Would You Start a Business with a Romantic Partner?

No, dear reader, I have not taken a lover. Rather, this topic was inspired by several episodes of The Profit that I recently watched. (See original article on this show here.)

I’m still only about 25% of the way through the 5 seasons of The Profit, and I’ve watched at least a half dozen episodes featuring business partners who either started the business as romantic partners, became romantically involved while growing the business, or fit one of those categories before breaking up (while still remaining at the business). All of those relationships resulted in stress or tension, either to the business and/or to the relationship.

I couldn’t help but wonder: Why? Why mix business with romance? Does a romance ever help a business? It seems like at best it wouldn’t have any effect, but there’s a decent chance it will either hurt the business or hurt the relationship.

Now, of course I understand that we don’t always choose whom we love. But if you run a small business, you choose your partners and your employees. There is some amount of agency here.

That said, my perspective is that of an outsider–I’m observing these situations from afar, not speaking to them from experience. So if you do have experience with this, I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about dating a coworker. I’m talking about small business owners who are romantically involved with a business partner or employee.


6 Responses to “Would You Start a Business with a Romantic Partner?”

  1. Derian R Reuss says:

    So, I haven’t done it, but I think the upside is a coping mechanism for the incredible amount of time startups take…

    Consider your work-life schedule. How would you fit a significant other into your schedule without having to work fewer hours? Could you afford 10-15 hours a week (or more) for a relationship? If you were working with your partner then you’d be able to be together while you were working on the business, so it wouldn’t take as much time away from the company.

    The same could be said of moving in together, and the amount of time you get to spend together is one of the major upsides, despite all the stress it tends to bring into a relationship.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      I can see your point. I cannot afford 10-15 hours a week for a relationship, hence why I’m not in one. 🙂 I can see how consolidating that quality time through a business could appear to be fulfilling.

      I actually found the opposite when a girlfriend moved in with me–it significantly reduced the stress and inconvenience of driving back and forth rather than just coexisting in a home. But I can see how that might be stressful with different people.

  2. Kyle Mueller says:

    I didn’t start my business with my partner (wife in only 10 more days!), but we were together when it started, and I did employ her while she was finishing grad school and hadn’t started her career yet. She still works for me a bit each month, as well.

    I think it worked for us because both:

    a) There was a pretty clear division of roles, and she knew that given her reduced expertise in my field, it had to be pretty directed work, and

    b) Given that we were in a committed relationship (already engaged), she was highly motivated to see the business succeed, even if she was doing grunt work, which allowed me to spend more time acquiring clients, and thus greatly increasing our annual revenue.

    All of which is to say, I think it worked well because we weren’t actually partners. She was motivated to see the business succeed, but she didn’t have her own ego or investment in the business beyond wanting it to succeed. I think this helps because although I consult her on functionally every aspect of my policy-making process, final decision-making power lies with only one person.

    I don’t think that is necessarily the only formula for business success with romantic partners, but I think it worked for us. Which actually seems weird to type out, because we are one of those annoying couples who does everything together and seem like we’re attached at the hip, and yet I’m saying that our business relationship worked because we didn’t have equal decision-making power.

  3. dmvp says:

    My husband and I married young. We went to college together and during college started a small business together. We did great! We each had specific roles within the business. I think the key is the type of people that are going into business together, and also how new they are in that relationship. (Have they spent enough time together to know what makes each other tick?)

    If you’re going into business together but each have different ideas on how that business should run, then you will have problems. Even best friends that go into business together can end up enemies. So really, I don’t think there’s a right answer to this question. If they can work well together and talk things out, it’ll succeed. If they each have their own ideas and neither can compromise, it’ll fail. Really it’s a lot like marriage! 🙂

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