Posted by: T.D. Inoue | April 28, 2011

Starting a company with you spouse

I’ve heard that VC’s hate investing in companies started by married teams because success rates are so low. This is understandable because marriages are hard enough without the added stress of a startup. Throw that into the mix and you’re asking for trouble!

So why, against our better judgement, did my wife and I do this?

To start with, it would have been impossible not to start the company together. Evy is the marketing and people whiz. I’m the geek with big ideas. Our skill-sets are complementary. Plus, at our age (we’re almost 50), there’s no way that either of us would have let the other start a venture like this without the other. When you’re living a startup 24/7, which you really have to if you want to succeed, the last thing a spouse wants is to be out of the loop. One partner would end up feeling neglected and the other would feel held back. It’s a recipe for disaster. So we took the plunge and dove into this together.

I won’t lie – it’s not easy!

Since I’ve been through the startup experience before, I was pretty well prepared for the full immersion it involves. I warned Evy that it would be more consuming than she could imagine. And yet, she agreed to go through with it. Having this understanding from the start is key. If one partner is working round the clock and the other wants to work 9-5, that would doom the venture and the marriage. Being on the same page here is a requirement.

One of the toughest parts of working with a spouse involves the roles you play in a business. Usually there’s a boss and there are workers. This isn’t really compatible with a marriage which is more of a true partnership. If one spouse falls into the role of “boss” and starts treating the other as a subordinate, again, you’re looking at disaster. I admit, this is difficult. I’m used to being boss. I want to make decisions and sometimes it drives me crazy that we have to discuss so much. And it drives her crazy that I don’t want to discuss things as much as she does. I want her to deal with her part of the company and let me deal with mine. So we both compromise. She defers to me on technical decisions and (usually) I defer to her on marketing and promotions. And we spend a lot of time discussing areas of overlapping concern.

Did I mention that it’s not easy?

Both of us have strong opinions, often different. I tend to be a little more, um, vocal, when debating. Evy is quieter but no less passionate. This can be trying on a relationship. So we always have to remind one another that it’s not personal. This is business. We can disagree about business issues and try hard not to let it spill over into our marriage. But it’s impossible not to have some spillover. We’ve definitely gone to bed annoyed with one another. But we always try to tell each other how much we love one another. This is important. No matter how much we disagree about business, we have to remind one another that our relationship and our love is more important than any business. “We” come first.

Fortunately, our marriage has survived the startup so far. I admit, we have an incredibly strong marriage built on mutual admiration and respect. Were it not for this, I doubt the marriage would survive. But that would be the case, startup or not!

With all these negatives, what are the benefits of working together?

I think Evy and I have a much deeper ability to communicate than traditional business partners, and in a startup, communication is everything. So we are are much more likely to actively discuss every aspect of the business any time we are together, which is almost always. This in itself is a huge advantage. We talk about everything!

The other benefit is trust. How many businesses have been ruined because one partner takes advantage of the other or has some hidden agenda? In our partnership, we want the best for one another, so that problem doesn’t exist. We implicitly trust one another and want what’s best for the other. Partnering with a spouse has definite advantages!

Would I recommend this for others? Not unless you are utterly confident in the strength of your marriage! Would I invest in a company run by a married couple? Not on your life!

How about you? What are your thoughts and experiences with mixing entrepreneurship with marriage?

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Responses

  1. When you partner with a friend, you can say “that’s a really stupid idea,” maybe debate the point a bit, then get on with things. Try that with your spouse? I guarantee that you won’t have a good outcome!


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