If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’ve probably thought about what it’s like to do business with friends. After all, how hard is it to join forces to lead a profitable business if you get along well individually?
In fact, starting a business with your best friend can be a rewarding experience, two Queen City entrepreneurs are a great example.
In 2020, after a six-year friendship, Brandi Neloms and Demetra Harris launched Sipping Black Only, a community of black-owned beverage lovers dedicated to elevating Blackness once corks, pours and sips.
I recently asked the duo to share their personal experiences as friends and business partners.
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Q: How did you formalize your business arrangements?
Demeter: Originally, I wanted it to be 50/50 ownership, but Brandi didn’t. She felt that this was my vision and that it was unfair to have equal ownership as a founder. We decided to move forward with an LLC and a 60/40 ownership split – I own 60% myself and Brandi 40%.
Brandi: We decided to outline the ownership structure in our operating agreement. While I’ve supported Sipping Black Only from the beginning, it was important to me to respect Demetra’s obedience to the vision she gave. We wouldn’t be here without her sharing her vision and rallying her network to execute it.
Q: How often do you formally meet to review business metrics and strategic strategy to ensure you stay on track with the business and each other?
Demeter: We are officially meeting bi-weekly, but since it’s growing so fast, we’re now changing it to weekly. This does not include our ongoing communication about events or tasks that occur on a daily basis.
Brandi: We discuss current activities, key performance indicators and long-term strategies. We also delve into strategic planning and goal setting at least quarterly. We use a variety of tools and apps to stay connected, organized, and informed, which is important as we both juggle demanding full-time jobs, family commitments, and other businesses. Demetra and I respect and trust each other, so we don’t need to check in very often. We know that we are checking our to-do list and acting in the best interests of Sipping Black Only and the community of brand owners and consumers we serve.
Q: When there is disagreement on a business or personal level, how do you make sure any friction doesn’t seep into every aspect of your relationship?
Demeter: When there is a disagreement in business, raise it politely. We exchange our opinions through text, virtual meetings and face-to-face. If there’s something I don’t understand, even before I disagree, I’ll ask more questions about Brandi’s views on the matter. Having close friendships like ours makes us both friendly and harsh. Respect is very important and this is how we manage our business and personal relationships.
Brandi: Love and transparency. We genuinely love each other enough to be honest with each other when things are not right. Even with that iconic black girl being rude to convey a message or question, it was delivered with love. We emphasize being transparent about our personal priorities and bandwidth. We flag when we need help and when to-dos need to be moved. We are also focused on the mission. Too many people are counting on us to make “drink only black” work for us so that we don’t experience friction, discomfort, and annoyance. These feelings are temporary. The changes we are trying to make will be lasting.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of co-owning a business with friends and how do you approach this challenge?
Demeter: The most challenging aspect is balancing friendship and business in conversation. When we first started, I realized that I diverted 90% of my conversations to talk about business. I had to change it because I didn’t want it to be a major part of our relationship. We will now start a formal business meeting to update personal information. We’re actually a family, so it’s important to check things outside of business.
Brandi: The most challenging part is closing it. what! Sometimes I just want to hang out with my family girls instead of talking about business. It’s almost impossible because we’re all so excited about the work we’re doing. And we’re in the beverage business, so even in social situations, we ask at restaurants which black-owned spirits brands they run. We are fascinated by this topic. what! More seriously, the most challenging part is respecting the boundaries. For everything we do independently, we must ensure boundaries are set and respected.
Q: What do you enjoy most about doing business with friends?
Demeter: What I like the most is that I don’t have to beat around the bush when I talk to her, which gives her the freedom to do the same. It’s cool to hang out with your friends while fulfilling your goals and passions. We don’t just go to brunch and travel for fun. We can also experience life together running a business, which includes some of the same activities and more.
Brandi: I like to know more about my friend Demetra. I love seeing how her brain works and watching her bloom in the work we are doing. I often think back to when I got a call from her in 2020 to talk about this business idea, and then I think about everything we’ve accomplished since then, which is so exciting. I am not only the co-owner. I am also a cheerleader. I love watching my friends grow and be a part of that journey.
Q: What are your future plans for Sipping Black Only?
Demeter: Drink Only Black There are so many stores, so stay tuned for more #SipBlack experiences where consumers can sip and learn about black-owned beverages. There will also be more Black-owned wineries and winery tours and we will be presenting at more local food and beverage industry events. Our tea line is definitely something everyone should be looking forward to adding to their daily routine this fall, so check out our website to learn more about which tea is best for you!
Brandi: We will continue to build our community of black-owned drink lovers in Charlotte and beyond. We will host events and provide content that will inform people about the many beverage brands created by black founders. I am delighted that we recently launched the #SipBlack Challenge to encourage consumer action to increase awareness and sales of Black-owned beverage brands. We also opened nominations for our inaugural #SipBlack Emerging Entrepreneurs Grant. From where we are now, 2023 looks really good!
Let’s talk about it!
How inspired is it to see personal friends come together to execute entrepreneurial visions with passion, purpose, and a commitment to service and success?
Did this make you consider joining forces with friends or acquaintances to start and grow a business? It has special challenges, but as Brandi and Demetra show us, it can also be a fun and fulfilling adventure.
Be sure to visit their website SipBlackOnly.com and shop for apparel, drinkware and specialty teas, and stay tuned for more from these two inspiring Queen City entrepreneurs.
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