Launching With a Loved One? Five Lessons From Successful Startup Couples
A wise individual once said: “Being in a relationship is like putting miracle-grow on your defects.” Throw a business into the mix, and you may find yourself riding an express train on a hell-bound bean stock.
Two years ago my relationship of nearly six years came to a grinding halt. With it went the business we had built together and my ego in its entirety.
As a young entrepreneur you're going to face challenges -- perhaps even more challenges than an older entrepreneur might encounter when starting up. So, going into business with a loved one without acknowledging the early warning signs could be even more calamitous. So while love may be blind, when starting up, you'd better keep your eagle-eyes open.
Still, it is possible to make a business and a love affair work. Despite my sob story, I've seen plenty of couples start up masterfully.
If you’re thinking of "taking the plunge," here are five pieces of solid advice from those who've been successful:
1. Businesses don’t save relationships.
Every endeavor should start with an extremely terrifying question because it cuts to the heart of the matter. In terms of starting a business with a spouse you should ask yourself: “Are we doing this because we think it will make our relationship better?” If the answer is “yes,” you’ve got some deeper issues that a C-Corp will never fix.
2. You need a trusted partner.
How do you operate in your day-to-day relationship? Does one of you typically do more of the “work” while the other seems to contribute less on every level? This may not have caused resentment at home, but it will when it comes to business.
Lee and Sonya Waterworth, co-founders of Los Angeles-based Yekra, an online film distribution platform for independent movies, are a “business couple” I’ve seen do it right. It doesn’t hurt that they are both affable, highly intelligent and have great senses of humor. As Lee quips: “When starting a business with your spouse, always remember one thing: Happy wife, happy life.”
All joking aside, Sonya hits the nail on the head: “It’s like a crash course in meditation. You will either breathe through every obstacle together, or it will turn you into crazy ninjas whose first victims will be each other.”
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3. Define your roles.
While roles may shift and change as the business grows, each person should have a clearly defined role based on his or her strengths and areas of interest.
Liz Deister, who runs a non-medical, home-care giving business, Ellie Home Caring, with her husband Jesse (and three kids in tow) is adamant about the importance of role definition: When they first started the Ohio-based business, Liz says, the roles felt lopsided because her skills were better suited to the tasks required during ‘phase one.’ "I felt like I was doing most of the work," she says. "After talking about it, we were able to make adjustments and define our roles more clearly, which shifted the dynamic and deflected deep resentment."
Sameer Bhatia, founder of L.A.'s ProProfs,an online quizzes and test provider,takes a slightly different approach to working with his wife: “Working with a spouse is either blissful or the worst nightmare. Knowing ‘who’s the boss’ is both important and healthy," he says. "In our case, while the wife is the boss at home, the husband is the boss at work."
4. Don't let money get in the way.
Ahhh, money…that green, double-edged deity often cited as the No. 1 killer of relationships. If you start a business without enough money in the bank to survive for at least one year, the mere stress associated with financial fears can derail your efforts. Conversely, once you start making money you must be aligned in what you are going to do with it. Reinvest? Hire? Take a vacation? Whatever you do, have the “money talk” up front -- accounting for the best and worst case scenarios.
5. Prioritize your relationship.
There are no two ways about it: Starting a business with anyone will suck up all your energy. But that kind of commitment can be difficult to muster, says Jennifer Wong, who with her husband Casey Sackett started the San Francisco-based app maker Alt12 Apps nearly five years ago.
“Our biggest challenge is creating a mental separation from seeing each other as tech partners by day and loving spouses by night," says Wong."Even after the kids are tucked in bed, shoptalk often takes precedence over pillow talk and romance plays second fiddle to sleep."
You have to be as vigilant about your startup as you are with your family and your spouse, says Wong. "For us that means planning a series of date nights up to three months in advance.”
But despite the challenges it's clear Wong wouldn’t have it any other way: “We are both entrepreneurial, so we would always be brainstorming about interesting business ideas," she says. "Now we get to put those ideas into action with a common goal -- together.”
What are you tips for starting up with a loved one? Let us know with a comment below.
Rebekah Iliff is the chief strategy officer for AirPR, a technology platform to increase public-relations performance that serves Fortune 500 and fast growing technology companies. Previously, she was the CEO of talkTECH Communications, where she created an industry-first methodology for emerging technology companies which positioned talkTECH as one of the fastest growing, launch-only PR firms in the U.S. Iliff holds a B.A. in philosophy from Loyola University Chicago, and an M.A. in organizational management and applied community psychology from Antioch University at Los Angeles (AULA).