What’s it like working with your family?
I get that question a lot. The answer is:
I guess it depends on your family.
For me, it’s great!
We are a real family business. Being a startup, everyone has four or five jobs.
I’m the CEO. I’m also 1/3 of the software development team, 1/2 of the business development team, help out with marketing and do much of the game design, testing and data analysis.
Maria is Chief Marketing Officer. She’s also my oldest daughter. If you didn’t know, now you know. She’s the other 1/2 of the business development team and when she is not pitching to investors she’s making instructional videos, writing articles, presenting at conferences, editing anything that represents our company, from commercials to investor summaries.
Dennis is our Chief Technology Officer. He is like the Underdog of software developers – humble and lovable. People with his skills are in such demand that the only way I could recruit him to work for startup rates was to sleep with him – which worked out, since we have been married 18 years. Our first collaboration was a smashing success, as you can see from the photo at right.
I’ve heard people say that they could never work with their husband/wife/ child. In our case, there are a few factors that make it a success.
- Compatibility – this has nothing to do with how much you love each other and everything to do with how well you work together. Maria likes a lot of the stuff that Dennis hates. She enjoys pitching to investors, hosting events – well, pretty much all the social interaction side. Personally, I like coding more than most things but if there is a need for me to step in anywhere else, I’m not averse to it. Dennis wants to be involved software development and mentoring. Most days, we can all be doing exactly what we want to do. Paradoxically, you can be incompatible at work if you all like the SAME things, because then you argue about who gets to meet with investors and who has to code.
- Respect and Boundaries – Some people have problems because one spouse (or parent) is in charge and that spills over into the home. You didn’t back me on this, so now I’m not talking to you. If there is a decision on marketing or sales, whether hiring, budget or direction, Maria has the final say. If it is software-related, Dennis decides. Investor terms, new projects, overall budget, it’s me. The fact that we all came into the company with established track records probably helps.3. Have a functional family – When investors say they don’t want to invest in startups run by a couple, I have to wonder about their own relationships. If it is a couple who has been dating for six months, I can see the uncertainty. However, if you’ve been married for over a decade, you’ve hopefully established pretty good communication and conflict resolution skills. You know each others’ strengths and weaknesses. If you’re a family, you love each other and have each others’ back. You’re probably not going to jump ship when a competing firm offers you a 35% raise. You feel like you can honestly raise issues that bother you without worrying you’ll be fired.
It seems to me that a family-run business is less likely to fail than other startups – if you have the right family.