In the U.S. people between the ages of 25 and 39 make up 60% of all divorces. This is also the ages that most people are launching and tinkering around in startups and small business development. So why is it that people often say choose your business partners or founding team members like you would choose a potential spouse? Here's a guest blog on working with the one you love...
For 12 years, I ran a small business with the man whom I had a personal and intimate relationship. And like almost everything in business it was as fulfilling as it was frustrating! In the end we made it and were able to successfully exit the business and enjoy several years of traveling, volunteering and supporting our favorite causes and renovating our house in Washington, DC exactly how we dreamed (more or less).
But the less exciting and non-publicized things were during the times that we were running our business (6 wireless retail stores with 20+ employees), we were generating 7 figures in annual sales, which everyone thought was cool to say we ran a multi-million dollar company. But when you realize that $1 million in annual sales is the salary for 1 year of 20 employees (who do not have advanced degrees), remembering our original goal and big dream we set to reach a million dollars in annual sales, seemed kind of pointless and showed our naivety in business and strategic planning. We were paying the bills and saving a little cash for the unexpected, future growth and so forth but we were not big enough to hire the layer of management needed to scale our company. After doing some real business and strategic planning, we learned that in order to do this, we would essentially have to start another business! So we shared the middle level management job responsibilities inventory managers, sales managers, training managers, publicists, technical support and general manager.
When people ask me how we made it and our relationship has weathered, thinking back I would say that we treated our business life like it was personal and our personal life like it was business. Our clients were very much like our family and friends. We didnt have hard and defined boundaries set with them. They would come into the office and chat with us, often late in the day even after regular working hours. We would talk about life, love and the pursuit of happiness. It got to the point they would invite us to personal and social events and we would do the same. Over the years we saw young professionals and young families growing up, moving up the career ladder and then bringing their teens to the store to buy their first pager or wireless phone.
Today, I am in the early stages of a new business and now working in a different country with a different culture. All the while, my other half is 5,000 miles away. I had intended on working the duration of my contract which was about 3 months and then return home. But I got presented another business opportunity after that and it has now been 20 months since I last saw him. I am not sure when I will see him next and I cant say that he has had much interest in moving to where I am, especially not in terms of how this chapter of our lives has evolved.
I am both baffled and humbled by the remarkable resilience, strength and loyalty he has shown to me since I have been gone. He said seeing my things lying around the house was extremely difficult for him so he moved it all to storage. And he especially struggles with things he once loved and made him happy like answering a phone call from me or checking out a film or cultural event in one of Washington DCs many happening venues.
For me, there are definitely days I totally feel like shit about how everything has evolved in our relationship, especially since he has been my dear friend and life partner for over 18 years and is the one who cultivated the entrepreneurial seed that I long had inside of me but didnt really take care of it. I really want to choose him (and us) over my work. On the other hand, I am working in the area of social innovation. And I think regardless of the industry you work in, for many of us, especially those who live the life of an entrepreneur, our work is all about saving the world and wanting to be able to make an impact in a really big way. We start businesses not for ourselves but for those who we serve. Whether it is young people who do not have basic needs such as clean drinking water in the slums of Latin America or a person who doesnt realize that they can have a different or better way of life because they were never exposed to it, is what drives me and my motivation for living each day.
But for now, I try to remain grounded and strong and live in the moment each day. As sometimes we must show our strength in holding on and other times by letting go, I make my choices with each passing day based on my current circumstances and best judgment and know that others will do the same. And as we say in the entrepreneurship world, in the meantime and in between time, lets keep working to make the magic happen and well see what happens!
Scared to make the leap? See my dream line and living therapy of how I did it (and am doing it) 5,000 miles away from home