Maria Sotiriou & Christine Sotiriou, Founder & CEO, SILKE London
London-based haircare brand’s entrepreneur, Maria Sotiriou tells us about the business partnership with her daughter Christine Sotiriou: “When you have a business partner who is equally driven as you, it works really well.”
By: Team Kossie
Image: Jason Alfred-Palmer
Founded by Maria Sotiriou & Christine Sotiriou, a hard-working mother-daughter duo with amazing determination, Silke London is a British haircare brand that was launched in 2016 with just one product – The SILKE Hair Wrap. The cocoon designed 100% silk hair wrap initially created by Maria as a product for her clients in 2013, soon took off with strangers knocking on the door of her home asking for “the silk hat Maria the hairdresser made that has made my friends hair look amazing.” Seeing this, Christine left her stable career and decided to use her valuable business skills she learnt in finance, combined with Maria’s ‘Never-give-up’ mantra, to hopefully catapult their business to the next level – creating haircare products that give every woman of every hair type the chance to experience naturally strong and healthy hair.
We are delighted to have Maria and Christine with us who share some interesting nuggets about how their mother-daughter relationship has changed; how to keep business separate from personal feelings, especially working with relatives; and their tips for accomplishing more and creating a peaceful state of mind.
What is your typical work schedule like?
Christine: Our work schedule is constantly hectic! Mondays are all about dealing with what may have come over the weekend and setting things up for the week ahead. Typically, my Monday starts on Sunday night, checking any urgent emails, and I like to get in to work on Monday at least by 8am so that I can get a head-start before the rest of the team gets into the office. As a founder, it is important to make sure you have some time working alone, because, as the team grows, you spend more time managing people and their workload, so your work tends to be pushed to out of hours. Hence there are lots of long work days!
Maria: My work schedule is an intricate maze of things. SILKE London, meetings, my private hairstyling clients, my kids, keeping a home, and flitting between the various locations of all these things. Any week can be completely different, but Mondays, I’m always in the office planning for what is ahead with the team.
Do you feel more pressure to succeed more than ever, especially working with your mom? Maria – do you put pressure on your daughter?
Christine: Of course, I do feel the pressure to succeed. But I think that’s a pressure a lot of us feel throughout life. And what you define as a success is different for different people. Success for me is what I achieve with the business I’m building. And I’m not talking about any of the vanity of success, I’m talking about feeling fulfilled and satisfied with how I have spent my time, and what I’ve been able to build in life. I hate wasting time. There is nothing I hate more. So, in order to make sure I’m not wasteful of the time I have, I channel that into a pressure on keeping on the path to success.
Maria: I don’t feel I put pressure on my daughter.
Christine: No, you don’t!
Maria: But I think if Christine feels that kind of pressure it’s because I’ve always worked really hard myself, so I’m not necessarily sympathetic when it comes to that area. Having said that, I don’t apply pressure. We both feel the pressure in this because we’re family, so we want this to be successful for one another. We’re self-funded, so this is our baby and we obviously want it to be a continual success. Pressure can be a good thing, it fuels the fire.
Has the mother-daughter relationship changed over time? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Maria: I don’t feel it has really changed. If anything has changed, I have to say my relationship with Christine has only improved. Given the fact that she’s already moved out, I wouldn’t be able to see her that often if we didn’t have the chance to work together. I really enjoy coming into the office and seeing my daughter growing on her own; so this is definitely a bonus to me. But I am not sure about her…
Christine: Opposite. No, I’m joking. (Laughs) I don’t think our relationship has changed at all! We’ve always been really close and we get along really well. This is why we could even think of running a business together in the first place.
Maria: The fact that, she is my daughter does help; we are quite result-driven and our thinking is very similar. When you have a business partner who is equally driven as you, it works out really well. In contrast, I feel that if she didn’t have the same ethos, it would be difficult. It’s been a pleasure to work together.
But we only talk about work during office hours. I have two other children and they don’t really want to be hearing about how we run our business. If it’s family time, it’s family time and nothing else is discussed.
Christine: Yeah. We try our best not to do that because it’s stressful to talk about work outside of work. If we start to think about it, we always are like, ‘Oh my god! Should we go back into work? We have so much to do.’
Maria: We have got to have that break to refresh our minds from stress.
How do you separate business from personal feelings? How do you remain professional in business?
Christine: When we’re talking about business, our mindset is strictly tuned to a business perspective. I think a great aspect of being mom and daughter is that we can say things to each other that other people in a business relationship can’t necessarily say. This means we can say the honest truth about whether we think the other person’s idea is not so great without having it destroying our business relationship. Sometimes, we can delve deeper with our analysis about things without fretting about each other’s feeling. At the end of the day, we will always be mother and daughter.
Maria: On top of that, it’s about being a team player and that is being able to be honest with our thoughts and respecting each other. So, if we are having a heated argument, I try to step back for 5 minutes because I understand Christine takes a lot of the everyday stresses. Give her time and then go back to where we are at.
Christine: Everything changes after 5 minutes.
Have you ever had an emotional breakdown before?
Christine: Starting a company is really stressful. There was no one who has had an easy time in the first few years.
Maria: For me, the age difference is a really good thing. As you get older, the real positives of getting older is that you can see how things are going to work out very quickly. You can hold your own a bit better than when you were younger.
Christine: The last time I was stressed out with work was because of backward thinking. I read in a book that humans do this thing where we normally think of our future based on our past. A lot of the time, we think that mistakes we’ve made in the past will dictate what we do in the future. That was what got me into a stressful situation. In contrast, my mom is so forward thinking; the minute something happens, it’s already behind her.
So, if I go down, she’ll lift me up right away because she has more foresight about the fact that we’ll find a way to make things work.
Maria: I’m quite a strong person.
How important do you think taking a break is?
Maria: I think it’s so important.
Christine: She’s like ‘it’s so important’ but I have never seen her take a break. Be honest. Do you take a break? (Laughs)
Maria: For me, a break is a walk in the park. Or just sitting down and having a coffee, and people watching. Doing simple things like these is a break for me.
Christine: I also think it’s important to have a break because that’s what makes you more creative and come up with more interesting ideas.
Having said that, I think the reason why highly successful people become so successful, is because they didn’t really take a break. They got into a certain level of success by working extremely hard, and then once they were there, they took a break. So, I’d say taking a rest has not been my top priority during the first few years of our business, but I do think even simple things like walking in the park can get the juices flowing.
What to do when you take a break?
Christine: On the weekend, I’ll always have time where I see my friends and family because being around people that we love is so important in life. That’s what I do each week to take a break.
Maria: I’m always really interested in what is happening in other people’s life. It could be just catching up with my friends and finding how their week’s been, how their family are etc It’s always nice to just talk about the normal things, really. Being with people is therapeutic, you know?
Christine: When I meet with my friends, I have my own rule that I don’t talk to them about work, because I want to invest time in our friendship and our lives outside of work.
Any tips on making a day the most productive?
Christine: What I have learnt is not to switch tasks too quickly. I read that our brain takes 23 minutes to refocus after switching tasks. So, if you imagine you’re writing an email to someone and you then switch tasks. When you come back to that email, your brain has to refocus, find where you are and you’ve got to pretty much start from scratch. As a result, you actually waste time on something you already knew completely about.
Maria: I think of it like that as well.
Christine: We actually started to make a rule in the office, which is that all the emails get done in blocks. If you’re getting an urgent email notification on the top corner of your computer, you touch it. If it looks like something that’s not a priority, you leave it until your next block.
Maria: I will also constantly think about what I’m going to do next after the task I have completed, so I plan ahead like that in my mind.
How do you motivate yourself to work when you’re not in the mood?
Christine: I find the best motivation for me is to have an extremely lazy day; when you just sit and do nothing for too many hours. When it hits 10:00 p.m., then I become the most motivated person ever, because I have spent the entire day being a slob and I need to start working immediately to feel better. Basically, you exhaust yourself of relaxation.
Maria: For me, I’ve always really worked continuously. I am huge on visualizing the next thing on the agenda. So, I’m normally working towards the next thing and that’s how it’s always been for me. It’s like a dangling carrot. I just keep going.
What are your effective ways to boost energy at work?
Maria: I like to do silly things such as make people laugh. I’m the office clown. (Laughs)
Christine: She’ll come upstairs and be like, ‘I’m in my funny mood’ and then she’ll dance around a bit.
Maria: I just like everyone to be happy because you spend so much time with people you work alongside; so it’s really important that people come into work and enjoy being here at the office.
Christine: I think we both really care about the people who work with us and make sure they are enjoying it. That actually matters to us a lot.
Recently however, I’ve acquired an addiction to Coke Zero. I have never drunk fizzy drinks my entire life, and then, Coke Zero just became the one for me. It gives me that mid-afternoon energy. This is not an ad! (Laughs)
Maria: Black coffee only for me!
Essential things to keep you Zen at work
Christine: If I’m stressed, I will tidy everything. I need my desk to be tidy. I need everything around me to be tidy, to be able to function. I actually feel like physically tidying and cleaning; it’s similar to tidying my brain. I could give Marie Kondo a run for her money!