Building a Startup With Your Spouse… Successfully

Pia Silva Wasterval and Steve Wasterval

Whenever people hear that I own a business with my husband, the first thing they usually say is “I could never do that!” followed by the question “How do you do that?!” People are so curious about it that Forbes even did a piece on it!

How do you do it? Forbes Magazine Pia SilvaThe same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice!

You see, I absolutely love working with my husband. I mean, I liked him enough to marry him, didn’t I? Of course I like spending lots of time with him, building something meaningful together, and sharing the glory of success (and the pain of failure) with this most important person in my life.

But it doesn’t come naturally, it definitely takes work. And I like to tell people that, because I don’t want them to think that we magically have this incredibly rosy relationship. Like our business, we put effort and work into making it work for us.

So here are some (not so) secret ways we did that:

1. Get on the same page, over and over.

We learned early on that it was important to constantly check in and make sure we were both headed in the same direction.

You’d be surprised how partners working side by side in a business can have drastically different ideas of the ultimate goal, even when you talk about it all the time.

Actually sitting down with the purpose of outline the trajectory is something I highly recommend. We learned this the hard way, but once we identified the disconnect, all the tiffs and scuffles beforehand made sense and were a non issue in the future.

For example, there was a point where I assumed we were trying to grow an agency with a team of employees, and Steve had no interest in doing that. But because we hadn’t actually discussed that, every time I wanted to do something that would push us in that direction, he would resist and I would get frustrated. It all made sense once it figured out the real cause of the disagreement.

2. Shrink Yo’self

We went to therapy! I think every couple would benefit from doing a little therapy. It helps you get to know yourself and each other on deeper levels and opens up communication in ways I didn’t know were possible.

We wouldn’t have gone if we hadn’t been forced to. When we hired our first two employees, I knew we needed help. Nothing so terrible happened, it was more than a little tension around the office is fine when it’s just the two of you, but it is NOT OK when you have employees. I felt it was unfair to have a tense work environment, and that we needed someone to help us work through that aspect of it.

Turns out, the reason we were getting tense is because we hadn’t clearly laid out who was responsible for the employees and what they were supposed to do. Makes perfect sense! Until then, we had very clear and separate roles and responsibilities, so toes were rarely being stepped on. All of a sudden we were paying people to be there every day, and we didn’t know who was responsibly for what and we were stepping all over each other. Having a third party help us identify that cleared the whole thing up.

Bonus Benefit: We went to therapy to become better communicators in business, but the added benefit is that we became way better communicators in life! The business really brought to the surface little things that we probably never would have identified and worked through, and we may have lived with less-than-ideal communication for decades!

3. Know Your Role

We had clear, distinct roles and responsibilities from the beginning. This was important for us.

As two independent people who like to do things with freedom and “our” way, we needed to each have agency and control over our domain.

I am the business. Although we discuss many things together, I ultimately have final say over business decisions.

Steve is the creative. Though he asks for my input, he has final say over the work we show.

Respecting those boundaries is not always easy, but it is necessary for the health of the business and relationship. Plus when you don’t want to respect the boundaries, and you do it anyway, you make the trust between you that much stronger.

4. The Obvious

Date nights. It’s what everyone says, so I won’t elaborate. You get it.

So if you want to work with your spouse and you think you can’t, I say nay. It just takes some thought and practice, and for me at least it’s probably one of the best things it’s done for my marriage.

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