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When Your Co-Founder is Also Your Significant Other

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PW-5-1.JPGI realized that I've been talking about "we" when referring to ProfessorWord on the blog, but I've yet to introduce you to my co-founder. Meet Ivan, a web developer who is working on building the features that I described in an earlier post

We are currently a team of two here at ProfessorWord, so we like to joke that I'm the ed half and he's the tech half of our edtech startup.

People often ask about how to find a co-founder for their startup. I don't have much advice to give, because in our case, it was pretty easy. You see, Ivan and I are a couple. Yes, we were a "we" first in our personal lives, before we decided to also become a "we" in our startup lives. This makes for a host of interesting pros/cons. Here are the main ones that come to mind:

Top 3 Pros:

1. You spend all of your time together. Many couples complain that they never get to spend time together due to competing work schedules and priorities. That's definitely not the case here.

2. You know each other's strengths and weaknesses. You know each other well, so you can figure out how to best divvy up the work. For example, I've had a lot of past work experience in public speaking, so I do a lot of our presentations, while Ivan is better at handling Q&A.

3. You can be honest with each other. When you're a couple, it can be easier to set aside egos and just cut to the truth. Is this blog post boring? Does that web design look amateurish? You can just be honest, without having to dance around and be polite, which saves time and makes it a lot easier to communicate when you disagree.

Top 3 Cons:

1. You spend all (and I mean all) of your time together. No matter how well you work together, everybody needs a little space sometimes. We handle this by working from different locations a few days a week.

2. You know each other's strengths and (often enable each other's) weaknesses. When you know each other too well, it can be easy to fall into the trap of compensating for each other. For example, Ivan has more experience than I do when it comes to deciphering legal documents, so it's tempting to just let him handle those details. But that's not a good idea, because if I don't deal with the paperwork, how will I ever get better? Sometimes, we have to actively remember to not get too complacent in our self-imposed comfort zones.  

3. You can be (a little too) honest with each other. Sometimes, being brutally honest just backfires, because you end up arguing over "how" the critique was given vs. the substance of the actual critique. That's a waste of time. So it's important to jointly find a balance between how you communicate and interact in your co-founder relationship vs. in your personal relationship.

PW-5-2.jpgPeople are often very intrigued by the fact that we're a couple working on a startup together. But my guess is that our experience isn't all that different than the experience other people have when co-founding a startup with close friends or family members.

I'm not an expert by any means about what makes a successful co-founder relationship, so you can see what the experts have to say here, here, and here. But no matter what type of pre-existing personal relationship you may (or may not) have with your co-founder(s), I do think that the three issues I raised above are important to consider when forming your co-founding team: (1) whether you can spend time together, (2) how well your skills complement each other, and (3) how well you communicate when you disagree.

Until next time,




Have questions or feedback? Comment below or let me know on Twitter @professorword!

Photo Credit: Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski


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