I have sex with my co-founder. And I like it, though I’ll let said co-founder speak for herself.As a direct result of this sex, we have birthed three children. While not having sex, we’ve started three companies together in 15 years, and during 12 of those years we were husband and wife.
Are we crazy? That really depends on whom you ask.
Early on, many investors told us they didn’t fund husband-wife teams. These meetings were very short as we had no plans to change our relationship status to accommodate their arbitrary rules.
While I can’t find any official data showing aggregate results of businesses with married, or romantically-involved, co-founders, I can point to many well-known babies of these unions, including Cisco, comScore, Marvell, and VMWare. These companies alone are worth more than $125 billion!
When you start a business with someone, you marry that person. She’s the first person you talk to in the morning. She’s the last person you talk to at night. She’s the shoulder you cry on as you worry about running out of money. She’s your roommate as you share hotel rooms, or your aunt’s living room pullout, in a bold attempt to preserve money. You’re inseparable.
Paul Graham of Y Combinator, one of Silicon Valley’s most prolific investors, has written about one of his entrepreneurs recalling how his relationship with his co-founder “went from just being friends to seeing each other all the time, fretting over the finances and cleaning up shit. And the start-up was our baby. I summed it up once like this: ‘It’s like we’re married, but we’re not f***ing.'”
Instead of signing a marriage certificate presented by a rabbi, priest, or other officiant, co-founders sign incorporation documents drafted by a lawyer. Both legal documents bind them together for better or worse, in corporate sickness, and in health.
Working with my wife is easy, far easier than working with someone I barely know. Our skill sets are perfect complements. I focus on the ideas, sales, raising money, and the strategic direction of the company. Kass handles all operations, finance, HR, marketing. She’s the Tom to my Jerry, the Beauty to my Beast.
You should start a company with someone whose strengths are your weaknesses, and whose weaknesses are your strengths. Divide and conquer together. And trust each other. If you know how to sell, find a programmer. If you are a techie, find someone who understands business. Are you creative? Find a logical thinker who feels at home in a world of spreadsheets. Are you an introvert? Take improv comedy lessons—and find a networker.
The only constant in start-up land (Instagram aside) is chaos. You want a co-founder who can work with you to navigate the crap sandwiches served up daily. It’s not how well you get along with your co-founder. It’s how well you get along when the bottom falls out. Getting through the good times is easy. Weathering the bad times is not. And remember, there’s no makeup sex with your co-founder (unless you’re married, kids!)
Solid relationships are built on trust, clear communication and, compassion over an extended period of time. If you can raise three kids with someone, and still make time for date nights and enjoy each other’s company, chances are you can start a company with that person.
Be as diligent in picking a co-founder as you are in picking a spouse. Does the other person share your values and work ethic? Can he disagree in a respectful way? Can she put up with your biggest weaknesses without trying to change who you are? If there’s any doubt, walk away immediately.
Start your business with someone you truly love. I haven’t tried the alternative. But it doesn’t seem like starting a business with someone you don’t like makes any sense at all. Life is just too short.
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