How to Make It Work When You're Married to Your Co-Founder
I’ve always been a very competitive person. My philosophy is that if you dedicate yourself to a goal and work as hard as you can to achieve it, you’ll come out on top.
This ideology has guided my career. I realized early on that if most people work 9 to 5, and I work from 7am until 3am, I will pull ahead. This competitive spirit helped me at Bolt, where I rose through the ranks from an entry-level position to become the top salesperson in one year. It was at Bolt that I met my future husband and co-founder, Jay Gould.
Jay has the same sense of urgency and willpower that I have always valued. When he asked me to join him in starting a company in 2007, after only a few months of dating, I did not think twice. We worked day and night to bootstrap Yashi from a two-person operation to a leading location-focused video advertising company it is today. Along the way, we got married, had two kids, and sold the company to the second largest television broadcast company in the nation, Nexstar Broadcasting, for $33 million.
People always ask us what it’s like to be married co-founders. We’ve both learned some major lessons about the unique dynamic that founding couples can have.
Here are the top three takeaways:
1. Observe reactions.
If you really want to get to know someone, start a company with them. It’s the fastest way to find out where their motivation comes from and how they deal with adversity. The tribulations and celebrations that you experience while building a business is the ultimate compatibility test.
Working with your spouse enables you to see a side of them that most people in relationships do not get to see. It provides a 360-degree view of who they are, their values and character.
For example, watching someone deal with a massive setback can tell you a lot about how dependable they will be down the line. If they respond well to a business setback, chances are they will also handle themselves well through the challenges you share life. If you can make it through all the twists and turns and ups and downs of startup life, you can make it through anything.
2. Separate business from your personal life.
Most people separate their lives into two sections: personal and professional. When you’re married to your co-founder, your personal and professional lives tend to bleed into each other. You have to learn to compartmentalize, to look at things objectively and to not take business matters (or disputes) personally. Otherwise you will never get anything done, and animosity will fester.
However, it can be difficult not to take things personally when the person you are disagreeing with, or who is providing criticism, is your partner. It’s important to always be respectful and considerate of the other person but also to say the things that need to be said, even when they are tough. Startups move too fast to fixate on small issues or to stay silent for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Clearly defining how decisions are made is key, as is open communication and honesty.
3. Look at the positives.
Married co-founders get to know each other really well, really fast. This is a major advantage when you are trying to move at warp speed. You know how to talk to each other, what each other's strengths are and your goals are aligned. It’s arguably harder to have just one spouse who is an entrepreneur, because then they have this huge, time-consuming passion that the partner is not a part of.
Building a company together creates a tremendous bond. This is not just because you spend so much time together but because every day, you are working towards the same goal. It can also provide a degree of flexibility that many married couples don’t have.
For example, now that our company has grown and our business has evolved, working together helps us cultivate work-life balance. I can take care of our kids in the morning, come into work later and spend my night working after they’ve gone to bed. When Jay is with the kids, I can completely focus on work. We can spend time working and with our kids, without feeling like we never get to spend time together.
As married co-founders, your motivations have to match and you have to be 100 percent dedicated to making it work. Together, you can learn, grow and figure things out. You can adopt each other’s good qualities and build each other up. Both your business and your marriage will be stronger as a result.