Married and cofounders: the most efficient team ever

October 10, 2017
routific co-founders

I’m married to my co-founder. A lot of people ask us how we do it — how we can stand to be around each other 24/7.

They seem to have a hard time wrapping their head around the concept of married co-founders mostly because a) they don’t think they could do it themselves or 2) they don’t think it’s a good idea.

In fact, they think it’s a terrible idea.

A friend who ran a yoga studio with his spouse for more than a decade actually warned me that mixing business with pleasure was a real “relationship killer.”

“I love the passions shared and working together as a team but there needs to be outside stimulation brought into the collective. We all know silos suck,” he warned. “How many old couples do you see in restaurants not saying a word to each other, head down… The living dead? Omg… Kill me now.”

I get it. You both need space. And working and living together doesn’t give you much breathing room.

But there are many reasons why going into business with your spouse can lead to extraordinary things. And it’s more commonplace than you might think. Take Cisco Systems, Eventbrite, TomTom, and YCombinator — successful companies started by married co-founders.

We’ve been running our business for more than three years now, and I think one of the secrets to a successful team (married or not) is a foundation of friendship and trust. For Marc and me, that foundation was built way before we were husband and wife and before we were co-founders. From the very start of our relationship we were best friends — and still are.

Best Friends

Marc is the first person I talk to in the morning, and the last person I talk to at night. We share everything — the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful.

Over breakfast, we discuss our latest round of fertility treatments. Marc reaches across the kitchen table and gives my hand a tight squeeze as we do our best to stay hopeful this time around.

During our commute to work, we bounce ideas around about our new product launch and how we’ll pitch the press. At the office, we attend some of the same meetings and usually try to have lunch together, but for the most part our work is nicely divvied up. (More on why this is so important later!)

Over dinner, we’ll put our mobile phones away and enjoy a nice meal completely distraction-free, although the conversation can and often will flow into company-related topics. As we wait for the bill, we’ll usually ask each other if it’s OK to respond to a few client emails before taking out our mobile phones again.

In a situation where the personal and professional seems boundary-less, we make it a point to try and set some ground rules. It’s a conscious and constant effort to unplug at certain times of the day and focus on each other. For example, talking shop is usually off-limits in the bedroom — although I am notorious for breaking this rule. Under the covers, Marc often has to interrupt me. “Bubble!” he shouts, meaning the bedroom is a bubble and no startup talk is allowed.

While we do our best to draw boundaries, I’d be lying if I said Routific isn’t always top of mind. We talk and think about the company all the time. We’re passionate about what we do, and we love the people we’re doing it with.

We used to be ‘normal’

It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when Marc and I didn’t see each other for at least 14 hours a day.

I used work evening and weekend shifts in the newsroom. When I returned home at night, he was usually already asleep. For many couples in our circles, it’s normal to have opposite schedules and separate, professional lives.

When we began to consider changing this ‘routine’ in our lives, the idea of spending 24/7 with Marc scared me. I worried it would affect our relationship: Would we end up fighting all the time? What if we just couldn’t stand each other? I also worried about losing my own identity and purpose. I had always enjoyed having my own career as a journalist, a realm that was completely separate from my husband’s line of work; the world of software and startups.

I had finally come to a point in my life when I was ready to leave journalism behind and try something new, but would I be okay forging a new identity as my husband’s professional counterpart? Our personal and professional lives would be so deeply intertwined. I worried this kind of concentrated togetherness would somehow threaten my individuality and freedom.

But then I asked myself: When it comes to success, why do we as a society emphasize the merits of being independent and self-reliant? As if, depending on your partner means you’re somehow needy and unfulfilled as an individual?

suzanne and mark

10+ years of friendship captured in photos taken around the world.

Attachment theory

In the book Attached, researchers Amir Levine and Rachel Heller argue that our way of thinking about relationships is all wrong. Our need for closeness and dependency is biological, they say, and while many relationship experts may reinforce the importance of remaining emotionally “self-sufficient”, our need to be close to our partner is actually essential to a healthy, happy life.

“The need for someone to share our lives with is part of our genetic makeup and has nothing to do with how much we love ourselves or how fulfilled we feel on our own,” Levine and Heller write.

“Once we choose someone special, powerful and often uncontrollable forces come into play. New patterns of behavior kick in regardless of how independent we are and despite our conscious wills.”

The authors argue that it’s the presence of a stable, secure partner that allows us to take risks and explore the world. Love doesn’t tie us down and it is not an obstacle to success; it’s the catalyst.

A friend of ours once told me Marc and I were setting a “bad precedent” by being so openly a couple in the workplace. She believed that personal relationships had no place in a professional environment, and that it only opened the door to awkward and potentially damaging group dynamics.

I’d argue this is a rather traditional mindset, where personal relationships are discouraged in ‘professional’ settings. As it turns out, transparency is one of the core values that Routific holds dear, and the entire team regularly gets very personal with one another.

The fact that my co-founder and I are a couple is a big part of what makes Routific what it is. Routific feels like a family, and we have deliberately tried to make it feel that way for our entire team, now 14 people strong. Our team members are all around the same age and it’s not uncommon for us to meet up for dinner or hang out on weekends.

As married co-founders, our relationship is real, authentic, and sincere. And that’s what our team members experience. Here’s a question you can ask yourself: Why create an artificial barrier between the person you are at home and the person you are at work?

Divide and conquer

Finding a good co-founder is one of the most important things you will do when starting a business. (True story: Marc went through several co-founders before smartening up and partnering up with me.)

You should start a company with someone whose strengths are your weaknesses, and whose weaknesses are your strengths.

Marc is a software engineer so he spends a lot of time on the technical side; refining the core algorithm, reviewing code, and working with our engineers to push out new features and improvements. As CEO, he’s also heavily involved on the business side — ensuring our current customers are happy, and working with some of our largest customers and channel partners on integrations and roll outs. He also maintains a close relationship with our investors and mentors.

I focus on marketing — talking to customers, storytelling, getting Routific press mentions. I make sure we’re educating our customers on how to use our software, and keeping them in the loop about all the new changes and improvements the engineering team ships out every month. I handle payroll, invoicing, and help manage the office and the company finances. I’m also captain of our company’s beach volleyball team. :)

Marc and I have complementary skill sets and we’re well aware of each other’s abilities. That means we know when one of us needs to butt out. If role clarity is absent and two or more co-founders are doing the same job, then work is most likely being replicated and resources wasted or underutilized. It’s all about efficiency, after all.

But it’s also about sticking together when things get rough. They say the only constant in startup-land is chaos. I’d argue it’s chaos and your co-founder. You want your co-founder to stick with you — through the good and the bad, the high months and the low months, in sickness and in health.

TomTom’s co-founder and CEO Harold Goddijn once told us about his own experiences running the company with his wife and co-founder Corinne Vigreux: “It’s really something to go from zero to IPO, and to be able to share all the experiences and struggles with your partner,” he said.

So here’s my take: find yourself a partner who complements you, someone who brings out the best in you. And don’t shy away from partnering with your spouse — especially when he or she is your best friend.

suzanne ma podcast


Co-Founding A Route Optimization Company As A Married Couple

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