4 tips for couples who are co-founders

19th Dec 2016
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Marriage and business are, without doubt, two important, yet, complicated spheres of life. Now imagine having to deal with both of it at once. What would that feel like? And, what if your business doesn’t take off? Both your marriage and work may get affected. Despite all these risks, there are many couples who go on to start businesses together. Although some venture capitalists do not want to put their money on husband-wife teams, there are many such startups like Eventbrite, SlideShare, Housetrip, and Knok, which have been hugely successful. Some of these couples agree that it takes extra effort to make an equation like this work, while others say that marriage doesn’t make a difference to their professional relationship at all. Whatever be the case, here are a few tips you can keep in mind if you are married to your co-founder.

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Have an emergency fund

You may trust each other and know that things will go well with your business venture, but it always helps to have an emergency fund and a backup plan. We know that nine out of 10 startups fail even today. We are also familiar with celebrity entrepreneur breakups like that of Chris and Tory Burch that turned dirty. So be prepared to face come what may.

Do not go into starting a business with the blind faith that it will take off no matter what. Work out individually what you will be falling back upon in case it doesn’t. There may be professional compatibility issues or your business might not work because of other external factors. Whatever be the case, it is better to have a plan B that doesn’t involve working together again immediately. The risk factor is hugely decreased in this way.

Have well-defined roles

A startup whose co-founders are married to each other is just like any other startup, which means that all kinds of legal formalities need to be followed, and organisational structure need to be maintained. Academician and serial entrepreneur Steve Blank writes about how every startup will have a founder, whose idea the startup usually is, a founding team that builds the startup and runs daily operations, and a founding CEO who leads the company.

Divide the roles both you and your partner will be doing right from the start, and do not step on the other person’s professional territory. Once these roles are defined, place complete trust on that person, just as you would if the co-founder was just another person.

Separate your work and personal live

It is not easy to separate your work and home lives if you work with your partner. Co-founder couples agree that they try really hard to not take back work home, but because they are accessible to each other at all times, this becomes doubly difficult. Laura Huang, management professor at The Wharton School, calls this the painful proximity phenomenon. In simple words, couples can experience an annoying sense of closeness. This diminishes the opportunity to separate and decompress, says Huang.

Set ground rules and find time for date nights and family time where work cannot be discussed; similarly at work, too. This will, to an extent, prevent problems at work from turning into personal dramas. Be respectful to each other and communicate openly.

Get external help

This can be in the form of a third co-founder, business advisor, mentor, or even a marriage counsellor. It always helps to have a third person view to your otherwise closed system. A decade-long study on New York tech startups found that 33 percent of startups whose founders were mentored by successful entrepreneurs went on to become top performers. The team at Cahootsy, the couple Paul and Tarika, decided to opt for a strong third partner to get another viewpoint into the picture. They hired Steve Newson as their CTO and had their roles neatly divided. Now, Tarika focuses on sales, Paul looks after product management, and Steve looks after the tech side of the business. They say that this third co-founder model has made them a “team without any stalemates.”

So, there may be good times and bad times in couple-run businesses, just as it is for other businesses. But the mantra is to strike the right balance between your work and personal lives, because what’s better than getting to run your dream business with a person you already trust and respect!

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