Want to Go Into Business With Your Spouse? See These Couples' Success Stories

Sarah King

Since the ’08 market crash and nearly simultaneous boom of Silicon Valley, it’s safe to say that the corporate ladder as we once knew it is no longer. With the rise of startup culture, we now live in a world where a business can start from a single great idea. And with it came another trend: co-founding couples. More and more couples are choosing to invest in each other and their company, but what does it really take for spouses to work side by side? To find out, we caught up with two successful pairs who said I do professionally and romantically. Christy Petersen and Aras Baskauskas of Christy Dawn, and Charlotte and David Cho of Soko Glam share the ups and downs of running a business with your S.O.—for better or for worse.

Christy Petersen and Aras Baskauskas of Christy Dawn

PHOTO:

James Branaman

MYDOMAINE: What motivated you guys to go into business together?

CHRISTY PETERSEN: The itch to start a brand had been building for a few years. Finally, one day I came home from a long day of shooting and I told Aras, “I’m ready to start my own line.”

ARAS BASKAUSKAS: I knew Christy had a great eye for design, so when she said she was ready, I told her I’d help. At the time, I was running a hat company that I started seven years prior, so I knew all about what not to do when launching a new brand. But more important, I knew that Christy had real talent, which is something we could build around.

MD: How did you go about designating each of your roles in the company?

CP: Lucky for us, our roles were pretty clear from day one. I was in charge of design, and Aras was in charge of the business side. I’m not great with numbers, and Aras, well, how should I put it?

AB: Let’s just say, I’ve never been accused of being the best dressed person in a room. But my lack of fashion sense has helped keep the separation of church and state so to speak. 

MD: How do you separate your work relationship from your personal relationship?

CP: It’s a balancing act. We try not to talk business in bed, but it’s a hard rule to keep. Sometimes inspiration strikes at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday and I just want to talk about it!

AB: We try to keep business hours and family hours, and sprinkle in a date night every now and again. It’s important that we make time for all three facets of our relationship. At the end of the day it comes down to communication, letting the other person know what we need, not expecting each other to be mind readers.

MD: Do you accidentally call each other's pet names in the office?  

AB: It’s never an accident.

MD: How do you handle any conflicts or disagreements that may arise?

CP: We rarely have business disagreements, and when we do, we sit down and talk out the pros and cons. Most of our disagreements are interpersonal and stem from unconscious feelings. Thankfully we both subscribe to the belief that we are responsible for our own feelings. It doesn’t always happen right away, but eventually we both end up taking responsibility for our feelings. Once that’s dealt with, usually the surface conflict falls away.

MD: What are the pros and cons of working with your spouse? 

CP and AB: The pros: We have access to each other 24/7 so if something needs to be discussed, we don’t have to wait. We have a system of working out conflict, so we can avoid dysfunctional work relationships. We trust each other implicitly. It’s fun to work with someone who you really love. The con: It’s harder to get space for ourselves. 

MD: How do you manage to have your own time if you live and work with your spouse? 

CP: After the nanny arrives each morning, we both get an hour or two to ourselves before we start work. Usually that’s when we work out, move our bodies. And then when River [our son] goes down for the night we have a few hours to ourselves. Some nights Aras has a basketball game, and other nights I’ll go to the spa. Wednesday is Survivor night!

MD: What's the biggest piece of advice you would share with other couples interested in going into business together? Any survival tips?

AB: I think that you have to have a clear definition of roles within the business. This will keep conflicts to a minimum. Also, if you're just starting out, don’t put yourself in a financial position where you need the business to make money immediately. Businesses take time to grow. If you’re both stressed about money, it’s not going to be an easy road.

CP: And make sure to make time for romance. It’s so easy to start seeing your partner as just a business partner. You have to keep that fire going!

MD: A study just found that women need more sleep than men do. Do you guys find this to be true? 

CP: I love sleep and function way better when I get a good night of shut eye.

AB: When River was younger, he would wake up in the middle of the night for a feed. At first we’d alternate nights. One night Christy would get up and feed Riv, and the next I’d do it. After a while it became apparent that Christy couldn’t function with the sleep she was getting, so I moved my bed into the baby’s room and would wake up with the boy every night. It was easier for me to function with less sleep than it was to live and work with a sleep-deprived Christy.

MD: How do your morning routines differ? Do you guys both eat breakfast together?

CP: We switch off mornings waking up early with our son River. This makes it nice for one person to be able to get another hour of much-needed sleep. Usually we wait for daddy to wake up before we eat breakfast because it’s more fun when we’re all together!

MD: How often do you exercise? Do you work out separately? 

CP: We work out separately. It’s nice to have time alone. I try to get a good sweat at least three times a week. I like to hike and I’ll go to a yoga class once or twice a week.

AB: After our nanny arrives in the morning, I get in a workout and then head to work. I try to break a sweat every day.

MD: If you had free time, how would you spend it? 

CP: I have an itch to travel right now. Give me some free time and we’re hitting the road!

AB: I’d really like to go on a yoga/meditation retreat. Take a good block of days to relax.

MD: Any guilty pleasures? 

AB: Any? So many. Let’s start at the top—donuts, Netflix, In-N-Out…preferably all on the same couch!

CP: I love watching old episodes of Friends and raw chocolate deserts.

Charlotte and David Cho of Soko Glam

PHOTO:

@sokoglam

MYDOMAINE: What motivated the pair of you to go into business together?

DAVID CHO: Both of our parents are entrepreneurs, and I think that had a huge impact on of our lives. From an early age, I think we both knew that we would want to build something from scratch, but what we didn’t plan was for us to do it together. Soko Glam started as a passion project, especially since Charlotte was so inspired by the beauty culture in Korea. For me, I was fascinated to learn a lot more about the team dynamics, marketing, finances, and operations of running a small business. I guess you can say it was kind of a perfect match for us to lead the business together because we bring such different strengths and complementary skill sets to the table (which is particularly important in any start-up). We wouldn’t have it any other way, and it’s something that I think has truly made the difference for our company and what makes us truly unique.

CHARLOTTE CHO: After living, working, and falling in love with each other in Korea, we wanted to start something that would help us stay connected to the country. I was personally passionate about beauty because of the results I had seen after using Korean beauty products. Dave thought it was fascinating and would be a great way to bridge Korea and the West, so we put our savings together to start Soko Glam. At first it was a passion project, we never knew it would be what it is today. We consider ourselves lucky to be on this journey together. Some of our friends who work long hours have shared that they sometimes don’t even see their spouses until the weekend. We’re definitely not in that boat!

MD: How did you go about designating each of your roles in the company?

DC: It was actually pretty easy. Charlotte and I have huge amount of respect for each other, and the way we divided our roles was to simply look at what we’re both really good at and start there. The great thing about our partnership is that Charlotte’s strengths and mine don’t have a lot of overlap. To give a small example, she’s extremely gifted at making genuine connections with others through all the different channels that we communicate but not as strong at managing the financials. For me, although I’m this ex-combat arms officer who now knows way too much about cosmetics, making connections with customers is not my strong point; being an operator and building and leading teams is.

CC: We’re not big on titles here, we’re all about impact. Dave spends a lot of his time managing the finances, operations, and building the team. I’m the curator [and] esthetician, and [I] spend a lot of my time engaging with our community. It’s not like we planned any of this—it just happened! We’re still a start-up, so titles aside, we both still touch every aspect of the business.

MD: How do you separate your work relationship from your personal relationship? Do you accidentally call each other's pet names in the office? 

DC: If I were to say that it’s been a walk in the park, I’d be lying. Like any partnership, whether it’s with a brother, sister, best friend, or [former] co-worker, running a business as co-founders is like being in a marriage, and being in a marriage is not the end but only the beginning—it takes work.  

For us, the best way I can describe our dynamic is that we view it as our passion project. Some couples have certain common things that they love doing together—it’s their “thing.” It could be scuba diving, rock climbing, dancing, traveling, etc. For Charlotte and me, it’s Soko Glam. We see it as a tremendous blessing that we can wake up every morning and share these experiences together. As for pet names, we keep those between just us.

CC: Early on Dave and I had talked about always addressing each other by our first names. We think we’re pretty good at being professional while in the office. I think it’s because we’ve never been a couple that was into PDA. People who don’t know us well or our relationship are actually surprised when they find out we’re married.

MD: How do you handle any conflicts or disagreements that may arise?

DC: Trust is at the foundation of not only our marriage but also our company. This is one of the things that I believe gives us an advantage as a husband-and-wife team. When you’re going into business with someone, you have to without a doubt completely trust the motivations, character, judgment, and competency of your partner. What’s important to point out here is that you have to have complete trust in the times that are great, but more important, in the times that are dark and hard, because those days will come. That is when your relationship/partnership is truly tested.

Because our marriage is deeply rooted in trust, it’s easy for us to translate that into the business. And when we run into any conflicts or disagreements, we resolve them with the help of other leaders on the team, and [we] always decide on what’s best for our customers and community.

CC: There are definitely times where we have disagreements. Luckily we learned how to talk it out and also give mutual respect to the decision that has been made. Rarely, we have to agree to disagree and use other members of the team as tie breakers; most of the time we talk things out with the team and get to a unanimous decision.

MD: What are the pros and cons of working with your spouse? 

DC: I feel like I’ve already mentioned a lot of pros, so I’ll share a con.

The other day, we had dinner with one of my college friends and his wife. He’s an investment banker in the city and in the middle of dinner, he looked over at his wife and said, “Wow, I don’t think I’ve spent more than 10 minutes with you this whole week.” Right after, I looked over at Charlotte and said, “Wow, I don’t think I’ve spent more than 10 minutes APART from you this whole week.” It’s a funny story, but I think one thing that Charlotte and I miss is to have “our” time. We don’t have the luxury, like we did before starting the business, to go on vacations or have a whole day to ourselves. There’s no on and off switch—we’re always on and that has its limitations when it comes to certain parts of our marriage.

CC: The pro of having a co-founder as your spouse is that you have absolute trust in that person. I never doubt his commitment to Soko Glam, and I know he will always want the best for me and the company. A con is that there is no separation between work life and family life. It’s difficult to not talk about work when we’re out of the office. In a sense, Soko Glam has become our baby, and it’s hard to turn the switch off when it’s such a big part of our lives.

MD: How do you manage to have your own time if you live and work with your spouse? 

DC: Like many other entrepreneurs, we make sacrifices, but we also manage our time wisely. Time is a luxury in this business, so we try to be as efficient as possible. We do this by taking control of our calendar/schedule and not letting it control us. As for taking time apart, again, we [so] completely respect and trust each other that we allow each other to spend much-needed time to ourselves to stay connected with friends, work out, visit family, etc.

CC: Although we work in the same company, there are plenty of times where we don’t see each other for weeks on end if I’m out of the country/state on business trips, book tours, or my quarterly trips to Korea. I spend about a third of the year in Korea, so there are actually plenty of times we are apart.

MD: What's the biggest piece of advice you would share with other couples interested in going into business together? Any survival tips?

DC: I’ve mentored a few entrepreneurs, and something that I tell all of them, whether a couple or not, is to 1. Make sure to get a co-founder and 2. To ensure you find one that has different strengths and complementary skill sets from yourself.

Without going into too many details, in my opinion having someone else that is right there with you, that makes you better and supports you in the trenches can be the difference. And if you bring different things to the table, you can not only do a lot more together in a shorter period of time, but you can also reduce the risk of conflict as the company grows.

If I were to share one survival tip that is more for the couples, it would be to commit. After committing to each other at the alter or signing documents at City Hall, in marriage, you have to commit to each other everyday afterwards. In business, it’s no different—you have to commit to each other. Accept that it’s going to be hard work and maybe the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do. It’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows, but for those days that you make it through the storm, there’s almost nothing better.

CC: Make sure that both of you have qualities that complement each other. It always boils down to respect and appreciation for each other. It’s not going to be a walk in the park, but communicating and listening to each other (and working on the feedback that you get) is key.

MD: A study just released that women need more sleep than men do. Do you guys find this to be true? 

DC: I’m curious to know what the data shows to support this? I actually don’t have any specific examples that support this statement either way. What I can say is that I think it’s important to recharge your batteries. In order for me to do my best work, I need at least five hours of sleep. For Charlotte, she needs about the same. We generally go to bed at different times and have different morning routines.

CC: It really depends on the person. I personally think I sleep fewer hours than Dave. Dave is really good about sticking with a routine he’s set for himself.

MD: How do your morning routines differ? Do you guys both eat breakfast together?

DC: I start my day with a quick workout—breaking a sweat in the morning really jumpstarts my day. It also gets me to focus and get a lot more done in the morning. Breakfast is essential for me—I never skip it. For me it’s as simple as cereal with soy milk. Charlotte tends to skip it most days. After a workout and breakfast, it’s off to getting through the day’s agenda, which includes emails, to-dos, meetings, and connecting with the leadership.

CC: Dave eats breakfast every morning—I don’t. Dave is always in the office at least 30 minutes before me, so we actually leave the apartment every morning separately.

MD: How often do you exercise? Do you work out separately? 

DC: I exercise five times a week. We occasionally work out together on the weekends, which is nice.

CC: Rarely. This month I finally joined the gym where Dave exercises and we work out together. He’s actually the best trainer you could ask for because he’s very knowledgeable, patient, and encouraging. You can tell he gets a lot of enjoyment out of teaching me.

MD: If you had free time, how would you spend it? 

DC: I would cook. Cooking is kind of a quite passion of mine. I like to be in the kitchen and feed people—it’s probably one of the things that I enjoy most within the home. It really works out because Charlotte loves to eat!

CC: Doing absolutely nothing and not feeling guilty about it!

MD: Any guilty pleasures? 

DC: I was a pretty chubby kid growing up, and I think that kid is definitely still in me when it comes to comfort foods. I try to live a pretty healthy lifestyle, but I definitely enjoy my McDonalds French fries, Krispy Kreme donuts, and late night Molcasalsa (local California Mexican restaurant) and halal chicken and rice.

CC: Korean dramas. They’re a time suck but it’s so entertaining! There’s a reason why they’re a huge global phenomenon (just like K-beauty is!).

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What do you think? Would you consider going into business with your S.O.?

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