How to Stay Married When Starting a Company
BY Khary Cuffe
Hint: It's harder than it sounds. Here's how we make it work, and stay happy while running a successful business.
The old adage says, "You shouldn’t mix business with family." That especially stands when it comes to spouses working together, and I would generally agree with that statement. However, there are instances when business and family can work out for the mutual benefit of everyone.
I am fortunate, or unfortunate, depending on your perspective, to work with my beautiful and talented wife. She is way smarter than I am. No, really she is. She has a resume that would get her hired at any successful, fast-growing company. She speaks three languages (six if you count Ebonics, Spanglish, and toddler-speak) and has tremendous capacity to focus on minute details that I would miss on most occasions. But it is her background in sales that allows her to be an excellent spokesperson for the vision and mission of our business. That's why she is the CEO of the company. She lives and breathes the mission of the company.
On the other hand, I am a big-picture person. I generally focus on three things: topline sales, volume, and profit. I am a great networker, super action-oriented, and great operationally. I like dealing with numbers. I like to think that we are both strategic on how we see the vision for the business; my perspective tends to be less cloudy as I am less into the nitty gritty of dealing with suppliers or customers. Selena calls this non-emotional, but I call it rational. As a result of these traits I am everything else she needs me to be, which sometimes includes CFO.
Now for us titles don't really mean anything. In fact, if it were up to me, I would get rid of them all together. We both do the other's job when necessary. However, at the end of the day I know Selena runs the company and I am there to support her.
I have no ego involved in the matter. In fact, I would rather it that way, having her as the CEO. When you are in start-up mode you need the person who will do the bulk of the interfacing with customers, vendors, etc., to live and breathe the mission of the business, so this passion comes through with the customers. When we know our roles it makes things run a lot smoother for us.
At home it's a different story. I have an ego inside the house. And, my wife lets me be the proverbial "man" inside the home. Whether it's the little stuff like sharing my dinner plate, she supports me that way. Or even with decisions that require large financial implications, I am the "Decider." Well, at least she lets me think that.
For other couples thinking of going into business together I would have certain principles that you follow to ensure success.
1. Establish the chain of command with the company.
2. Know what’s important to your business and your spouse, and match your roles accordingly.
3. Separate business responsibilities from family responsibilities.
4. Over-communicate issues with your partner or spouse.
The bottom line is: Running a business together is hard. Running a family together is hard. If you're going to try to do both, it requires a lot of thought, planning, and patience. You need to establish guidelines and boundaries, and follow them. But it's not impossible, and we're living proof of that.
If you are looking to keep the spark in your relationship while working with your spouse in an entrepreneurial venture you should try the Seven Sisters Pinotage/Shiraz. It's a blend of two grapes which like people create more together than apart. Its smooth, ripe plum flavor makes it easy drinking while its peppery flavor adds a spiciness that delights the tongue and the couple drinking it.
KHARY CUFFE is co-founder and CFO of Heritage Link Brands. In addition, he has served as a marketer for the Procter & Gamble Company where he was responsible for a global multi-functional team. @KCuffe