If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you have probably pondered what it might be like to go into business with a friend. After all, if you get along well personally, how hard could it be to join forces to lead a profitable business?
Indeed, entrepreneurship with your best pal can be a rewarding experience, and two Queen City entrepreneurs are a great example of that.
In 2020, after six years of friendship, Brandi Neloms and Demetra Harris launched Sipping Black Only, a community of Black-owned beverage enthusiasts committed to elevating Blackness one cork, one pour and one sip at a time.
I recently asked the duo to share their individual glimpses into their journey as friends and business partners.
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Q: How have you formalized your business arrangement?
Demetra: Initially, I wanted it to be 50/50 ownership, but Brandi wasn’t having it. She felt that this was my vision and, as the founder, it would not be fair to have equal ownership. We decided to move forward with a LLC and 60/40 ownership split — myself with 60% and Brandi 40% .
Brandi: We decided to outline the ownership structure in our operating agreement. While I’ve been on board with Sipping Black Only from the beginning, it was important to me to show deference to Demetra’s obedience to the vision she was given. Without her sharing her vision and rallying her network to execute that vision, we wouldn’t be here.
Q: How often do you formally meet to review business metrics and strategic tactics to ensure you stay on track in the business and with each other?
Demetra: We meet formally bi-weekly, but with so much growth, we are now moving it to weekly. This does not include the constant communication that we have daily about events or tasks that come about.
Brandi: We discuss current activities, key performance indicators and long-term strategy. We also deep dive into strategic planning and goal setting at least once a quarter. We use a variety of tools and apps to keep us connected, organized and informed, which is really important because both of us are juggling demanding full-time jobs, family commitments and other businesses. Demetra and I respect and trust each other, so we don’t require super frequent check-ins. We know that we’re checking off our to-do lists and operating with the best interest of Sipping Black Only and the community of brand owners and consumers we serve in mind.
Q: When there is a disagreement on either the business or personal side, how do you ensure that any friction does not bleed into all aspects of your relationship?
Demetra: When there is a disagreement in business, it is brought to the forefront in a tactful way. We have communicated our opinions via texts, in virtual meetings and in person. If I do not understand something, before I even disagree, I ask more questions about Brandi’s viewpoint of the matter. Having a friendship as close as ours allows us to be friendly and stern at the same time. Respect is very important, and that is how we manage our business and personal relationship.
Brandi: Love and transparency. We genuinely love each other enough to be honest when something doesn’t sit right. And even if a message or question is expressed with that trademark Black-girl sass, it’s delivered with love. We make it a point to be transparent about our individual priorities and bandwidth. We flag when we need help and when to-dos need to shift. We also stay focused on the mission. There are too many people counting on us to get Sipping Black Only right for us to not push through friction, discomfort and annoyance. Those feelings are temporary. The change we’re trying to make will be long-lasting.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of co-owning a business with a friend, and how do you meet that challenge?
Demetra: The most challenging aspect is balancing friendship and business in conversation. When we first started, I realized I transitioned 90% of my conversations to be about business. I had to change that because I did not want that to be the main part of our relationship. We now kick off our formal business meetings with personal updates. We are practically family, so checking in on things outside of business is important.
Brandi: The most challenging part is turning it off. Ha! Sometimes, I just want to hang out with my homegirl and not talk about the business. That’s close to impossible because we’re both so fired up about the work we’re doing. And we’re in the business of beverages, so even in social settings, we’ll be at a restaurant asking them about which Black-owned spirits brands they carry. We’re obsessed with that topic. Ha! On a more serious note, the most challenging part is respecting boundaries. With all of the things we’re juggling independently, we have to be sure to set and respect boundaries.
Q: What do you love most about being in business with your friend?
Demetra: What I love most is that I do not have to beat around the bush when talking to her, which gives her free rein to do the same. It’s cool to hang out with your friend while simultaneously fulfilling your purpose and passion. We aren’t just going to brunch and taking trips for fun. We get to also experience the life of running a business together, which includes some of the same activities and so much more.
Brandi: I love learning more about my friend, Demetra. I love seeing how her brain works and watching her bloom into the work we’re doing. I often think back to the call I got from her in 2020 to talk about this business idea, and then I think about all that we’ve accomplished since then, and it is so exciting. I’m not only the co-owner. I’m also head cheerleader. I love watching my friend grow and being a part of that journey.
Q: What are your future plans for Sipping Black Only?
Demetra: Sipping Black Only has so much in store, so stay tuned for more #SipBlack experiences where consumers can sip and learn about Black-owned beverages. There will also be more tours of Black-owned wineries and distilleries, and we’ll be present at more local food and beverage industry events. Our collection of teas is definitely what everyone should be looking forward to adding to their daily routine this fall, so please check our website to learn more about which tea is best for you!
Brandi: We’re going to continue building our community of Black-owned beverage enthusiasts in Charlotte and beyond. We’ll be hosting events and delivering content that exposes people to the many beverage brands created by Black founders. I’m excited that we recently launched the #SipBlack Challenge to encourage consumers to take actions that increase awareness and sales for Black-owned beverage brands. We also opened nominations for our inaugural #SipBlack Emerging Entrepreneurs Grant. From where we’re standing, 2023 looks really good!
How inspired are you to see that personal friends can join together to execute an entrepreneurial vision with passion, purpose and commitment to service and success?
Does this make you think about joining forces with a friend or acquaintance to launch 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 at SipBlackOnly.com and shop for apparel, beverageware and specialty teas, and stay tuned for more from these two inspiring Queen City entrepreneurs.
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