By: The Husband
One of the most discussed topics within the startup ecosystem is the relationship between co-founders. How do you ensure you have complementary skill sets? What do you do when an issue arises? How do you handle success? How do you handle failure? I’ve heard the co-founder dynamic likened to many things but the most frequently used word is “marriage.”
I can tell you that term is accurate in City Walker’s case for the simple fact that I am actually legally married to my co-founder, my beloved wife, Jeni. Here are a few of the pros and cons to running a startup with your wife.
Trust: I’ve heard people refer to their startup as their “baby.” Guess what? No matter how much you care about your startup and invest your time and even your money into it, it is not your baby. It is a business, which can be important, but it is not a human life. I have put my life in Jeni’s hands. We have a child and another one on the way. If I trust her with these core elements of life, you can believe I value her feedback and input on an app.
Honesty: We’ve known each other for years. We have seen each other at our worst and at our best. There is very little pretense or time for BS. This saves us a ton of time when making decisions because we get to the point quickly and can move on. Most people think that a business succeeds based on the success or failure of the product. Products are important. But the game is usually won by the team. Human beings -and all their baggage- are messy by nature. That is why there are so many books on leadership and management. My wife and I are on a team that shares the same goals and is equally committed to achieving them.
Diversity: While my wife and I share the same goals we approach them from diverse professional backgrounds. Jeni was a long-time teacher while I was a User Experience Designer. Whereas I put headphones on and was able to be laser focused, she had to deal with a classroom of young people with short attention spans. People rarely think of teachers as entrepreneurs but the reality is they are some of the best ones. From creating lesson plans to grading tests to disciplining and inspiring kids, their classroom is their business and they are the CEO.
Values: Despite our divergent career paths, we ended up at the same place: really, really caring about the quality of the products we produce. You may be able to fake that passion to your co-workers but you can’t with your wife. We don’t punch out from each other at the end of the day. We just shift venues. To be successful you need to create boundaries. We try to separate work life from home life. But with a startup the hours are so demanding that those lines often blur. They also blur because we care so much. It is exciting to be around someone who shares that passion and energy. It certainly helps the company but it helps the family as well.
Diversity: While our different backgrounds are a benefit, they can also be a con. Building an app means you need to have a certain understanding of technology. Jeni doesn’t have that background – as so many people don’t – and so it can be frustrating at times to explain the limitations of the tech or the reason this decision was made as opposed to the alternative. The flip side is that is exciting to watch your spouse grow and learn and at the rate she picks things up, she will probably know more than me shortly. But it takes time and with a startup, unfortunately, time is never something you have in abundance.
Of course that being said, having more technical knowledge means I’m looking at creating a new solution within the bounds of the data that we have or need. Since Jeni doesn’t have that same technical knowledge she often looks at problems more openly than me, which can lead to a better solution. It’s another perspective on solving a problem.
Risk factors: I am a bigger risk taker than Jeni. This is true when it comes to riding a motorcycle or starting a business. That means to get things off the ground I have to be the initiator. It is one thing to convince a co-founder to take a financial risk, it is another thing to convince your wife. But here’s the reality of any marriage: you’re always a co-founder with your spouse, even if you have a CTO who lives in Poland. Entrepreneurship by its nature is risky and that risk is always shared by the family. They feel your long hours. They suffer your mood swings. Whether or not they’re officially on the Management Team or not.
So the beauty of City Walker is that my co-founder happens to be my best friend who just so happens to be my wife. Startups are a rollercoaster of ups and downs but there is nobody I’d rather be on this ride with than Jeni.