When people find out that my co-founder Danny Boice and I are married with five kids, they usually have a strong reaction. For some, the thought of working with a spouse is a recipe for disaster. Yet for others, it is a pipedream come true. Fortunately, we fall into the latter. We were both entrepreneurs before we met, and once we started dating, we often talked about working on a project together. After we married, the desire to launch a business only grew. We love doing life together, so it made sense to build something big outside of our family.
Whether you are looking to take the plunge or have already launched a successful business with your spouse, it helps to follow these rules to keep both your marriage and your business running smoothly. Here’s how we did it.
Build a Foundation of Friendship and Respect Beforehand
We were friends for many years before we dated, married and started Trustify together. We knew the good, the bad and the ugly long before jumping into the commitments of marriage or launching a business. This foundation has kept us grounded and developed into mutual respect and admiration for each other. We were mutually in awe of the other’s accomplishments, work ethic, and drive prior to dating, which only carried into our roles as husband and wife and co-founders.
Speak to Each Other as Professionals
Maintaining a professional standard in front of our leadership team and staff usually comes naturally, but we make it a priority by being very conscious of how we communicate in the workplace. Sure, we address each other by our nicknames (J-Mells and D-Bo), but we always speak to each other with a high level of regard, which reverberates throughout our team. By maintaining a gold standard of professionalism and communication in the workplace, we’ve prevented major disputes. And should one arise, we have an open line between the two of us to help resolve it quickly — at home.
Define Your Roles, and Establish Separate Spaces
We have clear duties and specific staff who report to us at Trustify. This is important to the success of our business, and it works because we have such a strong foundation. When an issue arises that falls in our partner’s wheelhouse, we defer to our partner because we trust each other’s decision-making skills. Likewise, we have our own space in the office to accommodate the many meetings, calls and other responsibilities that come along with running your own business.
Enjoy the Benefits of Close Proximity
Some days, we are so busy we do not even see each other at the office. However, we know that that other person is just down the hall should we want to vent, eat a sandwich together, or simply step away from our computers to catch up on the kids or life. This is one of the chief benefits of working together, so enjoy it. At the same time, don’t mistake physical proximity for emotional intimacy. While an ad hoc lunch or work event turned date is nice, it will not sustain your marriage. We are the first to admit that we have to do a better job of connecting as husband and wife, having conversations that don’t revolve around the business and carving out time to date, but we’re working on it!
Allocate Time for Work and Family, and Keep the Two Separate
It’s tough in the beginning stages of building your business. The work is all-consuming but setting boundaries is essential to your family and marriage. When we’re at work, we give 100 percent to the task at hand. When we are at home, volunteering at school, or coaching baseball, we are fully present and focused on our family. Allocating our time and attention helps us be good parents and good business executives.
Split It 50/50
We are partners in all things. We both make money to support our family, and we share responsibilities on the domestic front—cooking, cleaning and taking care of the kids as equals. We do everything as true partners, and it makes us a stronger team overall.
Plan Vacations Often and Unplug
Merging work and married life relies on the ability to get away and unplug. Before we got married, we read Brad Feld’s book Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur. Feld recommends that couples set aside a time to unplug every few months. This can be a quick overnight, a long weekend or even a full week on an island. We plan our vacations a year in advance, paying for them and putting them on the calendar ahead of time so that canceling is not an option. While we’re away, we fully unplug from computers and phones. Stepping away from the grind helps us to be our most creative. In fact, the idea of Trustify was born while we were on our honeymoon in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Make Your Partner Your Sounding Board
It’s incredibly valuable to be able to talk to each at the night about the same challenges, opportunities and other aspects of the business and know exactly what the other is going through. You are partners in life and in business — embrace it.
So many of our friends and colleagues say they would love to start a business with their partner. To that, we say go for it. Take our advice above and never look back.
Jennifer Mellon is the Founder of Trustify, the first tech platform to connect clients to a nationwide network of private investigators.