Starting a business with your spouse. To some, it might sound like trouble; for others, like these six couples who are partners in life and work, it has produced harmony and great returns. If you're considering going down that path, take their advice by protecting clearly defined roles, open lines of communication, and a strongly grounded relationship. "If one person has the capacity to defer, and one person better have the capacity to defer, someone's got to do that," says Mario Del Pero, who founded the fast-casual restaurant chain Mendocino Farms in 2005 with his wife, Ellen Chen.
Also: Don't bring the boardroom into the (proverbial) bedroom. "We've become proponents of not talking about work in downtime," says Andrew Goetz, who founded the skincare line Malin+Goetz with his partner, Matthew Malin, in 2004. "If I see a phone at dinner, I whack it across the room."
The Art Lovers
Rachel and Nick Cope, Calico
Calico, which makes wallpaper, is based in Brooklyn, New York. Rachel and Nick founded the company in 2013--the same year they married. Calico's three-year revenue growth is 320 percent.
Rachel: I was on a friend's MySpace page and Nick was one of his top four friends. His photos were explorations in feminism and yoga and art. He seemed like a really interesting person. Someone I'd like to meet.
Nick: We started sharing images of funny, curious objects. We started sending each other these artful mail packages.
Rachel: Seven years ago, I was working at NYU Langone Medical Center. I had an art room there and I worked with patients, teaching them to make art. Nick had his own company doing contract and interior design work.
Then Hurricane Sandy happened. We were together, and had a lot of time on our hands. We used it to explore a collaboration we knew we always wanted to do. He came up with the idea of Calico.
Nick: We get to spend all our time together, and we're able to fill in the gaps. I was previously an entrepreneur and had started companies--but the creative element was missing. With Calico, the art is so critical. I don't have those abilities. But Rachel does.
Joe Sultan and Sandy Chilewich, Chilewich
Chilewich is a New York City-based housewares company that Sandy and Joe--who married in 1984--founded in 2000. Its projected revenue for 2017 is $37 million.
Joe: A co-worker of mine set me up with a French hottie, and she didn't show up. Sandy was the stand-in because my co-worker was going out with Sandy's brother.
Sandy: You must've been so drunk by the time I arrived. You didn't even notice that I didn't have an accent.
Joe: Guess what we were talking about? Business.
Sandy: Even though we were not remotely in the same kind of business, and I was probably arguing with you back then.
Joe: I was talking about manufacturing cardboard chairs, and you told me I didn't know what I was talking about.
Sandy: Sixteen years later, I ended up subletting a space in Joe's building, where he had his own architecture practice. He saw all this potential.
Joe: It wasn't so much a conscious decision and a plan. We backed into it. There were periods when there were a lot of issues.
Sandy: Very early on, when we were screaming at each other and entered therapy, I bought all these books on couples and business. Every one of them said, "You never want to do this. It's the kiss of death." It's true. It isn't easy.
Joe: We kept working at it. It just takes willpower. We can both be pigheaded, stubborn, obstinate, stupid, but we end up listening to each other.
Sandy: Joe stopped meddling in what's most important to me, which is the brand voice and design. I had to own up to the fact that I was very protective of the entire thing--like "Who the hell are you to talk to me about anything?" There's still a part of me that's like that.
Bee and TyLynn Nguyen
TyLynn and Bee liked each other at first sight, but took a few years to become a couple. They project their Los Angeles-based business, which makes lingerie and women's sleepwear, will double its revenue in 2017.
Bee: We met at a trade show in New York. I saw her walk through the corridor and thought, "Look at this amazing, statuesque woman."
TyLynn: And I thought, "Look at this super fly Asian man."
Bee: We got to talking, we stayed in touch, and three years later, we met up again. The rest is history.
TyLynn: I have always been into lingerie. I studied fashion design in college and took some corsetry classes. After 10 years of modeling, I told my husband, "You know, I have this idea: Here are a few things I've made, and here's a business plan for us."
Bee: Upon seeing the samples that she had sewn herself, it was a no-brainer.
TyLynn: Bee and I are yin and yang. I'm creative, and he's very good at marketing and business.
Bee: The trajectory is to turn TyLynn Nguyen into a household name, like Diane von Furstenberg or Ralph Lauren.
TyLynn: But we're just lingerie and sleepwear right now. We're taking baby steps...
Bee: ...and I'm talking pie in the sky.
Matthew Malin and Andrew Goetz, Malin+Goetz
Malin+Goetz, makers of high-end beauty and bath products, was founded in 2004. It will open its ninth retail location this spring, and is available in 600 other retail outlets. Matthew and Andrew have been together for 23 years.
Andrew: We did it the old-fashioned way: We met in a bar. I don't think that's done anymore.
Matthew: Physically, emotionally, intellectually, we're pretty different people. Even our mindsets about business models: Andrew's free-spirited ideas about entrepreneurialism and my background of not taking big risks and being with a big company--I was the head of global sales at Kiehl's--it's the tension of being opposites and approaching things from different directions that has given us strength.
Andrew: We have our Sid-and-Nancy moments. How do you derive the positive things about being opposites and living and working together and assuage the negative things? It's a constant battle.
But we've sort of figured out the formula, and the formula has changed. At the beginning, one great advantage we had was talking about work after hours. Then we bought a little farmhouse in upstate New York, and that's become our salvation.
Matthew will drive up Friday morning and I'll take the train up that evening so we have a day apart, which is healthy. Otherwise, it becomes all-encompassing.
Cassandra and Auston Mallory, Landmark Roofing and Construction
Auston and Cassandra married in 2007, and started their Bedford, Texas-based company, which serves both commercial and residential clients, in 2010. It's No. 841 on 2015's Inc. 5000, with three-year revenue growth of 473 percent. In 2012, Auston had a serious accident.
Cassandra: We've been together 15 years. Early on, I taught seventh-grade algebra and he worked at a fire and water restoration company. When I had my son, I didn't go back to teaching.
Auston: I had done some real estate investing after college. We kept putting roofs on houses. I saw how easy it was.
Cassandra: Auston has always been an entrepreneur. Or at least wanted to be. What was the craziest idea you brought home to me?
Auston: Coin-op laundromats. Airport shuttle service. So many stupid ideas.
Cassandra: Auston has ridden motocross since he was really young. In 2012, when the business was starting to get some momentum, he had his accident. We spent about three months in Colorado at a rehab facility. He's paralyzed from the chest down, but it's never slowed him. He was trying to do business while he was still in intensive care, and I was like, "Babe! We have other things to worry about right now."
Auston: My former business partner ran our company free of charge. Friends and family helped in every possible way. We prayed every day. You don't realize how hard something like that is until you get through it. I wonder if I could do it again.
Cassandra: You could.
Ellen Chen and Mario Del Pero, Mendocino Farms
Despite a disastrous first date, Mario and Ellen founded the fast-casual restaurant Mendocino Farms in 2005. Today, they run 15 locations throughout California, oversee 600 employees, and project 2017 revenue will top $50 million.
Mario: I had a teriyaki place. One of my general managers was unbelievably handsome. Ellen's girlfriend fell for my GM and wanted a wing girl on a date. Ellen wanted very little to do with me. I think she felt my personality was a little over the top.
Ellen: It's funny how alcohol can have that effect.
Mario: We have a term in restaurants: overserved. I had overserved myself.
Ellen: But we started dating, and then became business partners in that restaurant. Perfect timing, because the company I worked for got acquired. Eight months in, he proposed.
Mario: A whole side of restaurants is managing money and administration, and Ellen was unbelievably skilled at that. I had never had a partner who was a perfect complement. She figured out that we could sell the teriyaki chain for more than we were willing to put back into it, so we could get into fast-casual.
Ellen: We just jumped in feet first. But all these years later, it's still working.