As a couple that has been operating our business together for nearly 20 years, the most common question we get asked is “How have you worked and lived together for so long without killing each other?” writes Melissa Edyvean and Martin Buggy, founders of Bondi Chai
And the most common comment people make to us is ‘I could never do that with my significant other!’.
For us, that’s never really been an issue – we rarely fight and we love working together.
There’s no doubt that we’re lucky – many couples aren’t cut out to be in business together, and some of our previous relationships certainly couldn’t have accommodated working together.
But looking back, it wasn’t just luck. There were solid foundations we laid that meant we were able to function as both life and business partners – and if you’re looking to go into business with your romantic partner, it’s important you lay these foundations as well.
The most important thing is work out what kind of life you want to have together.
Are you the type of people that enjoy spending lots of time together or do you prefer more alone time?
For us, we wanted a business that specifically filled our need to be together consistently and go travelling, so we went into the kind of business that would facilitate that.
The kind of life you want comes first – the business comes second.
The other crucial aspect of being successful at business as a couple is to have complementary attitudes towards money.
There’s no way either of us would go into ‘risk-it-all’ debt, but we’re both comfortable with manageable debt where we can see that the benefits would likely outweigh the risks. And Mel’s details-orientation and excellent budgeting skills are a great foil to Martin’s willingness to
spend money chasing the ‘big ideas’.
Both approaches have merit and complement each other. If our attitude to money and appetite for debt differed wildly it would make things difficult.
Some other key things we’ve discovered along the way include:
- Be okay with being wrong: The most common cause of arguments and division between couples we know is the constant need to be right about everything. Making decisions is hard enough in life, and doubly hard in business. It’s important to get to grips with being comfortable with your partner’s point of view because in the end, it comes down to what’s more important… being right, or being together?
- Know your strengths and weaknesses – and theirs: Part of being able to accept the other person’s point of view is knowing what they are good at, and what you might not be. We both did (and still do) a lot of personal development work together and that’s really helped us understand who we are and where our strengths lie – so we can recognise when a decision is in our wheelhouse and when it isn’t.
- Sometimes your role is just to listen: The most valuable role you can perform is often just to be a sounding board. As business owners our tendency is to go straight for the solution when a problem arises. But, when you’re operating as a couple and one partner brings a problem to the other, it’s important to first identify whether the problem bearer is actually looking for a solution or just needs to talk it through while they figure it out themselves.
- It is okay to talk shop at home: Many family businesses set rules around times when business talk is taboo, for example at the dinner table or past a daily deadline, but we’ve always found that to be overly restrictive. If either of us has a good idea – even if it’s at 10 pm – we want to talk about it! (Although biorhythms shouldn’t be ignored – 6am is NOT a good time to talk to Melissa… about anything!)
If you believe, as we do, that a great relationship adds so much value to your personal life and, in turn, to any business you’re building, then no price is too high to pay to protect that relationship. That knowledge helps to keep things in perspective whenever potential conflicts arise.
We certainly know that our business, which currently turns over $2 million a year, would not be where it is today if we hadn’t been building it together.
Going into business with your significant other can be a wonderful thing – but remember that you need to be proactive about ensuring that your relationship and happiness comes first.