It’s estimated that over 627,000 startups are created each year in the US according to the Small Business Association. Of those, a growing percentage are co-founded by a couple. But with infamously high failure-rates for new businesses (upwards of 90% in the first year), the stress of starting a company with a significant other can be overwhelming. With that in mind, why would anyone start a company with their spouse? In Kirsten Baumberger’s case, because it works.
Kristen and fiance, Austin Rogers, co-founded a company in 2018 and are navigating couplehood and entrepreneurship. Baumberger’s journey as a founder began in 2016 when she and her then-boyfriend Austin Rogers boarded a one-way New York-bound overnight bus from their hometown, Columbus, Ohio. She had received a modeling contract from a top agency in the city and in order to help make ends meet she began working as a digital marketing and social media consultant. The work didn’t stop coming and by the end of 2017 the workload had gotten so great that Austin left his nine-to-five, a digital marketing role at a direct-to-consumer brand, to join her in building the consultancy business. Flash forward to 2020, the now-engaged couple are entering their second year as founders of minisocial.io, a user generated content platform which works with leading direct-to-consumer brands including Native, DoorDash, Alala, Pattern brands, JAJA, and others.
Here are Kirsten’s five tips for running a business with a romantic partner.
1. Communicate And Set Goals
“A solid relationship, romantic or otherwise, is always predicated on good communication.” says Baumberger. “Austin and I are always talking and a huge part of our success is making sure that he and I are moving in the same direction.” For these co-founders, setting clear goals and working in unison to execute against them has been a critical part of their success to-date. “All startups have limited runway, we certainly did, so making sure that we maximized the time and resources we had to accomplish something that’d move our business forward was critical in the earliest days and weeks of our business.”
2. Respect Boundaries
When building the team for a startup, founders look for people whose skillset complements and supplements their own. Applying this principle to the founders is no different. “Even if founders have similar backgrounds and experience, identifying each other’s strong suits and setting expectations for who owns what elements of the business will help prevent headaches down the road.” At the beginning of their work together, Kirsten identified the critical processes within their business and explicitly assigned each role to herself or co-founder. “I own sales and partnerships while Austin manages operations, if we ever find ourselves at loggerheads we’ve agreed to defer to the other if it’s in a role they own.”
3. Celebrate Shared Success And Recognize Individual Achievements
It’s equally important to acknowledge when things go right with the business as it is to celebrate personal victories — it’s also critical to recognize the difference. “We’ve been fortunate enough to have more than a few reasons to celebrate over the years.” Whether it’s landing a new exciting contract or your first Forbes feature, it’s important to celebrate what’s going right in a business. “On top of that, make sure to give credit where credit is due. Not every achievement is a shared one, and recognizing each other for what they’ve done as an individual is an important part of making sure their work and achievements don’t go unacknowledged.” says Baumberger.
4. Make Time For Non-Work Activities
“Startup culture and self-employment definitely has its downsides, chief among which are the hours. Paraphrasing Mark Cuban, ‘founders are the only people who will work 80 hour weeks for themselves to avoid a 40 hour week for someone else.’” Between early morning networking and late nights at the office it can be easy to forget that founders should have a life outside of work. “Whether it’s our morning Starbucks pilgrimage or a walk to the dog park, finding moments where Austin and I are just two people in love instead of co-founders is a huge breath of fresh air.”
5. Foster Mutual Admiration And Respect
Above all, a successful relationship is built on respect — regardless of whether or not you start a business with that person. As co-founders, Kirsten and Austin have their fair share of things to disagree about, as all couples do, however differences in opinion should be welcomed. “Remembering that at the end of the day we’re both just people and learning to celebrate our successes while recognizing where we missed the mark, has been critical to the health of our relationship, especially when we’re over-caffeinated, stressed, and sleep-deprived — which is most days as a founder.”