Updated: Feb 26
By Resident Writer Adair MacGregor
*GHOST ROCK is a couple run business with married biz partners Constance A. Dunn and Nikola Mihaelj Ross.
Don’t think it’s possible? Apparently, some of the most successful companies in the world have been started up by two people in love. Doris and Don Fisher established GAP in 1969, and the business is still in the family. Jessica Livingston and Paul Graham created the world’s largest start-up incubator, Y Combinator, along with various partners, funding Dropbox, Skype and Reddit. Fashion handbag mogul Kate Spade started the business alongside her partner, now Andy Spade. Other businesses, including Forever 21, Crate & Barrel, Eventbrite and Little Caesars Pizza, were born on the backs of happy relationships.
But how does one have their cake and eat it too? We follow the advice of many experts and partners in crime on how to make success work on both levels.
Work hours on cloud nine
Let’s be honest, one of the top reasons to start up a business is to spend more time with your loved ones. You’re the boss, and making your own hours is a dream come true. However, no solid business is made without putting in a gargantuan effort (read, hours) before any payback is felt. However, if your soulmate is also your deskmate, you’ve got it made!
Additionally, spending time working toward achievable goals with a partner has been shown to greatly strengthen relationships. According to the Harp Family Institute, entrepreneurs who shared business goals with their spouses are 17% happier than their peers. To boot, 98% of those who had shared family goals reported still being in love with their partners.
Ahmed El Shourbagy and his wife Ashley own Lucy & Co., a canine fashion boutique, and work together on his platform Dogs of Instagram. According to Ahmed, mixing business and pleasure is easy: “What often worked for us was mixing work and love in creative ways. Some of our best ideas have come while brainstorming on a sandy beach far away from home or during a brunch date. Our honeymoon was full of business inspiration, but that didn't stop us from having an unforgettably romantic experience.”
Love talk is easy
Although closeness of heart often comes with quickness of emotion, the connection you have with a partner is often built more on trust than other types of business relationships. If you are used to balancing a marriage through communication, you might also be skilled cohorts when navigating the precarious world of business. Additionally, learning to rely on someone is a very difficult lesson, something made much easier if that person is your life partner.
According to Stewart Friedman, professor of management at University of Pennsylvania, “the trust you have in [your spouse as co-manager] is greater than you are likely to have with any other business partner in your life. It can be exciting to share the joys of accomplishment together. And as a business professional, you’re apt to learn more and faster, and to see different perspectives, because you’re able to be so vulnerable with each other.”
Tom and Dianne Knapp founded household assessment firm Win Home Inspection back in 1993 and have now launched franchises all over the US. According to them, the same skills are required for both business and romance: “The lines between business and love are often blurred -- and that’s OK. As long as there is a commitment to open communication and active listening, let the two be intertwined.”
Every relationship is different, as is every partnership. In both, it’s important to assign roles, even when they often blend. According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, 43% of small companies are family businesses, with 53% of these boasting managers as their significant other. While one is generally more in charge, things are more often shared than not – mostly in a relationship.
“Balance is an illusion for entrepreneurs. When you love your spouse and love what you do professionally together, there is no balance. It is a 360-degree obsession of your mind,” says Thora Dowdell, who owns successful private tattoo parlors in Arizona with her husband Sean. If your job is your passion, you might as well do it holding hands.
However, experts say that it’s important to project a working hierarchy, more for those you work with than for yourselves. According to Jeff Reid, director of entrepreneurial studies at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, upper-level managers find working with couples to be strenuous. “That senior manager realizes he or she won’t be part of every discussion about the future of the business,” says Reid. “It would be hard to be that third senior leader when there are tough decisions that have to be made.”
A shared journey
While there are many pros, there are also pitfalls. According to a study by Kansas State University, financial woes are the highest reason for marriage failures. Certainly, tying your accounts together could exacerbate areas of stress that would otherwise be contained to one or the other. Even successful startups are mired in years of empty bank accounts and most do not pass their third year. Additionally, getting loans and hiring employees can be a tough sell since people are wary of investing in a family-run business for longevity reasons. It’s a gamble, but the possible payoffs are irrefutable. In the end, the road to the wallet might well be through the heart.
Fun Facts about our married founders:
*Nikola added his wife’s name to his own. Constance kept her name.
*They had their wedding bands tattooed on their fingers during their wedding party.
*They also wear titanium chainmail rings on the other finger. The right hand tattoo is the traditional hand for Serbian Orthodox wedding rings, the left is the tradition in Constance’s culture. The couple sports rings on both hands sharing in each other’s traditions.