Naomi Gonzalez had no idea her wife and co-founder Fran Dunaway could cook a delicious meatloaf until the coronavirus pandemic forced them to stay home for several weeks. The creators of the underwear startup TomboyX say switching up domestic chores, like cooking, has helped them stay sane amid the disruption to their regular lives.
"It took 10 years to find out how good of a meatloaf she could make," says Gonzalez, who typically cooks for herself and Dunaway. Gonzalez and Dunaway launched their Seattle-based business in 2013 and say they've experienced 56 percent year-over-year growth from the $10.4 million the company booked in revenue in 2018.
For coupled co-founders, sheltering in place can be an added stress on both romantic and business relationships, says Rachel A. Sussman, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert in New York City. However, there are ways to ensure both unions endure the pandemic, even if you don't have a secret meatloaf recipe up your sleeve.
For starters, coupled co-founders should set strict boundaries about professional and personal time, says Sussman. "When day can so easily bleed into night, it's more important than ever that you communicate what your expectations are of each other."
Matthew Malin and Andrew Goetz, the partnered co-founders of skincare and fragrance startup Malin + Goetz, say setting ground rules about phone usage helps them stay present. While smartphones provide instant access to information--which is especially important during the pandemic--it can be a distraction from your partner, Malin notes. "The rule is no phones at dinner. They have to be put away," Malin says. "If the phone is more important than anybody at the table, then I'd prefer to not be at that dinner."
Malin and Goetz launched their New York City-based business in 2004 and booked $25 million in revenue last year. As a couple, they've been together for 27 years and also practice another tactic that Sussman advises: Maintain the hobbies and activities that relieve stress, even if they are different from your partner's. Malin and Goetz, who have a weekend home outside of the city, say gardening has become their outlet. Goetz prefers bigger projects, like weeding, while Malin enjoys smaller tasks like arranging plants. "These are things we can do together or separately," says Malin. "It really helps to clear our minds, and we come back to the business fresh."
Sussman also advises that partnered co-founders set time aside to check in with each other personally and professionally. Be sure to find the right moment, though. Dunaway says once in a while, before turning out the lights, Gonzalez will pose a question like, "How are we going to make payroll tomorrow?"
"That's one of the things we've learned," says Dunaway. "What not to mention, and what not to bring up at certain times."