I met my wife Caitlin after selling my second startup to a company in New York City and becoming its president. Caitlin was an unbelievable sales woman, and her drive and compassion immediately drew me to her. A few months after we met, I had an idea for a new business and knew she was the right person to build it with me. Together, we founded our location-focused video advertising company Yashi, which we recently sold to Nexstar Broadcasting for $33 million.
When I tell people my co-founder is my wife, they often react with skepticism and surprise, but these reactions forget that business partnerships are essentially a marriage. When you are married, your business motives are naturally aligned. When we look out for each other, we look out for ourselves.
Building a successful company as a married couple requires a few key components to navigate how the partnership operates. These elements must be clearly defined and held together by absolute trust between both people.
1. Define how decisions are made
Control is a tricky concept to navigate in both marriage and in business. You want to establish an equal partnership, but without someone in the driver’s seat, too much time gets wasted on back and forth. In a business partnership and in a marriage, the first step is to establish a clear process for making decisions and decide who gets the final veto.
My previous experience guided the direction of the company and Caitlin’s fresh perspective and relentless perseverance pushed us forward. In our partnership we separated our duties and responsibilities largely between strategic and operational, where I was strategic and she was operational. Part of having control is knowing that you’ll have to relinquish it sometimes and trust that the other person will pull their weight. There should be nobody you trust more than your significant other. If you have any doubt, it won’t work.
2. Sync your vision
In business and marriage alike, both partners’ goals and vision for the future need to be aligned. This helps you stay focused. Caitlin and I agreed that it was important not to waste our power years and established our commitment to the company from the outset.
In the early days when we were a two-person operation, there was no vacation. Even on our honeymoon we worked all morning and checked email all afternoon. Our united vision and our resolve kept us together and pushed us forward during those formative years. Yes, our personal and professional lives became blurred, but for us this was a good thing. Dealing with obstacles that arose only drove us closer together. Our passion for each other and for the company we were building together reduced problems and saved time. However, this only works when both partners are on the same page and are willing to sacrifice certain things (e.g. free time).
3. Channel each other’s strengths
The strongest partnerships are made up of people with complementary skill sets. Each person’s skills offset the other’s. This strengthens your team, makes you more efficient and easier to delineate each partner’s area of responsibility.
For example, I was more strategic, dealing with fundraising and the eventual acquisition of the business. Caitlin was more transactional and operational, focusing on sourcing and closing deals, customer service and everything related to revenue. Together, we had the full package needed to successfully get our company off the ground.
Of course, being a co-founder couple can be tough at times, but so can all marriages and all business relationships. In both cases, they take hard work, clear communication and an alignment of skills, personalities and vision. For us, being married has made us better founders and our startup has strengthened our marriage.