To Start or Not To Start a Business with Your Spouse


Column by Janine Popick, "Women in Business"
December 2006

Starting a business with the one you love might sound dreamy, but you should give it careful consideration before making the business commitment.

I'll start off with this. I'm crazy about my husband. John and I have been married 11 amazing years and have been together for 13. Since we are both in high-tech and marketing, we are very involved with each other's businesses. But it stops there.

Flashback, Burgundy, France, January 2001. We were traveling around the country with our two basset hounds, trying to decide what to do next in our professional lives. Voila! Since we both love high-tech and direct marketing, we thought, "Let's start a company together in the small business arena."

So there we were in France, discussing John's role as CEO, and mine as COO. Sounds dreamy, right?

Reality set in quickly. "Why might this be a bad idea for us?" we thought. Let us count the ways.

  1. All of our "eggs" would be in one basket. Risky? Yes. What if we failed? We'd have invested our cash into the business, spent time to grow it, and would have nothing to show.
  2. We're down one paycheck. We figured that the pay would be minimal — if any — until we either raised more money or became profitable.
  3. We'd kill each other. Since we both are fairly opinionated and bring similar backgrounds for this type of business to the table, it seemed that it might not be a good idea for our already great relationship.

Luckily, a friend who had just started his own business needed someone with our skills to work at his company. Since I already had worked for him for a few years, John bowed out of the new venture and went to work to provide the household income. In a way, our decision was made for us by this opportunity, but if you're going to consider working with your spouse or significant other, you need to seriously consider the answers to the following questions.

  • What type of personality do you each have? If both of you are "alpha" people, or strongly opinionated, be careful. If you are constantly in disagreement, it could leak over to your home life.
  • Do you bring complementary skills to the business? This is important because if you overlap too much, you potentially could find yourselves going up against each other too often (see the last bullet). However, if you each have your own "domain" to manage, chances are you'll have some new things to talk about at the end if the day.
  • What happens now when you have disagreements? Be careful if you are the type of person to go to bed angry. If disagreements go unresolved, not only will it make your home life uncomfortable, the tension could make your hours — and your employees' hours — at work unbearable.
  • Is it ok for one of you to be the leader as opposed to the other? If you can't support a chief or your spouse can't support you as the chief, beware. Having a leader in the company is important, especially if you have employees.

Working with your spouse isn't impossible, and it can work for the right people. One great example are Albert and Shannon of Due Maternity, a VerticalResponse customer that sells very hip clothing and accessories for pregnant women on- and offline.

Albert is technical; he manages the company's website. He is also the negotiator when it comes to contracts and leases. Shannon's background is merchandising. She develops relationships with the designers and suppliers, and is the face of the company.

Albert yields to Shannon as the president because of the nature of the business. People are buying maternity items from an attractive (and at times pregnant) woman. Albert keeps the wheels on the bus.

Their business is successful as a partnership because they each bring something complementary to the business.

In my case, my husband does lend a lot to my business. John is on my board of advisors, and he's very supportive, complimentary and an asset to VerticalResponse. I couldn't do it without him. But, then again, I couldn't do it with him, either.

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