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A family affair: The realities of a modern family business


Last week, I gave an interview to Annie May Noonan at Real Business about the journey that Laybuy has been on since we founded the company two years ago. It was a brilliant opportunity to tell the story of how the business has grown and matured, but there was one thing in particular that really hit home when I reread the published article. Much as I am proud and humbled by the incredible achievements of Laybuy to date, the success is made so much sweeter by the fact that I am lucky enough to be able to undertake this venture with my family quite literally by my side – as colleagues.

People often ask me about the dynamics of a modern family business, and every now and then I get a sneaking suspicion that people wonder why on earth relatives would choose to work together! The truth is that Laybuy became a family business from the moment of conception. The idea for Laybuy was a direct result of my relationship with my son, Alex Rohloff (now the Business Development Manager of the company). Through personal experience, he was able to give me a key insight that he, and others in the millennial age group, were crying out for a way to spread out payments for aspirational purchases without having to get into risky credit card debt. No answer existed, and so the idea for Laybuy was born – offering consumers the opportunity to make payments for purchases in six weekly, interest-free instalments.

Now, I could simply have cut and run with the insight, founding the business alongside a partner with heritage in entrepreneurism. Instead, I was 100% confident that I wanted Alex, then 21 years old and fresh out of university, alongside me. Why? Not only did Alex have high levels of passion and enthusiasm for the concept (it was his idea, after all), but he also brought with him huge amounts of knowledge about the target market and its interactions with technology. And once you’ve got a father-son business on the go, why stop there? My wife, Robyn Rohloff, is our Brand Director, whilst our other son, James Rohloff, became the Product Manager of the business.

So, back to that tricky question that I’ve neatly avoided thus far: are we raving mad to choose to work together? I would say a very confident no, but with the caveat that any start-up journey is an emotive one, and when you’re on it with the people you love, you can multiply the emotional impact several times over! To say it’s always smooth sailing would be completely misleading. It’s difficult to act as an MD and a dad/husband to the same people. We’ve had to make big decisions that impact us as a family, one being relocating to London from New Zealand to grow the business in the UK and Europe. Not a ‘just down the road’ kind of move by any stretch of the imagination!

I can say without hesitation that the challenges of working with family are totally outweighed by the benefits. When we succeed, we succeed together. When things don’t go as planned, we commiserate together and, more importantly, pick ourselves up and together ask ‘what’s next?’. In addition, you cannot replicate the level of honesty in feedback, ideas and input that you receive from your colleagues when they are also your closest relatives. This cuts out a lot of unnecessary ‘egg-shell walking’ that can delay or even hinder progress.

At Laybuy, like any business, we are all still learning what works and what doesn’t, and of course the road can get bumpy at times. In my opinion, however, it is our strong family bond that makes all the difference in navigating the journey ahead.

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Gary Rohloff