first.

Through the juggle of the business, we’ve had to step away from Scrub Lab during family dinners to ensure stress points didn’t escalate in front of loved ones and to also give ourselves the space to fall back into who we are at the heart of all this – sisters.

This approach has allowed us to release the pressure valve when we’ve had a tough week and remind us of the love we share.

Celebrate the small stuff

Having had to adapt quickly and navigate the start-up journey in a unique environment, what we’ve had to remind ourselves is how to celebrate the small stuff, and often.

Yes, along the way we’ve made mistakes; turns out packing orders at midnight isn’t conducive to putting address labels on right or to constructive conversation, but overall, we are proud of what we are creating, and what we are enabling through charity partnerships and our CSR initiative of aligning with charities to give back in some small way.

To anyone considering working with family, the biggest piece of advice I would give is to remember you are family first, business second, but when it comes to making tough business decisions, be guided by what’s best for the business, over the relationship.

Linh Nguyen, Co-Founder, ScrubLab