For Better or for Worse

Working Girl . . . and Guy

So what's the secret to their success? Well, for one thing, young couples are anticipating potential problems before going into business together. That distinguishes them from previous generations, according to psychotherapist and business consultant Kathy Marshack, Ph.D., author of Entrepreneurial Couples: Making It Work at Work and at Home. "The under-35 group is asking questions like, 'What's it going to be like working with my spouse?' before they start their businesses," says Marshack. "Baby boomers are coming in after they start their business because they didn't realize what a strain it is on their relationship. They thought that because they love each other and have a good marriage, they'd be able to run a business together."

Checking your ego at the door is the first step toward avoiding conflicts. "You have to be willing to swallow your pride," says Cline. "Sometimes [Cota's] way is better than mine, and sometimes the reverse [is true]. Coming to a happy medium isn't always the right answer because you don't want to settle for mediocrity."

Success depends in large part on the dynamics of the relationship. Marshack fits entrepreneurial couples into three groups: copreneurs, dual entrepreneurs and solo entrepreneurs. Copreneurs are couples working full-time together on a venture, dual entrepreneurs each have a separate business, and solo entrepreneurs have one partner who owns a business while the other plays a supportive role. Most entrepreneurial couples fall into the copreneur category. "Copreneurs tend to have a more traditional marriage," says Marshack. "Even if they share ownership and management responsibilities, the wife is also taking care of the home and the family."

But Gen X couples are challenging the traditional roles of copreneur relationships. "With more women starting their own businesses, styles are changing for entrepreneurial couples," says Marshack. "Gen X women are very comfortable being leaders in their field. They don't feel they have to defer to men, and the men think, 'I follow talent-it doesn't have to be a man.'"

According to Marshack, having professional mothers as role models helped Gen X women become more confident in starting their own businesses. "Gen X women weren't only told it's OK to start a business; they had models," says Marshack. "In previous generations, you may have been told it was OK, but when you looked around, you saw moms in shirtwaists making sticky buns."

Men have changed, too. Working closely with your wife or having her as your boss doesn't seem to bother Gen X men. "I never grew up thinking women had a particular role," says Guy Wolcott, 28, president and CEO of Rocketworks LLC, a Gaithersburg, Maryland, technology consulting and development company that Wolcott runs with his wife. "As an entrepreneur, I think it's great to successfully integrate the two most important things in your life."

According to Cline and Cota, successful entrepreneurial couples not only bring their personal and professional lives together, but they also share decision-making roles in both spheres. "I think we [offer] input pretty equally," says Cline. "[Robert] understands some of the negative experiences I've had as a woman in a high business position."

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This article was originally published in the June 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: For Better or for Worse.

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