“When it stops being fun, we’ll stop working together.”
That was the agreement between my sister and me when we went into business together. We started informally in 2007. I came to the table as the elder business sister — offering to help with contracts, legal and accounting. Meanwhile, Camilla, a talented artist who was newly discovered in the Pop Surrealism art movement in L.A. galleries, came as herself: the creative.
Pop Surrealism, and opportunities for Camilla, were emerging at a time when everything else was falling apart. By 2008, many markets were plummeting. You wouldn’t think this was a good time to start a consumer-facing business, but there is a truth that many entrepreneurs and visionaries innately know: there are always opportunities if you can see them where others don’t and dare to venture where others won’t.
We started slowly, half a world apart. Camilla lived in Vancouver, and I lived in Italy while working with a hedge fund in Switzerland. I was in the thick of the financial crisis, while Camilla was coming to terms with the risks and responsibilities of being a full-time artist.
Though this was only 11 or 12 years ago, it was deemed impossible — at least to conventional thinking — that an artist could make a good living unless they were represented by a major gallery. Additionally, it was thought that if an artist exhibits uses their fine art commercially… well, they are no artist. “You can’t put her art on mugs!,” someone said early on. We replied: “watch us."
We were a killer team; our partner-in-crime childhood energy came out in full-force.
We operated virtually and across time zones, meeting in cities around the world for conventions and art shows. Our business of creating, selling and licensing art led us into the entertainment industry, as well as the fine art scene. Her art was in galleries from LA to Hong Kong and Rome. Within a year, we had an online store, a dozen licensees ranging from notebooks to handbags and we were manufacturing our own products. In 2009, I left my fund and became a full-time entrepreneur with my sister as a business partner.
Working together had its share of challenges. We were in our mid-20s, type-A and opinionated.
There were definitely non-professional outbursts on numerous occasions. There were misunderstandings and hurt feelings. My linear, analytical and structured ways didn’t vibe with her desire to be a free-spirited artiste. At times, dysfunctional family dynamics, sibling rivalry and childhood patterns still played out: I used the ‘I have a business degree so I know better card’ and she would always pull the ‘artist card.’
Yet, there was something that we had in common: we were both driven, entrepreneurial creators who wanted to express ourselves and achieve success while making an impact.
Though we took divergent paths in life, we came together as two complementary halves of a whole to do just that. Our shared drive and ambition fueled us and we overcame the challenges of siblings doing business together.
We worked together for seven years before our goals for the business — and for ourselves — were diverging. The strain of it was taking its toll. The key quality that fueled us for so long – having fun – was fading away.
The origin of going into business together was my eagerness to help Camilla get her work out into the world. I achieved that and it was time for me to move on. As a successful entrepreneur, I had a new landscape of opportunities ahead of me. Camilla, firmly established as a creator and a business woman, thrived on her own.
By working together, we learned who we were, who we had been, who we were becoming and what we meant to each other.
I can’t ask for a better experience than to be brought closer with someone who is so important in my life — and to make progress toward personal goals with her.