I remember our first date like it was yesterday. I said hello to Josh and just knew he was The One. Me, the romance skeptic, totally overtaken by that classic movie moment I had snickered at my whole life.
On our third date, Josh took me to an outdoor screening of the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (bonus points to him for a super-cute date idea). We both love candy, and after the movie, we were struck by this question… why isn’t there a candy store for grown-ups?
Fast forward seven years and we now run Sugarfina, a luxury candy boutique with more than 40 retail locations, 3 websites, hundreds of wholesale partners, and a really exciting growth path ahead. We travel the world taste-testing candy, dream up new product ideas, have deep discussions about where to take the business, and get to play “mom and dad” to a team of 300+ amazing people. We work crazy hours, but because we’re in it together, it feels good.
After all these years with Josh, I feel like our relationship and our business are stronger than ever. In fact, being in business together has probably made our relationship better. If you think of opening a new store as having a child (it’s pretty much the same amount of pain and work!), then we’ve already had 40 children together with more on the way.
So how do we make it work, nurturing a business AND a relationship at the same time? It is possible to have the best of both worlds, but you have to put in some effort. Here are a few tips we’ve learned along the way:
1. Know yourself, know your relationship: working together is definitely not for everyone. Be honest with yourself and with each other about all the potential challenges and roadblocks you see coming your way. You’re going to spend more time together than ever before. Does that excite you or worry you a bit? If you’re thinking about taking the leap, I’d suggest a small stint with a hobby business to see how things go. Just like how that first vacation tells you so much about a new relationship’s potential, your first project will tell you if working together is good for you as a couple. Josh and I started Sugarfina as a side project for a couple years and everything felt very natural. We quickly realized that not only did we enjoy working side-by-side, but we felt unstoppable together.
2. Separate your roles: as lovey-dovey as it may sound to collaborate on every single thing together, it just won’t work. Split up that brainpower and make sure you have distinct, clearly-defined roles. With Sugarfina, our roles are starkly different: I run the “front of house,” branding, design, marketing, sales, and Josh runs the “back of house,” finance, operations, legal and HR. We even split our corporate office into two levels, Josh’s team on one floor and mine on the other. While we come together for all key strategic decisions, our day to day is very separate. Which leads to the next tip…
3. Trust each other: so you’ve split up your roles and each person has a clear understanding of what areas they’ll lead. All smooth sailing from here, right? Wrong. If you don’t trust each other, the separation of power will disintegrate quickly. Let your partner run their domain. Be there to support, but don’t judge. Even if you would do it differently, respect them and let them do their thing. Now of course, trust doesn’t equal blind trust. If you really think your partner is headed in the wrong direction, have a discussion about it. But first ask yourself the question – is my involvement here really necessary? Save the interventions for when you really need them.
4. Communicate often: make sure you keep each other in the loop and stay connected as you go. You can’t read each other’s minds. It’s better to risk over-communication than not enough. If you think your partner should be involved in a discussion or decision, make sure they are. Being left out of something stings doubly bad when you’re in a relationship.
5. Leave your personal stuff at home: never, ever, ever take a personal squabble to the office. Not only is it unprofessional, it’ll create an uneasy work environment for everyone around you, like mom and dad fighting in front of the kids. If you can’t resolve it by the time you get to the office, make a pact to stay civil and pick it back up at home. Work hard on your ability to let things go, forgive and forget. In the grand scheme of things, getting along is so much better than being right.
6. Leave your work stuff at work: this is, by far, the hardest tip for me and Josh to follow. When your business partner is around 24/7, why not brainstorm, and strategize, and review stuff, and get 100 things done? How else are you going to take over the world? It’s certainly a temptation for two type A personalities to work non-stop, but when it’s all business, all the time, you turn into relationship zombies. Suddenly that innocuous suggestion over dinner – “let’s talk about something other than work” – turns you glassy-eyed with not a single thing to say. I’ve found that the easiest way to turn off work mode is to get out and do something active. Go hiking, shop the farmers market, tour an art gallery, see a comedy show… start doing all those things you say you never have time to do. Not only is it fun, it’ll give you something to talk about besides work.
7. Enjoy time apart: you live together, you work together, you practically spend every waking moment together. That’s great and all, but be sure to take some time apart to keep things fresh. Whether you recharge by being with friends or by being alone, prioritize that time and really enjoy it. It might even make you miss each other, and that’s a very good thing.
8. Infuse a little romance at work: I’m not suggesting that you make out in the break room or anything, but some romantic touches here and there are sweet for your partner and show your team that your relationship is healthy and strong. If it’s their birthday, throw them an awesome party. Send flowers to celebrate one of their achievements. Leave sweet notes (or candy!) on their desk. All those little things add up and help connect the business and romantic sides of your relationship in a meaningful way.
Whether or not you’re in business together, surprise your sweetheart with something delicious.
Shop at Sugarfina.com and get a free candy cube with any purchase of $25 or more. Use code RACHELROY at checkout. Valid through 5/31/2017