Any entrepreneur will tell you that choosing the right business partner is an essential part of launching any new venture – but is it a good idea to blend the personal and professional and make that partner your spouse?
This year, I decided to step down from my role as the chief executive of a multi-million pound recruitment firm to forge a path in the drinks industry. My wife Bonita and I were fascinated by the story of Acciaroli, a small village in Italy full of rosemary-chewing centenarians with low rates of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other common illnesses. Inspired by the story, and by our reluctance to fit rosemary into our regular diet, we set about creating our product, No. 1 Rosemary Water.
But neither my wife nor I had experience in developing drinks – and though we’d worked together in the past (with her serving as design director at my previous company), we had never collaborated on a joint venture. While we’ve enjoyed a long and happy marriage, there were no guarantees that it would translate to a productive business partnership.
Fortunately, we made it work. But the process wasn’t without its difficulties, and if you’re starting up a business with your significant other, there are certain things you should keep firmly in mind.
Timing is everything
When you’re setting up a business with your spouse, you have to organise and structure your time together in a way that you’ve never had to before. It’s very easy for work-related dialogue to spill over into personal time – but when this happens, it tends to suck up all the conversational oxygen.
To some extent, it’s inevitable. When my wife and I dine together, we’ll often discuss important decisions and talk about the future direction of our company.
The key is to still budget some time for non-work related discussions and activities. Holidays that are constantly interrupted by conference calls aren’t really holidays at all.
But it’s just as important to make sure that the time you set aside for business should be reserved for business-related conversation and decisions. Focus is important for maintaining the health of your company and your relationship.
Naturally, sometimes the time you set aside will be marred by disagreements. Bonita and I often have different ideas about how to take the business forward.
This is a good thing, but it can lead to the occasional impasse. When this happens, we tend to halt the conversation, leave it for a few days, and then revisit the topic. Having this time to consider the other’s point of view is important, and even if it doesn’t cause us to change our minds, it makes it easier to compromise and revise our own positions. Sometimes we arrive at this compromise quickly; sometimes less so.
Collaboration and creativity
But disagreements often arise, and in this respect, they are quite healthy. Our experiences couldn’t be more different: I’m a veteran of the recruitment industry, her background is in style, theatre and design. The skills we’ve acquired and experiences we’ve accumulated are often complementary: my business acumen and her knowledge of consumer trends have proven invaluable so far – even if there is occasional friction.
But for all the occasional tension, collaborating with Bonita has been a terrific decision. We support each other, we feed off each other creatively, and we’re now headed in the same direction personally and professionally. If you want a business partner who believes in you and your company, try looking at home first.
David Spencer-Percival is chief executive of No.1 Rosemary Water.