As an entrepreneur, you work so hard for your business you more than likely consider yourself to be married to it. Your personal life really ends up being about the business too since a lot of the heavy lifting happens all day long. And you don't leave work "at the office" when you go home. But what happens when you introduce another factor into your business life...your spouse or life partner.
For the past 14 years I was CEO of my technology business I co-founded, VerticalResponse. My husband and I decided at the get-go NOT to run it together. We were both hyper, very much the same personalities, and worried it wouldn't work out. We also smartly diversified ourselves when it came to taking home a paycheck - a thing I didn't do for 3 years. John got a job and I set out to run the company.
Fast forward 10 years, the company was still growing (albeit a bit slower) and I asked John to come in and run marketing. It was great since I really needed the help and I know he'd do an amazing job. When it was John's turn to run a meeting I was invited to, I sat back and listened. I offered suggestions but I wasn't the one making decisions, he was. If people looked at me to make a decision, I forwarded them to John for him to help make it.
We successfully sold that company and he and I transitioned out, this time to start Dasheroo.
John started Dasheroo before I joined and the company, when we had just a few people. They were building a great product and needed it to start gaining momentum. We agreed (the 4 other co-founders and I) that I would come on as a co-founder, with John as the CEO and me as the CMO this time.
The last 5 years of working together has really taught us a bunch and it's working out! Is it always rosey? No. We have our moments. But here's how we make it work.
Understand How Each Other Thinks and Works
It's important to really understand the business mind and process of your spouse. It might be totally different than in their personal space. Is there a ton of data needed to make a decision or do they make decisions quick and off the cuff? How do you relate to that? Knowing how they work is the key to a happy work relationship.
Because we've worked together before this we get each other. For instance I know that if I have an idea that I think John might not be down with, I still float it out there. Even after a initial "no" he thinks about the idea and maybe 50% of the time he'll take something from it and make it benefit the company.
John on the other hand knows that I'm a firehose of ideas all the time so he has to put me "on hold" while he has time to filter them. We get it.
There's A Clear Decision Maker
Decision-making by consensus sounds like a dream, but you can't make everyone happy in a business relationship. And the person at the top needs to be the one making tough decisions, and living with them.
All of the co-founders weigh in on important decisions at Dasheroo but we all know ultimately it's John's call. But John understands his limitations; if it has something to do with technology or something not in his wheelhouse, he relies on the experts on the team to make calls.
Plus, it is imperative your team is very clear on this as well. You cannot afford to have your team doubt who is in charge of which aspects of the business.
There is a Clear Definition of Roles
Your role in the company and your spouse has to be made clear to both of you from the start. Define what you will do, how you will contribute to the overall success of the company and make it happen!
On the marketing side, that's my jam. Although it's John's background as well, he lays off when needed but offers great suggestions when appropriate. On a running the business side of things I'm always around to offer advice if needed. But that's his role.
Even with a clear definition of roles it doesn't mean you don't help each other. John edits all of the articles I write and helps me sound a lot better than if I didn't run it by him. And when John asks me for help I drop what I'm doing to chime in.
Honesty is the Best Policy
You need to be honest with your spouse, especially if it's something they might not want to hear and you don't want to talk about. Maybe you don't think you're going to hit your revenue target but she still thinks you are? If you're the one who has more data than you spouse you need to be honest. Maybe the way your spouse talks to your team members isn't professional and it makes people uncomfortable. You need to tell them.
A few months ago John told me I needed to do more for the company. I was shocked, knowing I was spending countless hours on growing a customer base. But I was doing the wrong things. I was doing things I needed someone else to do for me instead. It was a really tough conversation but I was finding myself in a bottleneck not knowing how to get out. Finally I put myself on the right track, quickly. Was it easy to hear? No. Worse from him? You bet but he was right and we're in a better spot for it.
You need to understand every aspect of how your spouse works and be ok with it. You need an open and honest line of communications and you need to try your best at separating your work life from your business life. And never, never allow your personal relationship adversely affect your team or business!