There are advantages and disadvantages to going into business with your life partner, from sharing a common purpose (advantage) to jeopardizing your mutual net worth and retirement plans (disadvantage).
The common denominator?
Spending nearly all day, every day together, when work as business partners comingles with personal roles at home and often as co-parents as well. I spoke recently with several entrepreneurial couples on how they manage this dynamic; each couple has started a business within the wine industry in British Columbia, in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys.
Their takeaways range from "being a little bit bendy" to handling risk differently to the beauty of the org chart. Here are the details.
Flexibility: "Being a Bit Bendy"
There is no set definition of our roles in the business, says Alishan Driediger of Little Farm Winery who, with her husband Rhys Pender MW, produces Chardonnay and Riesling in the Similkameen Valley. Instead, it's about learning to be "a bit bendy" and adaptable as the business, and themselves as individuals, evolve.
"I think learning to be flexible and see each other's strengths and use them is important," Driediger says. "It makes work enjoyable and also gives you a deeper appreciation of your partner and what they can do and who they are. And also remembering why you are doing this, remembering the dream in it all and being grateful to be able to have followed it together."
Risk Taking: "Scary as Heck"
Just as making great meals starts with the best ingredients, so too does making great wine start with great grapes. At first Cynthia and David Enns of Laughing Stock Vineyards, who gave up their careers in the investment business to enter the wine industry, thought they could readily source great grapes from quality growers and focus instead on the winemaking and business side. Three years in, however, they realized they needed to get better control of their inputs, that is, the grapes, and purchase a vineyard to help supply the winery.
"It was scary as heck to borrow $2 million for a less than gorgeous property at the time," Cynthia Enns said. "This was especially true given the timing of 2007 and 2008, when the real estate and financial markets were in free fall."
While her husband, who Enns describes as a forever-optimist, tackled this as a challenge a project, she employed her MBA and quickly got to work with spreadsheets in order to get her head around the financial ins and outs. "We made the leap and while it was a big financial investment, it remains today a cornerstone of our quality wine production and has been very satisfying to turn that asset around to a high quality vineyard," she said.
The Org Chart: "Playing to our strengths"
Well aware that couples who work together in an intense environment 24/7 can "implode," Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie of the Okanagan Crush Pad did two things to maintain their relationship and probably a little of their sanity too.
First, they set up clear paths of responsibility and reporting. Coletta operates the winery, accounting, marketing, communications and sales, while Lornie operates the vineyards and is in charge of new initiatives (such as winery expansions and land acquisitions) and financing. "This plays into our strengths and helps staff know who to go to," Coletta says. "The org chart has helped us stay in our areas and not step on one another's toes or second guess one another."
Second, they instituted a "time out" rule, since they tend to talk business all the time. "Typically I'm the one that calls it after a long day or on the weekend if we get a rare day off," Coletta says. "Steve seems to have an endless appetite for work and work talk, while I need to escape it so I can refresh. Our system is working well."