You always hear dramatic stories about couples who go into business together and end up at each other’s throats (a popular topic on drama shows such as “Primetime Crime”), with the marriage on the rocks and bankruptcy on the way. However, that’s the extreme case, not the norm. More and more couples take the entrepreneurial plunge together each year—and succeed. So what is it that helps those dynamic duos thrive, inspire one another and flourish in the workplace as well as the home? For Yogi Times Business section, we take a closer look at three entrepreneurial couples who are living their dreams together.
Divide and Conquer
Both partners need to make significant contributions to the company in order for it to succeed. This is true for any business, where each person needs to have clear skills that they bring to the table. Arrangements in which one spouse does the majority of the work can breed resentment, especially if the value of the company is shared evenly. However, the business does not necessarily have to be split down the middle—this makes sense for a spouse whose duties are very specific and not equivalent to managing half of the business, such as someone who only handles the administrative side. Or when a business is the brainchild of one spouse, as is the case of Green Nest (greennest.com), a couple may decide that one person should own a greater portion.
As the CEO and cofounder, Lisa Beres handles a larger part of the company as its creative visionary. The idea of starting a business came to Lisa after her health was compromised by the toxins in her new home. Thus, Green Nest was born to help people create healthy homes that nourish the body, one’s family and the planet by offering eco-friendly products. Her husband, Ron, takes a supporting role in handling the business and technical side of things. Together, they agreed that she would have a larger part of the company, a testament to the open communication that characterizes their relationship.
“Ron said, ‘You will own more of the company than me, because this is your baby,’” recalls Lisa. “It was really generous, and I think a lot of men wouldn’t have been comfortable giving overriding power to me. It’s amazing.”
“I wanted her to have the tiebreaker, in times when we’d disagree,” explains Ron. “That being said, in disagreements, we’ll both figure it out. In certain areas like design and creative ideas, I wouldn’t even try to argue. It’s important to have a clear plan. Both people need to feel they can have their individual roles, whether it is formal or informal, where one defers to the other, because if it’s lopsided or if they try to do the same thing, it can get tricky.”
Sometimes division of labor happens naturally, with each partner taking on responsibilities that they are best suited to. When one takes on the creative side and the other the business side, it’s easy to split up tasks. Ideally, partners have distinct, complementary skill sets. This can minimize disagreements and create a sense of autonomy, resulting in respect for the unique value each person brings to the company. But when the lines aren’t so clearly cut, examine where ones’ strengths and weaknesses lie. This approach also works for Keri and Hermas Lassalle of The Y Catalog, a business committed to combining conscious shopping in the yoga industry with service. Keri explains: “It’s very clear since we have different talents, so it falls into place rather easily. It was my idea so it formulated with me and the creative aspect is in my hands. Hermas is able to ground it all in quite a lot of technical aspects. He manages all the elements.”
Matt Amsden, of RAWvolution , says, “We each focus on different elements—it’s all for the same goal, but it’s like two people helping each other steer the ship.” His wife, Janabai, agrees. “We’re each kings of different castles; we trust each other that the other can make the right decision and give advice and help with their vision.” This is especially true for the Amsdens, who have multiple businesses to run, including Beauty and Wisdom, a vegan lifestyle boutique, Euphoria Café and RAWvolution, their gourmet raw food delivery company in Los Angeles and New York.
Communication Is the Name of Game
Good communication is essential to thriving together, especially for couples who have never worked together, for whom the transition to a working relationship may be particularly difficult. The keys to open and effective communication are the same, whether it’s with your spouse or with any business partner: active listening, being accepting of the other person, recognizing differences, focusing on the issues and giving constructive criticism. Knowing each other’s communication styles is incredibly useful—if one spouse is very task-oriented, don’t launch into a long discussion of the big picture and all the details. Instead, let them know what needs to be done and how they can accomplish it. Adapting to changing roles is essential to making the relationship and business work.
“If you have a good solid relationship and you go into business, that will follow through. If it’s not so strong, it will be exemplified, and you will face it in a big way. If you see life as a lesson of learning, then it’s just an extension of your everyday and an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s about defining your roles,” says Hermas.
Entrepreneurial couples may be reluctant to voice their objections and opinions, for fear of upsetting their partner. However, the longer things are left unspoken, the more potential for conflict and damage later on. Keep in mind that business conflicts usually have no reflection on the personal relationship. Knowing your spouse inside and out can help your company, as well as give you insight on how to best support them. And who better to trust than someone who is your partner for life? |
“That’s probably one of the strongest elements of our relationship. We’re always able to communicate. We know each other really well, we’re best friends, so many of our personality aspects fit and we respect each other’s differences. It’s so rare that he calls me out on something that I know it’s something he’s really thought about and his tolerance level is so high, so it’s something I definitely listen to. Over the years, we’ve developed a really great and mutually respectful ability to communicate about anything,” Keri says.
“We trust each other for who we are,” Hermas concurs. “If something comes up, there’s no animosity or bad feelings—we’re both human, we’ll both mess up and the ego that would normally come in between us isn’t there. We don’t judge each other, we work to eradicate conflict.”
It doesn’t hurt to fess up when you’ve made a mistake, and to be quick to apologize, either. As Lisa admits, “I think it’s usually about being stressed. A good thing about Ron is that he’s very good at saying sorry. He’s taught me that, and it’s sort of taught me to be that way myself. Just being the bigger person and saying ‘I’m sorry.’ Our little joke is, ‘I forgive you.’ He’ll say that.”
“I forgive you,” laughs Ron.
Mutual respect and honesty can go a long way toward conflict resolution. You can prevent future spats by paying attention to your partner’s moods. Sometimes, even the best communicators are not ready or willing to jump into discussion. Knowing when to approach your partner and when to give them space is crucial.
“There’s a time for recognizing when a person is in work mode,” says Janabai, “and if I can’t hang with him being in work mode and if he’s really focused and not paying attention, I should step away—that goes for women in general, to want attention from their partner who is concentrating on a single activity. People who can’t handle that should step away until they can get the energy that they want, instead of continuing to demand it. If I’m in the middle of work and he sees it, he’ll just step away for awhile. So in respecting a person’s space, you have to realize that they might not respond, because what they’re doing is more important than giving you energy and focus at the moment. It’s probably because they’re busy, so honoring that and knowing it has nothing to do with your relationship—they could’ve just had to fire an employee or something—giving them space to be who they are at work. It doesn’t mean the relationship is going south; you don’t need to take everything so personally. It’s good to develop a bit of a tough skin.”
Fun is Not a Four-Letter Word
Owning a company together usually means that you can’t exactly leave work at the office—however, you need to find more ways to prevent stress and tension from following you home. One of the biggest challenges is not talking about work, so establishing rules—such as not discussing business after a certain time—can alleviate the pressure of being around each other constantly. Establish weekly and monthly rituals that don’t involve work so that you can nurture yourself. Make it a habit to schedule dates with each other, to keep the relationship fresh and to reestablish intimacy away from the workplace.
“Our offices are not next to each other,” says Lisa, “so sometimes during the day we don’t even communicate except via email. So in some ways, in an office situation, it’s not like we’re in a cubicle across from each other, so we have space in the working environment. But I 100% agree that space is a challenge, since we live and work together, Ron and I are really good at doing dates, we go out to eat a lot, more than anyone else we know. Ron has a motto, ‘Life should be a vacation’ and we try to always have fun. My mom lives in Hawaii so we go there once a year, but there are definitely times when it’s challenging and get on each other’s nerves.”
Having fun can be as simple as getting comfy on the couch, which is what the Amsdens like to do to decompress, when they’re not catching a rock show (especially if the Black Crowes are playing). “Sometimes we just like to go home and watch a movie, get into somebody else’s world and be immersed together.,” says Matt.
Whether you stick together while taking breaks, or pursue relaxation separately, time off helps to maintain balance in the professional and personal relationship.
His Space, Her Space, Our Space
Some couples take the idea of space to a whole new level by having offices on separate floors, even in different buildings. If you don’t have that luxury, time apart can also help to assert individuality and autonomy, especially if couples have different interests and hobbies they want to pursue.
“We’re so immersed, with a lot of late nights because the business is very time consuming. I go and do yoga three times a week, and Hermas sails on the weekend, which is his main way of letting go,” says Keri. A night out with the girls or guys can also be just what is needed to recharge the relationship. Once refreshed, it’s much easier to come back to your partner and work with a clearer perspective—it can also make you more eager to see them. That’s never a bad thing, right?
“Another very interesting thing is that when you work together, it’s not such a big deal if someone wants to do something on their own in the evening, since they were with you at work all day. It’s an easier pill to swallow,” explains Matt.
Being able to give yourself space between work and your personal life is especially crucial if children are involved. With a household of three home-schooled kids, Keri and Hermas stress the importance of doing things as a family. “Every Saturday and Sunday morning, it’s important to unwind and lay in bed. On Saturday mornings, we make crepes and pancakes; it’s been that way for two years.”
Above all, don’t sweat the small stuff. Keep a sense of humor and you’ll be ready for challenges to come.
A Relationship of Lifelong Learning
Your partner is an invaluable resource, and recognizing the mutually beneficial aspect of the relationship and being open to self-improvement can only increase your success together. Here’s what our couples had to say about learning from each other.
“Matt’s advice on business deals and personnel issues is invaluable,” enthuses Janabai, “and knowing when not to do something and his sense of minimalism and understanding of when less is more. He’s taught me more about business dealings, personnel, marketing and where energy should be allocated.”
“Janabai is really good at pulling me out of crisis thinking,” admits Matt. “When I feel overwhelmed, and it’s a bad situation, she gives perspective that it’s not the end of the world.”
“I think Lisa taught me to focus, to be focused on what’s important, to make sure of things, and kept me alive, quite frankly,” says Ron. “As an entrepreneur, you throw yourself out and go for things but if you don’t keep yourself on task, it’s kind of frivolous since you won’t accomplish anything. Lisa makes sure that we finish, and I start things.”
“This is going to sound so corny,” says Lisa, “but Ron is like my muse. I’ve had it in me to do what I do, but I never really had someone who’s a huge motivator or huge inspiration before, someone who really believed in me and encouraged me and brought out my best. Ron taught me to overcome what I call my ‘analysis paralysis,’ where I never thought I was prepared enough to begin what I wanted to do. My advice is ‘Don’t settle for less.’ Wait to be with the person who makes you better; we both make each other better.”
“Keri has really shown me my financial behavioral patterns; that’s I’m working at changing,” Hermas confesses. “I’m inspired by the trust and love, total acceptance, the way Keri accepts me. The great mother that she is and the phenomenal businesswoman that she is—it’s a delight and inspiration. Her passion for life is beautiful to watch.”
“Hermas helps me see the bigger picture of life,” says Keri. “Because of even the way he is, he never lets me get stuck into the minutiae of what seems difficult at the moment. He helps me let go, spiritually, and to not take it all too seriously.”
Believe in the Dream
Surround yourself with positive people and influences. Visualize success and believe in your mission and vision. Stay focused on the goals you’ve set and support one another unconditionally.
“People can do anything they want in this life,” avers Ron. “It’s a matter of believing that you can, and if you believe in your passion in what you’re doing, and that’s why it all happens. Everything is self-generated.”
“Do what you’re passionate about,” says Lisa, “and money will follow. I love that motto and think it’s really true. There are always highs and lows but if you’re doing what you love, you’ll get through the lows—if you’re doing things just for money, you can’t get through the challenges.”
Many of these successful entrepreneurial couples operate on intuition, mutual respect, trust and total acceptance. Communicating well, taking time to relax and not sweating the small stuff is essential. Ultimately, if you and your partner fight over who’s going to do the dishes, then running a business together probably isn’t for you.
Just remember these very wise words from Matt Amsden when considering the entrepreneurial plunge: “Choosing a business partner is as important as choosing someone you’re going to marry, in that way—our business partner is the person we married, so they’re obviously the right person to be in business with since we share the same ideas. It’s just more practice in dealing with the same kind of things, just different arenas.”