Of the 22 million small businesses in the United States, a whopping 3 million of them are couple-owned . My husband and I founded and run one of them. Brazi Bites, our natural foods company, grew 4,000 percent in the last three years alone and we firmly believe our partnership dynamic has been one of the driving forces behind the company’s success.
Going into business with your spouse involves a high degree of risk. Personal and professional lines can become blurry. Company growth (or lack of it) along with financial pressures are bound to strain even the most solid relationships. Many couples have gone into business only to watch both their companies and their marriages fail simultaneously. But if you can make it work, you’ll have an edge on the competition. Here are a few things we’ve learned working together over the past 7 years:
1. Work does not stop at 5 pm - it actually never stops
During the first few years, Cameron and I worked around the clock. Living with your business partner allows you to put more work in than those who collaborate only during regular business hours. 7 years later we still strategize over breakfast, dinner, and on weekends. We’ve adopted a simple rule to keep things in check: when one of us says that we need a break, we take one - no questions asked. In our case, my husband -- who has this work-life balance thing worked out better than I do -- is often the one to ‘call it.’ He’s the one who makes sure we get out of the office and walk our dog while the sun is out. We balance each other and that translates as well to our business as it does our marriage.
2. Pick a lane - having defined roles is critical
At Brazi Bites, I oversee sales and marketing and Cameron handles operations and finance. We join forces for big picture strategies and brand development, collaborating as needed, but each of us is the lead in our own domain and one always has the final say on a particular issue depending on which area it falls. We also make sure that each employee reports to just one of us to avoid confusion. While we are almost always aligned with the vision, we may differ in our approach. In the “early days” of Brazi Bites, we worked side by side in a shared office; It led to over-collaboration and too many interruptions. We now have separate offices and we are both more productive.
3. Investors have strong feelings about couple-owned businesses
"VCs may be reluctant to invest in a husband-wife start-up" according to a recent Harvard Business Review article. We have indeed met investors who were too concerned about the nature of our relationship to invest in the company. They were worried about turf battles and divorce clauses. But more often than not we found they see it as an advantage. Several have shared with us that their most profitable investments have been with husband-and-wife teams. And when we were on “Shark Tank”, the Sharks were excited to work with us based on positive (and profitable) prior experiences. So, if you’re considering going into business with your spouse but worried that it’s going to scare off investors, don’t -- if an investor doesn’t see the value, move on to one who does.