Things to Know Before Starting a Business with your Spouse

The concept of “Couple Goals” has taken the world by storm. Over the years, as movie stars and other celebrities within the same industry have publicised their romantic relationships, much has been scrutinised about the mingling of their personal and professional lives – usually resulting in them being termed as the “It Couple” of tinseltown. Heartwarming photographs of two music artistes performing live on stage, or even canoodling before the camera for a new Youtube video end up fetching millions of likes and views – often trending on Twitter with #couplegoals. This hashtag has truly paved the way for common people believing in the rosiness of it all and finding inspiration in the idea of working with the love of their lives. It can be a source of pressure too, for young millennial girls wanting to show the world how happy they are after allowing their ambitions to collude with their desires.

But is it really as rosy as red? Does the journey of owning a business with your snugglepuff come with thorns?

Yes, starting an entrepreneurial venture with the (wo)man you cuddle every night does come with baggage and it’s truly a roller-coaster ride wearing a a loose seatbelt. It’s a huge risk that you undertake as a couple because both your personal and professional lives are at risk. It’s perhaps like treading on a tightrope being blindfolded – either you can be happy about not being afraid as you are blissfully unaware of the height you’re walking above, or you can whimper in fear about not getting to assess where you are.

Fortunately, there are tips that you can follow, before you decide to jump the hashtag bandwagon – tips that I would personally advocate for, given my own experience of starting a company with my special someone.

1. Skill Sets

Often the first step before starting a business alone or with a partner is deciding the industry you wish to be a part of and working on the product/service details. Broadly speaking, companies either cater to products or services, both of which require their own corresponding skill sets to thrive. Once you have decided the nature of your business, be very sure that you possess the required skill sets which will contribute to the growth of the company, and alleviate your partner’s pressure in some way. Rather, decide the nature of your business based upon the skill sets you both possess as a team, in the first place. It might sound clichéd but a SWOT Analysis definitely goes a long way in assessing the skills you possess. If you have already decided the market you wish to penetrate into and if you feel you don’t know enough about the industry/market/service, take some time to do a course and brush up on your knowledge. That being said, brushing up isn’t enough either – to own a flourishing business one must have a strong grip over the subject and it’s perfectly alright if you spend a few months on gaining that precious expertise. Don’t jump into a business with your lover under any circumstances if you possess unequal skill sets. Somewhere down the entrepreneurial road, this can definitely pose as a pothole that you don’t want to fall into. Possession of unequal skill sets can reduce the worth of a partner in the other’s eyes and this is an invitation for impending ego-clashes along with bickering over who contributed more to the company’s success. After all, nobody likes being told that they didn’t do enough. When we started our company, we first discussed about our strengths at length – writing, our useful habit of devouring newspapers everyday, geopolitical knowledge, passion and knack for uncovering global history, resourcefulness, team management, communication skills, website backend management, a lust for educating those around us and last but not the least, a desire for speaking the truth to the world. An analysis of our strengths and capital funding capabilities brought us to the most obvious decision – Online Journalism.

2. Know Your Partner

From the breakup stories of friends that I’ve heard over bottles of beer in their apartment balconies, dating your classmate in college or someone from the same city can be quite the deception. It’s often only a trip to the beach or a hike in the Jungles that tells you who the person really is. It’s easy to be happy with a person when you’re in the same city, working regular jobs, catching up everyday about your lives, hitting a plush nightclub downtown or attending that new gallery opening walking through corridors of Art. How much do you really get to know a person like that? Well, in the olden days that’s really all a couple could do, especially in Asian countries where society and their judgement played a big role in determining a couple’s fate and date. But today, with evolving times and mentalities, societal perceptions of couples have changed too. Take advantage of the freedom that has come as a bonus along with the boon of modernisation. Sharing a delicious cup of Arabica coffee every noon on a Saturday since the last several months/years might not tell you how well you know your partner as much as a short holiday would. To really know the person you’re getting into bed and business with, take a good ol’ holiday (PG-13 holiday because my conservative Indian parents are reading this), see how (s)he behaves when you you’re trekking without water or when the local cuisine didn’t go down too well with their stomach or when your hotel room(s) weren’t comfortable enough. Duress always makes way for examining a person’s response to stress. Isn’t this important to know beforehand, in case your future company suffers probable and temporary losses?

3. Respect

You might have been dating your partner for the longest time but your first big argument that may last for a few days truly tells you how much your partner respects you. (S)he may love you, but love and respect are two different things and cannot be overlapped, in my young opinion. Have intellectual debates with him/her and when the time comes for disagreement, duly note the way your partner expresses that opposing view. We’re all human and we all have our hotheaded moments where politeness might not be at the top of our priority list but even then, there will always be a pattern that gives a human being away. Take 10 instances of disagreements and see how many of them ended in your partner expressing his/her opinions in a way that is not derogatory to you or your beliefs. Screaming during 5 or more of the instances is definitely a bad sign. I believe that is the first sign of respect – the tone you speak in and the harshness of your words. At the same time, don’t forget to be the respectful one in the relationship too. Another way to know if your partner respects you is to observe how much he/she appreciates you for your achievements. Now, it wouldn’t be fair to expect ballads to be written in your praise out of moral contempt for vanity. But, does your lover occasionally note your professional competence when you get that raise at work or manage a household crisis smartly? That’s a sign of respect, and it shows that your partner is aware of your competence and your skills, and will respect you for it even when you start a business together by adding up your intelligence quotients. It’s extremely crucial to know where you stand in your partner’s eyes and if there could be a plausible game of dominance-submission in the future. Remember and remind your partner if necessary, that you are at the same level at least in terms of decision-making, erring, fixing the human errors and planning.

4. Money

Exchange of money can be the citrus to a souring relationship or even friendship. Money complicates things, and need and greed combined with a lack of resources spins an even more complex web around us. Of course, this may not always be the case but most of us have had to either lend or borrow money from our friends and we have found ourselves in the awkward position of having to ask for it’s return several times. Even with couples, from my limited experience with them, I have noticed that there are some who are absolutely comfortable with either of the partner paying for movie dates and there are couples who fight over an expense from months ago despite not being a victim of poverty. Before you become Co-Founders of an LLP company, have a brutally honest money-talk with each other. Be very clear from the start about the money you have in your banks at the moment, how much each of you can invest, how you plan to divide the profits and cope with the probable losses. This can be a tricky conversation to have but it’s an absolute necessity. An year into the business with burgeoning profits, you don’t want to hear from your partner that you don’t deserve a large share of it, do you?

5. Legal

Legality is usually the lesser researched aspect of being business partners. I was 23 when I was taking my first steps towards becoming a Co-Founder to a Media House and I had no idea about the process of registering a company in the eyes of the Indian Law, tax compliances, the laws that Journalism is bound by in my country, the swanky titles that Executive Board Members hold, or even the necessity of it all. Fortunately, my partner was aware as he was a seasoned Entrepreneur and walked me through it. But, I highly recommend doing your own research beforehand by pouring yourself into financial and legal jargon, understanding the meaning of a company, it’s structures, being well versed with the company laws of your country, the concept of taxation, trade laws, industry laws pertaining to your product/service and more. If you’re already an Entrepreneurial Law guru, then tell your partner to do his/her research. This saves either partner’s time and effort in explaining a myriad of topics to the other – time that could have been used otherwise in perhaps formulating revenue models and management strategies. Coming prepared for the journey also gives you a good feeling about yourself, you feel worthy when you see yourself contributing to the combined intellect you need as a team to succeed.

6. Vision and Details

Planning is crucial while talking about starting a business together, and planning begins with seeing a common vision together. Some of the questions you’ll have to seek answers for, are:

  • What does your partner have in mind for the café you are about to open?
  • Will it be in the suburbs or a cheaper area? Will it serve Italian or a variety of cuisines?
  • Will it be superhero-themed café or an organic one in the lap of nature?
  • How many servers can you afford?
  • Will there be a loan involved?
  • How many chains do you plan to open if the café does well, and what future do you envision?
  • What are the revenue targets?
  • How do you plan to get customers to eat at your establishment?
  • What colour would the curtains be? (Not at home, at the café)
  • How will you distribute the profits and pour in the investment?
  • What banking systems will you use?
  • How and when will you register it as a legal business?
  • Who will take what position once the company is registered?
  • Who will handle the accounts and the team?
  • Where do you plan on hiring a Chef from?
  • What marketing strategies do you have in mind?

Realistically, you may not be able to have the answers to all these questions before you run a company together. But, it is imperative to know the answer to at least some of them – finance, legalities and equality of contribution being the more important ones. Discussing the vision for your company and going into detail in advance saves a lot of probable tiffs in the future once you have already boarded the entrepreneurial train. The idea is to have as many arguments as possible, before you take the plunge, so that the road later isn’t too rocky. Once your venture kicks off, tempers are usually high with both partners struggling to meet deadlines in the initial few days and having disagreements on crucial matters like vision or details during that period can truly result in explosive, impulsive actions.

7. Verticals

It’s best to decide which vertical or department in the company you will cater to in the very beginning. As I mentioned earlier, know your strengths and play to them. Divide your work and the departments each of you will be incharge of based on your skills, time commitment, expertise and try not interfering in each other’s verticals, especially if you are not too well versed with the other’s work area. However, while taking major decisions or rather every decision, make it a point to keep your partner in the loop even if the decision does not seemingly affect their department, because eventually at some point or the other it may.

8. Communication

Communication is key to any successful relationship or business partnership and it’s imperative to express yourself with logic, politeness and an open mind – after all, she’s your girlfriend as well as your CEO. Over the last 1.5 years of being an entrepreneur, I have come to realise that communication is best when it is of the assertive kind – neither passive nor aggressive – assertive. An assertive style of communication allows you to express/implement your ideas in a strong manner with underlying tones of subtlety. It also prevents the possibility of your partner being hurt over the way you spoke to her/him in the office’s conference room or the dining room at home. Be respectful to each other’s mistakes because they’re inevitable in the initial stages of establishing a firm, be forgiving, and then aggressively work on damage control. If you can’t finish a particular task due to a family event, tell your partner in advance. Normally you would just tell your boy/girlfriend that you’re going out of town to attend a wedding. But once that person becomes your business partner, saying that isn’t enough and you’ll have to clearly specify that you won’t be able to fulfil work commitments for a few days. Detailed communication helps a couple stay afloat, and it definitely took me a while to learn this. Steer clear from anxieties which are very common in millennial entrepreneurs, and approach situations with maturity. Things sail smoother when you truly recognise that your relationship is not the same anymore and there are additional mature responsibilities involved. Not only do you have to go for effort(less) dates together but also for client meetings.

Ready for the Ride?

The roller coaster is definitely going to be full of crests, sudden troughs and lots of swirls – but as long as you’re both committed to wearing a seatbelt and enjoying the ride, I’m sure you can handle planning revenue models and a honeymoon at the same time!

“Don’t chase the idea of couple goals, be the couple that chases goals together”

– Arushi Sana

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