I Work with My Mom/Daughter
The old adage is “Don’t mix blood with business,” but the mother-daughter duos who run these successful San Diego brands would beg to differ
Laura Potter, “50-something,” and Natalie Potter, 24, founded Bliss & Baker in 2016. The San Marcos–based line of gourmet rice crispie treats has been featured in O Magazine and Cosmopolitan.
Why rice crispie treats?
Laura Potter: We’ve always loved to cook and bake. My mom always made rice crispie treats and I did it with our kids growing up. Then we started to add different things—the first was salted caramel—and people loved it. They said, “You should try a business!”
Natalie Potter: It’s very easy to work with her. I don’t think I could work with anyone else. There’s trust.
Do you have different roles?
LP: She’s creative and more apt to try new things. I’m more the background person doing the accounting and ordering supplies. Because she’s younger, it’s great to have someone who knows social media. We don’t really argue because we each have our responsibilities.
NP: Thank you! That’s so nice! You know, we work with each other every day, all day, so to talk about how much we like each other is nice. I’m not sure if it’s a social construct—the battle between mom and daughter. That’s not always the case. A lot of my friends are best friends with their moms.
NP: Day to day we might have a little tiff. But we understand each other and how we communicate.
LP: It might be little things, like design details. We’re good at compromising. It’s so important to be able to do that.
NP: There’s so much to do. We can’t spend a lot of time talking about a font. People need their crispies!
How do your work styles differ?
LP: I work slowly. Natalie’s a mover and shaker. Isn’t that right?
NP: Yeah. If something needs to be done, I want to do it right now. A lot of times my mom will say, “Let’s think about this.” But that’s good because someone needs to pull the reins on me.
LP: There are times we need to get going. It comes back to compromise.
Any advice for mothers and daughters who want to join business forces?
NP: There are so many resources for starting your own business or figuring out how to package something, whether it’s Pinterest or conventions or trade shows. The hardest part is starting, because you’re afraid. What if it fails? You never know unless—
LP: —you try!
NP: Take time to appreciate each other, to say thank you. We’re actually good about that. If we’re supposed to be at the kitchen early, my mom makes me coffee. We always tell each other we’ll vote each other employee of the month.
LP: We do! If one person leaves and the other stays late, it’s like, “Well, I want to get employee of the month!”
Yvonne Williams-McMillan, 65, and Erika Danina Williams, 47, launched Color Your World last year, offering women one-on-one career coaching and, this fall, webinars and conferences. Yvonne, a former teacher and mentor to college faculty and Erika, a former investment manager at JP Morgan Chase, run their business from their Rancho Peñasquitos home.
Why go into business together?
Yvonne Williams-McMillan: In early 2017 I had more people to coach than I had time in the day. I was answering the same questions and problems for everyone. So I started formalizing it—“I’ll give you this PDF to read before we work together, maybe we can move a little quicker.” I talked to Erika about it, and she said, “You need to put this online.”
Erika Danina Williams: Mom was my coach. I would bring my situation home and speak to her about it. “How can I move up the ladder?” She would help position me. Then my friends started coming to her. Even though she’s in academia and I was in finance, everyone wanted the same thing—to advance in their company.
What’s it like to work with each other?
EDW: My mom communicates well about what she needs and wants. We don’t have a problem with prioritizing, setting deadlines, then getting after it. Yvonne is divide and conquer. I’m more collaborative.
YWM: It’s a blessing because she’s taken off my plate the things that aren’t in my wheelhouse, like the business aspect. I don’t want to talk to vendors or spend my day figuring out social media; oh my god! And we work different hours. We have a large family in the house, all the way down to Erika’s grandson who’s three years old. I’m up at 3 a.m. while everyone’s sleeping except me and the dog. When everyone starts moving around to go to school or work, I’ve done a lot of work already. When it gets quiet in the midday, then I talk with Erika about what I’ve been doing to make sure I’m on track. Then I’m done by 4 p.m. because the family’s coming home.
EDW: It works well. I’ve been trained in corporate America. I have an 8 to 6 routine. We tease each other that we don’t go to bed for the evening. We just nap all day and night!
YWM: I’m a perfectionist. I spend so much time double-checking my facts that Erika is ready to make the next move. It seems that all of a sudden the company we were talking about grew up, and I was forced to do other things, like TV interviews.
EDW: She realized it’s a business, not a research project, but I’ve known my mom my whole life. I know how to nudge her! That was a little nerve-racking.
YWM: She became my boss. Like, excuse me?!
Working from home makes it harder to separate business from personal, right?
YWM: Absolutely! When we first got the business, Erika wanted an office. I was against that because I taught for 20 years and did my prep work at home. Erika needed separation because of the interruptions with family. I was like, “No.”
EDW: My first week home I was like, this is a madhouse! I couldn’t see how anything got done! With a three-year-old, who was two at the time, and with a dog! I’d barricade myself in my room.
YWM: I said, “Calm down, you’ll get over it.”
EDW: Now the thought of going to an office? I’d be missing the action. I’d be thinking, “What’s the baby doing? Has the dog been walked?”
YWM: I do a lot of my thinking walking or in the garden. I’ll be watering the grass and I’ll say, “Hey, come look at the tomatoes!” Erika’s like, “What are you doing?” “I’m thinking!”
Maxine Gellens, 80, and Marti Gellens-Stubbs, 54, formed their La Jolla real estate brokerage under Berkshire Hathaway in 1994. The La Jolla mom and Del Mar daughter currently have nine employees.
How did Team Gellens get its start?
Marti Gellens-Stubbs: My mom had her own thriving real estate business since 1976. I got into the business in 1985 right out of college. By 1994 I had my first child, who was one by the time we joined forces. I wanted to make time for my son and not be a crazy real estate agent like I had been for nine years. The perfect partner was Grandma, who’d understand when I wanted time off.
Maxine Gellens: Let me go back a little bit. Marti and her brother vowed they’d never sell real estate. I had gone into real estate when you were… in high school?
MGS: Junior high.
MG: I was never home! I didn’t have computers or cell phones—nothing to manage time. When Marti was in UCLA, she got her license and worked for me for a summer to earn money, not thinking she’d go into it. She was a kinesiology major and did that for about four to six months. She didn’t like it at all. That’s when she said, “I don’t want to do that. I’ll try real estate to earn some money.” That was in…
MG: She was in her own office in Del Mar; I worked at Mission Valley. We didn’t have the same customers. When we joined in 1994, we had to move to one office. She wanted her own identity—I had mine, and she didn’t want mine.
How did those first years of the business look?
MGS: We would do everything together. My mom would have a heart attack if I wasn’t there! The last 10 years, we’ve had to change with technology. I had to be like, “Mom, I’m not going to every appointment and neither are you.” We have to divide and conquer.
MG: And thank God for smartphones! I came from the other world. My grandkids don’t even know what a pay phone is. I take videos, photos—that cell phone has helped me stay in the business!
What’s it like to work with each other?
MG: We don’t act alike, but we are so on the same wavelength. If I get huffy, I know it without her saying a word. Marti never gets huffy. She got so good so fast that it’s like I work for her!
MGS: It helps our relationship that I had the nine years on my own. When we came to work together I was 30, not 20. I was more adult.
MG: When we first became partners, we actually were number one in the country in gross commission. It was Merrill Lynch.
MGS: No, it was Prudential, mom.
MS: Oh, that’s right.
MGS: I wanted to join forces so I could work less and be a mom. But I was working more and getting frustrated. I worked until the day before I gave birth. I told my mom when I left on maternity leave, “I don’t want to talk about real estate. You can be Grandma, but I could care less about the office.” It had nothing to do with her. I was being consumed by this business. I took three months off, and in that time my mom had gone to a seminar. She said we needed a business coach. That changed everything. We began running our business like a business.
MG: We still became successful. We decided we had a bit of life which I didn’t have for 20 years because I worked 24/7.
Are you able to hit the off switch during family time?
MG: We were just together four days and I don’t think we talked business more than two hours.
MGS: I’m the first one to say, “No, I don’t want to talk about that right now.”
MG: Marti has a lot of dinner parties, and when I’m there, we rarely talk business because we talk during the day. Most of the people who deal with us, agents or clients, they don’t want to deal at night, either!