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Working With Dad: The Flip Side of Joining the Family Business

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Dean and Zach Harris at SXSW
Hila RazIBR Shop's Dean Harris and son Zach at SXSW in Austin this year.
Last month, we featured the lessons learned in creating the IBR Shop, a family business dedicated to small-space living. For Father's Day, we circled back with Zach Harris, digital vice president of the company, to talk about what it's like to work with his dad.

Q. Is this the first time you've worked for your father?

Zach Harris: Yes, this is my first time working with my father in an "official" capacity. However, I've always been my folks' go-to tech resource for all things digital.

Q. What other jobs/tasks/roles have you done with him?

ZH: Whenever we got any new gadgets, gizmos or really any Internet-related services, I've always been the first call my parents make. I think it's partly due to the fact that technology doesn't intimidate my generation as much as it does previous ones. Digital natives tend to "figure it out by Googling it" rather than asking for help or reading manuals. I think the way our parents' generation learned vs. how my generation learned has changed a lot since the advent of the Internet. We're kinesthetic learners; they're visual or auditory ones.

Q. What advice do you give to people who are about to start working in a family business?

ZH: Focus on how you can add the most value. Don't criticize what wasn't done right in the past. That's easy. Working with a family business is no cakewalk. There will always be good days and bad days. I've found that the most important thing is to try and put your ego aside and think about what's best for your company. For me, it's always helpful to remind myself that it is a huge privilege, a tremendous learning opportunity and a great way to generate a lasting legacy for my future family for many generations to come.

Try pursuing a lot of different strategies, but spend the most time on the ones that yield the best dividends for your company first and for you second. Don't go down a rabbit hole that doesn't have an end. If something isn't working, acknowledge that and try something else.

Put your ego aside and think about what's best for your company

This probably sounds like an over-simplified philosophy, but it's important to remember that a lot of companies spend a ton of time and capital mulling through valueless exercises, without focusing on solidifying their value proposition, listening to customer feedback and expanding their top line revenues in a reasonable period of time. And that's why they fail: they create unrealistic expectations, don't create revenue fast enough and burn through capital too fast.

In my view, it's important that you develop a scalable business model that lasts through the booms and busts of hyper-cycles, one that's focused on creating long-term value for an ecosystem on the whole and one which isn't wholly reliant on one person or team member.

It also helps a lot to have a wonderful support network of friends and family that you can share successes, failures, frustrations and future plans with. And I'm tremendously lucky to have a significant other whose patience and empathy know no limits.

Q. What has your father taught you about being an entrepreneur?

ZH: My father is one of the smartest, kindest, hardest-working people I know. I feel truly lucky to work with him. Intellect aside, he has always been generous, thoughtful, patient and like many men his generation, can be a bit stoic, too. I've always been lucky to have a very open, honest, intellectually curious relationship with him.

For many years, my mom and dad worked together as life partners and business partners running a successful creative advertising agency. I think this taught me the importance of a strong atomic family. And I also saw how their tremendous sense of humor got them through good times and bad.

I've also always been acutely aware of what they have sacrificed to afford me and my sister the best possible opportunities. They always put family and education first, even when it was economically challenging, and despite their busy schedules, they always made time for us. I've always admired their passion, creativity, honesty and integrity, too. Hopefully, someday I'll be as good a dad as he was for me.

Q: What do you think you have taught him?

ZH: Patience -- I'm kidding. Honestly, I have no idea. You should ask him!

Zach Harris invites you to follow him on Twitter @zach_inc and the IBRShop @ibrshop.

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