Twins capitalize on their unique sibling relationships for entrepreneurial success.
If you think your ideal business partner is someone who has your DNA, you may be right. For several sets of Columbus twins, it is named as a direct factor in their success as entrepreneurs—either in doing business with their twin, or in doing business with their twin's support and input.
From healthcare tech company CoverMyMeds, worth $1 billion, to Griffen Hollow Studio, maker of wooden promotional products—which just landed a large, local restaurant chain as a client—a variety of businesses are backed by people who have shared their entire lives and professional ventures with a sibling who also shares their birthday—and, in most cases—their DNA.
Nature and Nurture
Twins usually experience the same catalysts for life's trajectory together—a trajectory that begins before birth and often includes sharing clothes, friends and bunk beds. The Traxlers, Scantlands, Joneses and Duplers are not exceptions.
When Alex and Zachary Traxler were boys growing up in Athens, Ohio, they were self-described “wheelers and dealers.” The two took turns mowing their three neighbors' lawns with a riding mower. In addition to mowing, Alex Traxler, now the owner of Griffen Hollow Studio, grew up doing woodworking with his grandpa—something that has shaped his business. His brother, Zach, spent time in middle and high school building computers and even following ecommerce trends. Though they didn't know they wanted to be entrepreneurs until much later, they were already taking steps in that direction and had entrepreneurial blood in their veins. Their father, Ron Kaplan, still owns Surf Ohio, the retro T-shirt brand that was ironic before that was a cool thing to be. Now, Zach prints T-shirts of his own with his screen-printing company, Traxler Printing.
“We discovered all these gems and little projects (my father) never followed through, like Skate Ohio, and we were both skaters so we tried to bring Skate Ohio back,” says Zach. “I was hand-drawing T-shirt designs, and then going to local shops, coming to Columbus and printing the shirts.”
Alex adds, “I've always been a woodworker. I worked with my grandpa for my entire life (doing woodworking). I joined the Columbus Idea Foundry. I set out to make furniture (but) I saw laser cutters and then just started doing that.”
Other twins' entrepreneurial bents were also influenced by their families and childhoods.
Pete and Matt Scantland were in first grade when they landed their first gig, a paper route. The way they explain it, giving two first-graders a paper route is almost more trouble than it's worth. Luckily, they had a mother who wanted to instill hard work in them—a family motto also lived out by their father. He worked at Battelle for 20 years, and they credit him with emboldening them to pursue the rigors of starting businesses. Before their paper route, their mother would help them fill bags. Then she'd wheel a wagon full of papers through their route with them.
“One of the core family values was that good things come to those who work hard, and early on, that was a requirement. They were actually willing to inconvenience themselves to do it,” says Pete, founder and CEO of Orange Barrel Media, which turns office buildings and other urban landmarks into outdoor ads.
“You and I both, for the hours we haven't been in school, we have had jobs since we were 13. And informally before that,” adds Matt, co-founder and CEO of CoverMyMeds.
The Scantlands aren't the only twins with a childhood business venture throwing papers. Branden and Bruce Jones, co-creators of the events-based media platform Blk Hack, also had a route for seven years that they inherited from their older sisters. Soon, delivering newspapers became a venue to make even more money for the twins who say they kept Composition books in middle and high school that they filled with lists of business trends and ideas.
“My dad had a basketball program that he ran, and after the program was over with, he had leftover merchandise and candy, and that kind of kicked off our first little entrepreneurial hustle,” says Branden. “We took that candy and merchandise and hit our newspaper customers, sold all of it in a day, walked away with about $800-$900; split it.”
“(And then) went to the City Center Mall on the bus,” adds Bruce, a place they usually went to buy shoes, he says.
The Joneses had always known they wanted to be in business together. Even before they started Blk Hack, the brothers promoted events together for 10 years.
“Since middle school we always knew. We bootlegged movies and CDs and sold them to students in school. We always tagged-teamed on any idea or concept we could come up with,” says Branden.
That their parents always strived for job independence inspired them.
“We always saw an entrepreneurial example from both (parents). … My mom was always home. She never left. We saw that example and we were like, ‘How can we be at home all day and pay the bills and not have to go clock in anywhere?' We've always wanted that for ourselves,” Branden says.
Brandon and Randy Dupler, founders and principals at Dupler Office, a workplace design and furnishings firm, have also desired to run a company together ever since they can remember. After years of pursuing separate interests, they finally acted on it.
“I think it started as we've always sort of had a dream to be in business together,” says Brandon. “Our first kids were born in 2002 and 2003, and that's when we challenged ourselves—are we going to do something together? If we are, we should probably think about getting something going. … It was kind of a perfect storm of timing. We collectively always worked on all of the planning and research.”
Identical twins Janie and Rachel Rafoth, of Canfield, Ohio, are just beginning to map out their lives and business endeavors, and it looks as if their plans will include each other. Juniors in Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, they say that they switched to the major together.
“We've always done everything together. … We know how to help each other out, so I think being business owners together, it would be a unique opportunity. We would do very well at it because we've spent so much time together,” says Janie.
The Perfect Partner
Branden Jones describes his brother, Bruce, as the best possible teammate because of the years of trust built into the relationship the twins share. Regardless of inevitable disagreements—after all, being a twin doesn't mean being the same person—the bond is too strong to break.
“Somebody that's going to have your back—a twin is exactly that. Someone that's going to support you, who understands. … There's so many times where, even us, we've tried to go in business with other people, and if it doesn't work out, or there's a disagreement, or there's ego or pride involved, it really doesn't come back after that. We can cuss and push each other—even punch each other a couple times—but once that's done, we go get lunch,” he explains.
And though the Scantlands are not leading the same business, they say their relationship has made both of their businesses stronger.
“I think (being a twin) has absolutely been an advantage,” says Matt. “We've gotten smarter faster by having someone to bounce ideas off of, and with really pretty low communication overhead because we can practically grunt and understand what we mean. And so that I think has helped accelerate a learning curve that can take a while.”
Randy Dupler says starting a business with his twin brother, Brandon, was akin to bringing a security blanket into a stressful and uncertain situation. Deep familiarity with one another has ensured mutual trust, even during times of conflict.
“You have your best friend, you have each other's back,” he says. “There's always a sounding board and the ability to challenge, as we have difficult conversations more easily. There's an unwritten trust factor that happens where you don't have to worry about your business partner, you know where they are always.”
Brandon agrees. “You can also pretty much finish each other's sentences. We don't always like what each other says, but we pretty much know what the other is going to say. We're very open and highly communicative, even if we think we know what we're going to hear. That's been a benefit for the company,” he says.
Also included in the special bond of twins is a different kind of sibling stereotype—one of teamwork rather than of competition. The Traxlers say whatever sense of competitiveness that existed growing up has dissipated. Though they have each pursued their own businesses, and are even at times competitors because of their companies' offerings, they say rivalry just isn't there now the way it was for a short time in high school.
“I think that growing up we got all that (competition) out of the way. We used to beat the hell out of each other,” says Alex.
“Alex is a bit more meaty than I am,” Zach adds—a cue to figure out who won those fights.
“If we're going to be competitive, (it) should be who can get each other the most referrals, not who can have the most sales. … I think it's better for us both in the long run for growth to be working together,” Zach says.
The two have acted on this by displaying each other's business cards prominently in the entrance of their respective businesses and talking each other up to potential clients.
The large CoverMyMeds and comparatively smaller Orange Barrel Media owners also say they no longer struggle with wanting to best one another—much the opposite.
“In college we realized that the world is a really big place and it's not zero-sum,” Matt Scantland says. “So, for me to win, he doesn't have to lose. … Once we realized that we could both win and actually make it easier for each other, that was a turning point. We didn't move back into bunk beds when we moved back together after college, but it was almost a decade that we lived together while we were starting our companies. That's emotionally a tough time, so it was a good way to do it—not spending very much money and really having someone that is there.”
Now, in addition to their separate businesses, the brothers are in business together.
Matt is an investor in Orange Barrel Media's IKE, an interactive city kiosk that connects users to helpful information about a city. It rolled out in Denver two years ago.
And Pete says he pays close attention to how Matt led CoverMyMeds into its January sale to global pharmacy giant McKesson.
”It's been really amazing to watch what Matt and CMM have done in terms of going from a startup to something really large. What they've been able to do in terms of growing a management team and growing along the way, I've been able to watch and try to incorporate some of that into what (Orange Barrel Media) is doing,” he says.
Bruce Jones says competition will not be the reason he stops doing business with his brother. It will be if Branden pursues a venture Bruce doesn't want to pursue himself.
And even then, his mind could easily change.
“Even if I don't want to be part of it, but it's actually successful, I'm hurrying back and saying, ‘Let me be a part of that. I need in,'” he says.
A built-in bonus for the Scantlands has been their complementary skills. Pete has a creativity that Matt says he doesn't have. Instead, Matt says he excells in science and math. Those offsetting skills—reflected in the brothers' respective businesses—when combined with a similar business outlook, they say have benefitted each brother and his business.
The Scantlands aren't the only twins who feel that they add strength to each other's weaknesses. Branden and Bruce have also noticed harmonizing skills in one another.
“We're yin-yang. What I'm strong in, he's weak in; what he's strong in, vice versa,” says Branden.
And the sentiment is shared by Brandon and Randy Dupler, even though they say they had to move away from each other for a time after college to gain a personal identity. Until after they graduated, they shared pretty much everything. They even had the same nickname—‘Dupes.'
“We complement each other's strengths,” says Randy. “Where Brandon is strong in the business development side, he also gets to spend 95 percent of his time in that channel. I have more operational strengths, so I have operated somewhat as the general manager of the company and been responsible for all the operations and all the minutia that goes on. Brandon doesn't have—nor has he ever had—any direct reports. That was part of the deal. … As for really understanding the divide-and-conquer and really leveraging each other's strengths, we've been able to successfully operate the company with our leadership that way.”
A time of separation was something that needed to happen for the Traxlers as well. Zach moved from Athens to Columbus when he was a sophomore in high school and finished out at Whetstone High School, while Alex remained in their hometown.
“(Alex) was class president and on the varsity soccer team, and I was looking to go to art school and create my own space for myself,” says Zach.
“Something clicked in our heads that we needed to be different,” adds Alex. “That time when he moved to Columbus and I stayed in Athens gave us the space apart, then when I moved to Columbus, we got really close and remained really close. As far as business goes, it's not competitive. It's more like, ‘How can I help you out?'”
And when Pete Scantland moved to North Carolina to attend Elon University, the brothers learned a valuable lesson—they learned not to take each other for granted.
“We recognized that even though you go to a different school and meet a ton of new, great people, there's still something missing. There's really probably no other relationship that can be as close as that. We literally have the same DNA. It's a physical sort of missing one another. … From then on, I think we learned to appreciate each other more and not take each other for granted in the way that we did before that separation,” says Pete.
Now, they have either lived with one another or within a block of one another since college—with the exception of now, as Matt has moved farther away, but that will soon be remedied when Pete moves next door.
The Joneses, on the other hand, have never felt a need to disconnect.
“I think the only separation at some point was just about having our own place,” says Branden. “Two sharks in one tank—kind of outgrowing bunk beds at some point. Other than that, we haven't really had an identity crisis.” This, they say, may be due to the fact that they are fraternal rather than identical.
OSU student Rachel Rafoth says she and her sister, Janie, had always wanted to attend the same university. It was their No. 1 desire when school-searching. After college, they say they will remain together. “We always want to live in the same area and we have the same goals, so (pursuing business) made sense for us,” says Janie.
All of the twins agree—they'll stay involved in each other's lives and business ventures as partners or supporters.
“I really think that I was put on this earth to improve the lives of people around us by creating great jobs. When you think about what kind of impact Pete and I want to have on the community here, that's what we want it to have been. I think that came from my parents and has really been a motivating factor that keeps us at it,” says Matt Scantland.
“We're in business together. I'm sure there will be more,” Pete adds.
Chloe Teasley is the editorial assistant.