Mother and daughter duo Christine and Maria share their thoughts on going into business with family, managing disagreements and the myths about working with other women.
Think women can’t work together? Think again. Welcome to She’s My Co-founder, a series all about powerhouse cofounders who also happen to be (you guessed it) female. We’re going to be diving in with women who support and nurture each other through all things business and beyond to find out just exactly what it’s like working alongside a gal pal.
This week we are joined by mother and daughter duo, Christine Sotiriou & Maria Sotiriou, co-founders of SILKE London, luxury slip-on hair wraps crafted from 100 per cent silk. SILKE London is the brainchild of Maria who is of Mediterranean and Caribbean descent. Her thick, wavy hair was prone to frizz and she decided to create a product that would encourage growth, maintain its style and reduce hair breakage. SILKE London is Now stocked in Net-A-Porter, Cult Beauty and other luxury stores.
Here Christine and Maria share how they work together as family and business partners and share the best things about having a co-founder
#1 How did you become co-founders and how long have you known one another?
Christine: Well, I’ve known Maria for my whole life as she’s my mum! And becoming co-founders started with her story.
Maria: I’ve been a hairstylist for over 35 years, and even with all my experience and access I still couldn’t find anything that helped my hair to grow, hold its style or prevent breakage. One morning, staring at yet another pillow strewn with broken hair and split ends, and faced with another morning spent restyling my hair, it hit me: the damage was happening in my sleep! So, merging together the hair wrapping methods of my Caribbean heritage and the incredible benefits of 100 per cent silk for both skin and hair, I came up with our SILKE Hair Wrap.
Christine: I was still working for one of the big four financial firms at the time, but I always knew I wanted to start my own company. And seeing how incredible the hair transformations were for not only myself, but other women using my mums wrap, I realised this was something we had to get out there. So, one Sunday, sat on our living room sofas in our pyjamas, I said to mum “I want us to get this out there, and build a hair care company together, what do you think?” and she said, “let’s do it.” The next day, I went in to work, handed in my notice and quit. And that was it. Just like that, so simple.
Maria: There was one other thing. I told you, to make absolutely certain this is what you wanted to do, because you were going to be very, very poor, and work very very hard, for a very long time.
Christine: Oh yeah, and that!… she was right too!
#2 Trust is an important aspect in any relationship, how have you been able to build the trust between you?
Christine: I think as mother and daughter, we are very lucky in that we implicitly trust each other. We have always had a really, really close bond, and there’s no one on this planet I trust more. So that bit, was easy.
#3 Disagreements happen in every relationship, as co-founders how do you manage disagreements and making final decisions?
Christine: Ha! We can really have huge blow-out disagreements, that we would never have with anyone else, but because we’re mother and daughter, it’s like a safety net for us as we know we’re always going to come together in the end.
Maria: For me, decision making is based on valuing my partners opinion as much as my own, as she sees things from a different vantage point that I may not have. But also, being confident, and this may be because of my age, in my own decision making myself. Being able to value your own opinion, and your partners opinions, is very important to coming to a final decision, as there’s no room for doubt when you are building a business.
#4 What are your working styles and if different from one another, how do you bring them together?
Christine: I am a processor. I like to work through a process, perfecting each step before taking the next one. Whereas mum is all about her gut. She has an instinct, and her decisions are made in a flash. Which is great for me, because I’ve usually gone through a million different ideas and iterations, turned out two results that I can’t pick between, and she will step in with her decisiveness and make a final call. And I will always trust it, because her gut is very good. Like, Yakult good-bacteria good.
Maria: Hahaha. I like that. We are very different, Christine is to the detail, and I am from the gut.
#5 There’s a myth that “women can’t work together because we tend to be quite emotional, petty etc” and some other lies, what are your thoughts on this and what message do you have for people that hold this opinion?
Christine: Oh, come on. My message for people who hold this opinion is a) what era are you living in? because it certainly isn’t ours, and b) your stunted and unintelligible opinion of women is holding you back from huge success. Our company is female founded, and female run. And most of the external agencies and freelancers we work with are 98 per cent women too. Women are emotionally intelligent. And being able to successfully apply emotion to business, is incredible. You can build something that people actually connect to, not just buy. Something that will give you far more successful longevity. And isn’t that what everyone wants?
Maria: No, no. Women can most definitely work together. Issues don’t fester because of your gender, they fester when people feel undervalued at work. Whether you’re male or female, if you’re in a work environment where you feel valued, pettiness doesn’t even enter the workplace. But when people start to feel unequally treated, that is when negative emotions come into play.
#6 What are some important attributes one should look for in a co-founder?
Maria: No limit to the effort they will put it. And it needs to be comparable to your own. There were nights we would stay up for 24 sometimes 48 hours working, but it was always together. Could you imagine if one of you left the other to do it alone? You need a limitless desire for what you’re doing, because sometimes when starting a company, especially in the beginning, there isn’t much of a limit to how much you have to do.
Christine: So, I have this thing. I want to hear everyone’s opinions and most importantly their negative opinions when I propose a new idea. That isn’t revelatory, everyone knows that hearing the issues early allows you to fix them before they go wrong. But I absolutely hate hearing the critique of my work from Maria, my co-founder. That’s because, there is no-one’s opinion I hold higher than hers, and therefore, I always want her to be completely impressed with everything I do. So, I would say, when you’re looking for a co-founder, look for someone who’s opinion you value so much, that you always want them to be impressed by what you do, because that is a sure-fire way to keep you motivated and deliver your best.
#7 What makes you feel empowered?
Christine: When people value my opinion. Starting a business as a young-woman at 24, I found going into a lot of meetings that people wouldn’t take me seriously. And that kind of pre-emptive judgement, purely based on how I look, is something I will never do. Because, by the end of those meetings, those people would always look so startled, surprised by the value in what I had to say. And whilst I was able to change their opinion of me, it’s a lot harder for them to now change my opinion of them. Because now I know, if this is their approach to business, they are likely to miss huge opportunities and talent in the future. So why would I want to work with people who could make me miss out like that?
Maria: Knowing that the product we developed makes women feel confident and makes them feel better about themselves is what makes me feel empowered.
#8 Podcast or book? And which one would you recommend?
Maria: Book. I’m currently reading “How to be an overnight success” by Maria Hatzistefanis, because I love to read about anyone with grit and determination. She envisaged her product and stuck to what she knew she wanted to create.
Christine: Podcast! I am obsessed with podcasts. I listen to them on my way to and from work. The best is “How I built this.” It’s Guy Raz sitting down with some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and chatting through the story of how they built their business. At first, I listened to all the entrepreneurs I thought I would relate to most, but then I realised, people who built businesses in the most opposite fields to me will say something that will spark something that I can apply to my own life.
#8 Could you share something about your co-founder that you would like to appreciate?
Christine: My mum, Maria, has the most incredible ability to constantly move forward. Some of the things she’s withstood whilst maintaining working hours that even the most hardcore would shy away from, being the best single-mother you could imagine, from keeping our home immaculate down to cooking for us (three kids) every single night and then starting work back up again in the evening straight after, it is genuinely, unbelievable. I don’t actually know how she did it and still does it. And all this, and still wanting to achieve more, enough to start a new business at 50… its quite frankly, just insane.
Maria: I appreciate that Christine is so multi-talented. I am so impressed that she is able to do so many different things that we would normally have to employ multiple different people to do. I appreciate and am proud of her, every single day.
#9 Any last advice for those seeking a co-founder?
Christine: Find someone you’re so impressed by, that you equally want to impress.
Maria: Know your weaknesses and look for them as strengths in somebody else. But ultimately, above everything, you have to have the same work ethic. Because that’s a difference, you won’t be able to overcome.
You can find out more about SILKE London here.