Dear Founder, How Do Couples Work as Co-founders?

Balancing work and personal life can be tricky, especially for entrepreneurs facing business demands that never seem to end. Although some prefer to keep the two separate, your significant other can be your strongest support system if you keep them in the loop.

When it comes to running a business, it is tempting only to want to share the good news with your spouse or significant other and leave the ugly out. What are the most common reasons for doing so? Believing it would be a cause for concern or burden to them, or that they simply would not get it.

But the entrepreneur journey is not always rosy — the fears, struggles, and stresses are constant. In addition, running the show means your company follows you wherever you go and may inevitably invade your personal life. This is where you need a robust support system, and who better than someone who knows you best?

Power couple Sonny Vu and Christy Trang Le from Arevo can attest to this. The husband-and-wife duo had called it “a pretty awesome ride being both life and business partners”. As guests in an Evolving For The Next Billion podcast episode, they shared that having a solid foundation as a couple is crucial because working together can bring a lot of stress into the family. “But if it does work out, it’s pretty awesome. Because now you really can spend a lot of time with each other and see each other in action, and there’s no hiding. You see through each other, which only makes you stronger,” said Vu.

Read the highlights from their podcast here.

Context leads to a greater understanding

The fundamental of a good founder-partner dynamic is ‘understanding’ — understanding what it takes to make business decisions, what it means to be in a founder role, and the demands of being in that role. Keeping them in the loop allows them to be privy to information and context to get better insights.

For example, announcing that you may have to take a temporary pay cut may seem like an ‘out of the blue’ decision and may be met with resistance from a partner who has no clue about what goes on in your company. On the other hand, a partner who has journeyed with you and seen the sacrifices you have made would be in a better position to accept your business decisions and even give sound advice.

Create harmony but set clear boundaries

Sometimes, compartmentalising work and personal life can make it hard to create harmony between the two. You must be the ‘boss’ at work, then switch that off and turn on your ‘partner’, ‘spouse’, or ‘parent’ switch at home. Accepting and embracing that you are, in fact, all those things can help, and having the ability to share what goes on at work with your partner can facilitate the harmonious blending of both worlds.

Take it from Anthony Tan, Group CEO and co-founder of Grab, who, in his LinkedIn post, shared how he blends being a family man with running a company. To maximise family time, he and his wife have agreed to let their kids tag along on his work trips — which came with added perks as this gave the children the opportunity to be exposed and adapt to new places and foods. He also thanked and acknowledged his wife for all her effort in planning the extra logistics.

But it cannot be all about work. It is good to set some boundaries so you can be fully present as a spouse or partner doing things outside of work without thinking about your company all the time. This can be as simple as setting a ‘no work talk’ rule during mealtimes or reserving the office talk to only specific times of the day.

Be professional at work

Letting your partner in on your work life may be the goal, but the opposite is not usually recommended. It is still best to leave personal problems at home and remain professional at the office. This is especially important if your co-workers look to you as their leader. They need a clear-headed founder who can continue to be productive with the ability to make important business decisions without being affected by their personal struggles.

Never stop communicating

Effective communication is vital in most relationships, be it work or personal. Being an entrepreneur usually blurs the lines between work and home, affecting many aspects of your day-to-day life. Keep lines of communication open to achieve mutual understanding or agreement, especially when you make major business decisions. This lets your partner in on your situation and what you are facing, and they would be able to provide a sound support system for you should you need it. For example, you may need a second opinion, a listening ear, or someone to hold the fort at home in your absence.

Strike a good work-life balance

While letting your partner in on your work life is good, it is still advisable to try to achieve a decent work-life balance. The key here is to find a comfortable balance for you and your partner. What works for another couple may not necessarily work for you, so remember to communicate your goals, expectations and aspirations clearly. It might be hard to draw the line if you work from home.  Instead, make an effort to head out for date nights, go for a walk, spend some time away from the office, and stay off your phone.

The entrepreneur’s life can be demanding, and being a founder’s partner has its fair share of challenges when relationships take the backseat. This can either bring couples closer together or drive them apart. The good news is that you can navigate the trials and tribulations together just as other power couples have before, like Bill and Melinda Gates, who successfully run The Gates Foundation. According to this article, Melinda Gates has attributed their effective dynamic to “sharing the same values”. And though Bill and Melinda Gates separated in 2021, they continue to run the foundation together. Julia and Kevin Hartz, co-founders of the event management platform Eventbrite, are another example of how to successfully prioritise both business and family — just as long as you value and nurture both.


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