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5 tips for couples who are thinking about starting a business together

  • Married couples have launched and led many successful companies in industries as varied as healthcare, consumer products, and professional services.
  • Bryan and Shannon Miles have founded several successful businesses and are launching a leadership consultancy this year.
  • Business Insider sat down with the Mileses and asked them to share their best advice for romantic partners wanting to become business partners.
  • Visit BI Prime for more stories.

Cofounding a startup is often compared to marriage, but for some business partners the relationship is literally “till death do us part.”

Married couples have successfully launched companies in industries ranging from health services to consumer products, such as Dr. Shari Sperling and Ari Katz of Sperling Dermatology, Justin Joffe and Alexandria Ketcheson of Henry the Dentist, and Rosie O’Neill and Josh Resnick of the luxury candy maker Sugarfina.

Bryan and Shannon Miles have been married for 22 years and in business together for the past decade. Together they founded and led five virtual-services businesses (which they combined in 2017) as well as a craft brewpub.

This year, they are launching a leadership consultancy called Own Not Run, which aims to help business owners guide their companies toward self-sufficiency.

The Mileses sat down with Business Insider and shared five insights for couples thinking about starting a business together.

Put the relationship before the business

The Mileses take their businesses very seriously, but they are unequivocal about their top priority.

“Ultimately, what we’re aiming at is not great businesses,” Bryan said. “We’re aiming at a great marriage and a great family. We’re looking at something that’s a vision of us in our 70s and 80s.”

The Mileses said they had built all of their businesses in a way that allowed them to focus on their children and on each other.

Don’t jump into anything too quickly

Shannon and Bryan were married for more than 10 years before starting their first joint business, and they said the time spent developing their professional identities outside their relationship was instrumental to their success.

Shannon relayed the advice she gave to an entrepreneur she mentored who wanted to bring her fiancé into a new business idea.

“Don’t do it. It’s a bad idea,” Shannon told the bride-to-be. “Y’all are just getting married. There’s enough other things going on, and I really think you should wait a little while before you go into business together.”

Treat each partner as truly equal

Startup experts typically recommend that one cofounder be a little more than equal to prevent deadlocked decisions, but the Mileses counsel against that arrangement for business and romantic partners.

“Go in as equals and as peers,” Bryan said. “The more you can approach it from an equal standpoint, the more rewarding it can be as a couple. It’s a joy to do this together.”

The Mileses applied a similarly egalitarian approach to their management style.

“As much as we were talking about deferring to each other, as we grew we actually deferred to other members of the team,” Shannon said.

Establish clear communication and boundaries

Most of the time, the boundary between work and home life is fluid for the Mileses, but they set some new ground rules after one episode Shannon described as “the dark night of the soul for me in business ownership.”

One night in August 2016, Bryan had an epiphany he couldn’t shake that would involve a major shift in their agreed-upon business strategy. He wanted to integrate their five businesses into one, and Shannon felt ambushed.

They struggled for weeks to get on the same page.

“Tensions were really, really high and we were raw emotionally,” Shannon said. “We had to set up boundaries and say, ‘I’m not talking about our companies while we’re having dinner this week — we can talk about business during business time.'”

Shannon said those boundaries were “really important.”

Be willing to compromise

The Mileses’ commitment to coequal leadership meant Bryan would have to be patient.

“It was very heartbreaking for me,” he said. “I really wanted to do this with her, but I needed her to embrace it. I don’t want to do this by myself.”

Openness to compromise is a principle they apply in their relationship and businesses alike.

“If you want to grow something out,” Bryan said, “you’re going to have to check the ego. Someone else gets to be the hero.”

“The older I get, and the longer we’re married, I genuinely appreciate how different we are as people,” he continued. “Honest to God, celebrating differences is a really wonderful thing.”

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