Building a start-up sounds sexy. I’ve lost count on how many people have said to me “I wish I had your courage”, or “I wish I was that passionate about what I do”. The blood, sweat and tears involved tend to remain unseen in such moments.
However, during these praises, I am yet to hear anyone even mutter “how awesome you get to do that with your husband”. Or “I wish I could work with my spouse”. The usual reaction to that information is somewhat more reserved. A nervous laugh, perhaps “oh, that sounds interesting”. What usually is the most frequent response is people saying “I could never work with my spouse”.
It’s a love story
My husband Philippe and I have been a couple for 13 years. We’ve only recently gotten married. For the first 10 years, we each had our own careers in our own domains. I was working for a big-box retailer, he was managing his family’s kids fashion retail business (which, by the way, his own parents built together).
Around three years ago I decided to leave my corporate career, in my last position I had worked in innovation. But Philippe and I had been toying with the idea of building digital channels for his parent’s brick-and-mortar business for quite a while. We were particularly excited about experimenting with live video commerce. So we set up a new company, put in what money we could scrape together, found support by a bank and set about building an online shop.
Unfortunately, we were not successful. For many reasons both external and home-made we had to shut down the online shop. Needless to say, such an experience is a hard test for a founder team. And perhaps an even harder one for a relationship.
So, how did we survive that?
A shared vision
The single most important factor was our common sense of purpose. We had to get our work relationship perfected because if we didn’t we would have lost out on the passion project that we both believed in so strongly.
Specifically, the live video commerce experiments. Which entailed me Facetiming international customers and selling to them from the boutique, this moment showed us that we were on to something.
This soon led to us developing Lisa, the first live shopping assistant. After stripping all unnecessary activities away, “she” was leftover.
Today, Lisa is software which enables brands and retailers to make their live streams shoppable. Since May 2018 we are officially a retail tech software start-up.
Fighting harder (to make it work)
Get into a serious, ongoing fight with your Co-founder and it’s not unlikely that one of you will eventually walk away. However, if you get into one with your spouse, you’re going to work that much harder to fix it. Somehow, knowing that is actually a relief, not a burden. You have to trust that both sides really want to resolve the issue. You don’t second-guess their agenda.
Know your skillset, but don’t be afraid to ask for help
There are certain things we’re both good at. And certain things where one is much better than the other. It took us a while to realise, but we actually complement each other very well.
I’m the one that loves selling our product, Philippe loves developing it. Both of us needed help with the detailed execution of our vision and managed to find a great CTO and developer team to support us.
You must be clear on roles
In the beginning, we fell into the trap of trying to make each decision together. This led to unclear accountability, both for successful and unsuccessful decisions.
The “second time around”, when we just focused exclusively on building Lisa – we gave ourselves titles and clear areas of responsibility. Sounds so simple. But respecting that and living by it daily is absolutely key.
Don’t make it a secret
We tend to mention quite early in meetings with new potential customers or investors that we are a couple. Otherwise, people tend to think we’re hiding it for a reason.
Once they start working with us and realise that it’s just like working with any other team, the topic never comes up again.
Celebrate being a couple
Despite having busy schedules, we have started to carve out more time dedicated “just” to us as a couple. A walk on a Sunday, a dinner date. And yes, getting married. And that deal too needed to be sealed!