How a Couple Managed to Make It Work as Co-Founders
After my husband, Gaston, and I decided to launch a business together, I realized all those myths about working as a couple were for the most part false. Yes, it can be challenging, but like our personal relationship, being business partners takes work and for us it was worth the risk.
We decided to launch our Brooklyn, N.Y.-based startup HICKIES, an elastic-lacing system that turns any shoe into a slip-on, after getting burnt out in the corporate world.
While the company had a successful debut on Kickstarter (we raised more than six times our goal), after a couple months working together in a 36-square-foot office, we realized there were some challenges we encountered running a business as a couple.
Thankfully, we were able to get advice from our friend Priya Parker, a counselor to many companies and leaders, including The Dalai Lama Foundation, the Indian Parliament and the White House.
Here are some of the tips we learned that aren't only applicable to couples but any startup with co-founders:
1. Build a shared vision. My husband came up with the idea for HICKIES at the age of 22 and had a clear vision of what he wanted the company to be. When I entered the picture, we needed to figure out how HICKIES would represent both of us.
Parker advised us to each write a few sentences about how we want to live our life and what defines us as individuals. We then combined our separate sentences and our visions, which helped create the company manifesto.
"It helps people see more clearly the areas where they are aligned and areas where they are misaligned," says Parker. "Then, look at the areas of misalignment to figure out what parts are a healthy creative tension and which areas need to be solved."
2. Make your opposites your strengths. Working with Gaston was not easy at first. We are opposites in the office: We have different tastes, work experiences and methods of thinking.
There is one thing we both share: stubbornness and a strong personality. You can imagine the potential nuclear disaster of our tiny office.
After we got our common manifesto, we had to work on making our opposites our strengths. We first had to recognize and talk about our differences. We were then able to better define our roles and divide our work in a way that played to each of our assets. We soon realized, we complemented each other well.
3. When in doubt use your mantras. We developed a set of “mantras," or decision filters, that stated our agreed upon strategy for approaching issues. It allows us to properly weigh the pros and cons in a formulaic and less emotional fashion.
By creating these guidelines, when issues arise we can always revisit it and make decisions accordingly.
Related: From Couple to Business Partners
For instance, when determining if a potential hire would be a good fit, we run the possibility through one of our mantras: we always and only work with nice people. If they fit the mantra, we move the process forward. If they don't, we pass on the candidate.
What other tips do you have for couples working together? Let us know in the comments below.