By Kevin Kline
Asked which brother was better looking, identical twins Evan and Aaron Collins laughingly replied “me.”
The duo hope to bring babysitting into the 21st century in Ireland with a business that brought the brothers closer.
They are just one of several sibling pairs launching startups while still in school.
Evan, a fourth year business student at University College Cork, had the idea of My Sitter during a holiday in Greece. Aaron, in his fourth year at Trinity College Dublin, joined on despite other job offers.
“I’m not sure if I would have kept driving forward with the business if [Aaron] wasn’t there,” says Evan.
The Collins brothers say after a lot of research, they realised apps that connect parents with babysitters in Ireland haven’t succeeded due to a lack of trust in an online platform. Their plan, when they roll it out later this year, is to sign up babysitters and put each one through Gardai vetting.
“It put to bed their doubts of trust,” says Evan.
Trust is a major asset of their teamwork too. Aaron says he trusts his brother. Evan says the same about Aaron.
Aaron says, “we are very honest with each other, which works well.”
Just like starting at a new school, Aaron says he’s unafraid, because he is with his best friend.
In January, they took the plunge, hiring a coder with funds raised from savings and family. Meanwhile, Evan and Aaron are finalists in the Accenture Leaders of Tomorrow competition, which could provide funding and guidance through the NDRC after graduation.
At Trinity, Aaron took part in programs organised by Blackstone LaunchPad and LaunchBox. Blackstone LaunchPad is a campus-based entrepreneurship program, accessible by more than 630,000 students globally. It is designed to support and mentor students, staff and alumni regardless of major, experience or discipline.
Aaron says it was helpful to connect with other student entrepreneurs to build a business circle. More often than not, Aaron says, the people he meets have useful advice.
The connections made help create better products. Those groups also act as early customers, like for Christine and Bridget Butler’s business, Marsh Sisters. The name focuses on their product (marshmallows) and avoids a legal fight with another Irish confectionary.
“Making marshmallows is just different,” says Christine, a first-year student at Trinity. “No one expects them.”
She took health and safety courses through the university’s student union. That helped certify her family’s kitchen, so she could launch the gourmet marshmallow business. In October, the pair began selling the gooey treats in a few Dublin shops and at the Bullring Market in Wexford.
“I think we spend more time together, but we’ve always been close,” says Christine.
Because they have fun working together, Bridget says, “it doesn’t feel like work.”
Christine says she will participate in Trinity’s LaunchBox this summer, a three month student business accelerator. At the pitch night, the Marsh Sisters noticed their company is different from other student businesses since they make a physical product instead of software.
It’s a matter of getting the product out there, says Bridget. “Having a working product versus a refined product is important.”
In other words, just taste the marshmallows.
While both Marsh Sisters and My Sitter are new companies, some student entrepreneurs have been working for years.
Artyom and Kyrill Zorin, founders of Zorin OS, first discovered the Ubuntu Linux system in 2008. They loved it. Linux was faster, more secure, and more powerful than Windows or Mac.
“It’s better in nearly every way than traditional [operating] systems,” says Kyrill. “We were wondering why isn’t this the default solution.”
So they showed Ubuntu to their father, a translator who moved to Ireland from Ukraine. The brothers say it became clear why Linux wasn’t mainstream: it’s not user friendly.
“Linux systems were built by engineers for engineers.”
Despite having no programming experience, the young brothers, just 12 and 14 at the time, built their own user-friendly operating system. By default, the system looks like a Windows computer.
Fast-forward nearly 9 years later, the brothers, now 20 and 22, released the 12th version of Zorin OS with premium and free versions. So far they’ve received more than 16 million downloads.
“We were both pretty passionate about technology and Linux,” says Kyrill who graduated from Trinity in December 2016. “We both thought, ‘why wait? Why not work right now? The both of us.’ We’ve continued since.”
The Zorin brothers generally split the tasks: Kyrill on the back-end engineering and Artyom on the front-end user experience.
“We’ve got some complementary skills,” says Artyom who deferred university for a year to focus on the business. “The higher level programming tasks and design, I do. Kyrill is more technically minded and helps out with the more difficult problems as well.”
These student entrepreneurs teach several important lessons for anyone launching a business with their brother or sister.
For student entrepreneurs, it is especially helpful to take advantage of the resources around them. The Blackstone LaunchPad at Trinity College, UCC, and National University of Ireland Galway provides networking, mentorship, and training. There are also student entrepreneurship societies at the universities that might not exist outside.
Matthew Toren, who co-founded several business with his brother Adam, suggested several key lessons for sibling partnerships.
Torin says the siblings should play to each partner’s strengths. At the Marsh Sisters, both are balancing the business with other commitments. Christine has university classes and Bridget has a full-time job as a graphic designer. Still, they found a good division of labor: Christine is the maker and Bridget is the marketer.
Christine says Bridget’s branding “was up to the standard of the marshmallows.”
Toren also says open communication is key for success. All three sibling pairs I interviewed agreed. They say their ability to have frank discussions makes the businesses stronger.
Aaron and Evan Collins learned that lesson the hard way.
“We fought at the start of the weekend, and pretty much the whole weekend was a write off,” says Aaron. “Looking back, we can say that was a pretty stupid argument. We really didn’t understand what we were doing at that time.”
Now the Collins twins have a simple system: rational debate. The brother with the best argument wins.
Sibling businesses, like any partnership, require mutual respect. Otherwise, something more important than money could be at stake: family.
Spiritual leader Deepak Chopra once said if you want to do important things in life, “your best teams are your friends and your siblings.”
With the right support, it’s clear some talented Irish siblings are finding success together.
This article was sponsored by Trinity College Dublin’s Blackstone LaunchPad.