How to Mix Love and Business
By Neil St. Clair
This article was originally published on under30ceo.com (January 6th, 2013)
It was the summer of 2011, and the Tanglewood Concert in the Berkshires was top of the “must do” plan to impress my then girlfriend, Melissa.
But with no hotel rooms of any decency available within 50 miles of Lennox, MA, we decided to roadtrip it to Philadelphia instead.
As I lamented to Melissa about not being able to find a room in the Berkshires, we formed the idea for a person-to-person secondary marketplace focused on buying and selling hotel reservations. Today, this is the more robust and diversified UnBuyThat.
Smash cut to present, and Melissa and I are now married and remain co-founders of UBT. I’m the CEO and she is the Chief Strategy Officer.
Each day we work on our marriage and growing the business, neither of which is simple, but both of which are quite exhilarating.
With Melissa still working full-time in finance, and with me solely on the business, there are stresses and strains, especially when I want to talk UBT and she’s tired from her day job.
The way we make our co-preneurial relationship work is with a few simple rules developed through trial and error:
1) Business is business.
Don’t let your personal feelings make it impossible to delegate or criticize your partner.
2) Set time apart for the relationship.
Even if just a few hours a day, you sometimes just need to be a couple.
3) Trust each other.
Have faith as business partners and as a married couple that you will do the right thing.
4) Complimentary skills.
Make sure that you’re not stepping on each others’ toes, and have your own spheres of influence and expertise.
5) Relationship with the team.
Talk early on with your team about how being married doesn’t mean you are the same person. You have two minds and two voices.
6) Shared goals.
Make sure you are on the same page with your personal runway and finances, family goals, and business goals.
7) Have fun.
You’re married to an awesome person and starting an amazing business. Recognize that it will be stressful, but know that this is utterly unique and should be viewed as good times.
At the end of the day, our conversations with investors have been made stronger as they see the strength of our marriage. It can be a huge benefit to your company no matter the space. But be forewarned that unmarried couples are viewed a bit more warily by investors until the wedding ring is on the finger. Also know that being a “copreneur” puts you in pretty good company. Here are a few other examples of married teams that built great businesses:
Caterina Fake & Stewart Butterfield – Founded Flickr in 2004 (sold to Yahoo for $35m in 2005)
*** Michael & Xochi Birch – Founded Bebo in 2005 (Sold to AOL for $850m in 2008) *** Kevin & Julia Hartz – Founded Eventbrite in 2006 (raised $80m+) *** Joseph & Estee Lauder – Founded Estee Lauder in 1946 (public) *** Donna Karan & Stephen Weiss – Founded DKNY in 1989 (Sold to LVMH in 2001 $645m) *** Leonard Bosack & Sandra Lerner — Founded Cisco in 1984 (public) *** Kate & Andy Spade — Founded Kate Spade New York in 1993 (sold to Liz Claiborne) *** In sum, love each other and love your business and you’ll find success in both!
Neil St. Clair is a respected social entrepreneur, journalist, and philanthropist. He is currently CEO & Founder of social change consultancy, NES Impact as well as fear-focused venture studio, Notimor. An advocate for children and gender equity, he founded and chairs The NextMen Foundation.
Follow him on IG @neilstclair