MONEY Small Business

3 Important Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Macall B. Polay—HBO via Everett Collection

There's a lot that real-life startups can take away from the Emmy-nominated fantasy series.

The acclaimed HBO series Game of Thrones—which is up for 19 awards at tonight’s Emmys—provides interesting commentary on the modern state of politics and warfare. But speaking as the founder of an online folder printing company, I’ve noticed that the show also demonstrates some valuable lessons for first-time entrepreneurs.

These might not help you become king of a fantasy kingdom, but they’ve been invaluable to me throughout my more than a decade of successful entrepreneurship.

(Reader beware: This article contains several spoilers.)

Lesson #1: Knowledge is power

In Westeros: The Game of Thrones characters who are most likely to survive are the ones with the best information: Where would Varys be without his network of spies gathering secrets from all across the Seven Kingdoms, for example? Would Cersei and Littlefinger still be around if they didn’t have dirt on their enemies?

In your business: Knowledge is your best asset. But that doesn’t mean you need to train swaths of children to uncover your competitors’ deep, dark secrets a la Varys. You simply must to get to know your industry inside and out, so that you can identify what it is that you can provide your consumers that others aren’t already providing. When you understand your field and the needs that aren’t being met, you’ll be better positioned to fulfill those needs.

For me, recognizing an unmet need was the impetus for starting my own company. After discovering that those seeking custom presentation folders faced extremely limited choices, I set out to provide materials of more variety and greater quality.

Lesson #2: Unearned confidence can be dangerous.

In Westeros: Pride often precedes a fall. Ruthless, arrogant King Joffrey mocks his enemies and abuses his subjects in a display of power and privilege, only to be poisoned at his own wedding. Viserys Targaryen shamelessly proclaims his superiority to the people around him, one of whom happens to be a powerful warlord who “crowns” him with molten gold. Even fan favorite Oberyn meets a messy, head-crushy end when he lets his careless bravado get the better of him.

In your business: Know the difference between confidence and an overgrown ego. Starting a successful business requires boldness, determination, and trust in your own abilities and resources, but be careful not to let it turn into hubris. Make sure your actions are grounded in fact or reason; check yourself against someone you trust before making any rash moves. Overconfident people take risks that they can’t afford, and they often don’t listen to their peers’ good advice (“Trust me, Oberyn, wear a helmet”).

Back when my company was first beginning, I did a lot of different odd jobs on the side. A friend of mine told me that I should concentrate on my core competency: custom printed folders. I didn’t listen to that advice, and it ended up losing my business money in the long run. Once I started concentrating on folders, the company grew much stronger.

Lesson #3: A good mentor helps secure your success.

In Westeros: Each of the Stark children has flourished with the help of mentors, albeit unconventional ones. Arya Stark learned swordplay from her “dance instructor” Syrio; Bran has developed his psychic powers with the help of mysterious companion Jojen; and even Sansa seems to have picked up some lessons in court intrigue from Littlefinger.

In your business: Reaching out to a mentor can be a little scary, since it means acknowledging your own weaknesses as an entrepreneur. But remember that the person helping to guide you probably achieved their success with the help of a mentor of their own. When you make the choice to work for yourself, the only people you have to turn to for guidance are those who have already done the same.

Many of my friends are successful business owners, so I make it a point to consult with them periodically. Learning from their experiences helps me to avoid common pitfalls and ensure that my company is running as efficiently as possible.

Mentors aren’t just there to make you feel good about the work that you’re doing, though; they should have enough experience to tell you when you’re doing something wrong. Sometimes the advice that you need most comes from someone as bluntly honest as the Hound—though ideally, your mentor will be a bit more supportive.

Can you think of more business lessons to be learned from Game of Thrones? Share your thoughts on Twitter, with the hashtag #GoTbizadvice

Vladimir Gendelman is the founder and CEO of Company Folders, an innovative presentation folder printing company.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of promising young entrepreneurs. YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.

TIME Small Business

This Is the Deeply Moving, Almost Unbelievable Story Behind Auntie Anne’s Pretzels

ABC's "Secret Millionaire" - Season Three
Auntie Anne's Pretzels founder, Anne Beiler. Fred Watkins—ABC via Getty Images

Sex, loss, grief, redemption and a Mennonite chicken farmer who made dreams come true

The genesis of most small businesses is filled with some measure of triumph and sacrifice, the natural elements that make up the heroics of entrepreneurship. But few “how I got started” tales are quite as rich as Anne Beiler’s, the woman behind mall staple Auntie Anne’s soft pretzels. Her’s includes devastating personal loss, grief, adversity, an abusive sexual relationship, long odds, achievement and at least one wildcard that appeared in the form of a Mennonite chicken farmer capable of writing million-dollar checks.

Fortune wrote about Beiler’s story last year (behind a paywall). Now, the site has a video (not behind a paywall) in which Beiler talks about how she grew her soft pretzel business from a single store to a worldwide brand with over a thousand locations. Here’s an excerpt from the 2013 story:

I was 19, and my husband, Jonas, was 21 when we married in 1968. We were a happy couple, and my only dream was to be a mom. We had two daughters until my daughter Angela was killed accidentally in 1975 when she was hit by a tractor on our farm. My life turned upside down. My husband and I weren’t able to connect emotionally, and I sought counseling with a pastor outside the Amish-Mennonite community. For six years I stayed in an abusive sexual relationship with that pastor, living in guilt and shame. The pastor’s license was revoked when his behavior with several women came to light. In 1982, when I began a life again with my husband, we were living paycheck to paycheck. My husband was a mechanic, and during our marital crisis he had studied to become a marriage and family counselor. He wanted to offer counseling services for free to our community, and we needed income. So I told him, “You’ve stayed with me despite all that I’ve done. So do what you want to do, and I’ll go to work.”

A friend told me that an Amish-owned store selling pretzels, ice cream, and pizza in the indoor Downingtown, Pa., farmers’ market was for sale. The owners wanted $6,000. I was astounded at the price because those kinds of weekend stores can bring in anywhere from $25,000 to $200,000 a year, depending on the location. We had no money, so we went to my husband’s parents, and they gave us the $6,000.

For anybody even remotely interested in starting their own business (or just reading an unbelievable yarn), it’s worth checking out.

TIME Food & Drink

The 13 Best Cheese Shops in America

Star Provisions, Atlanta Heidi Geldhauser

Travel + Leisure names the shops that stock the finest local and imported cheese

Cheese—in all its gooey, crumbly, farm-fresh, or cave-aged incarnations—is having a moment. Thanks to the restaurant trend of gourmet mac and cheese and the opening of at least one grilled cheese truck per town, even kids are learning to distinguish Emmentalers from Edams, Goudas from Gruyères. Historic or hip, America’s best cheese shops are as widely varied as the dairy products they peddle.

Cured, Boulder, CO

Leave it to an active town like Boulder to support a cheese shop owned by a professional cyclist: Will Frischkorn, who oversees Cured with his wife, Coral, rode in the Tour de France before going to culinary school. Although the Frischkorns are partial to American creameries, each summer they honor Will’s past life with a Tour-themed tasting series, featuring a regional cheese and a beer or wine from each leg of the race.

Cheesemonger’s Choice: Fruition Farms’ sheep’s-milk ricotta, from nearby Larkspur, which is available seasonally, while its flock is at pasture from spring to late fall, and is delivered still warm from the farm ($28/pound).

Star Provisions, Atlanta

Atlanta is considered the capital of the New South, so it’s only right that its best gourmet market stocks the largest selection of southern cheeses in the U.S.—made in Georgia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, and beyond. Its Cheese & Crackers program lets members sample three regional offerings per month. Located in the Westside, Star Provisions is attached to fine-dining spot Bacchanalia and also includes a butcher, a bakery, and a seafood counter.

Cheesemonger’s Choice: Hunkadora, an ash-covered, farmstead chèvre round from North Carolina’s Prodigal Farm, where goats live in and around old school buses ($9).

Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge, MA

Renowned for its rare selections, Formaggio Kitchen was opened in 1978 by Ihsan Gurdal, a former member of the Turkish Olympic volleyball team. In 1996, the store added America’s first man-made cheese cave, constructed in a subterranean office space to mimic the same cool, damp environment used to age cheeses throughout Europe.

Cheesemonger’s Choice: Ekiola Ardi Gasna, which takes its name from the Basque for a mountain hut—the sort that husband-and-wife owners Désiré and Kati Loyatho take turns sleeping in during the summer while their sheep graze in the high Pyrenees pastures ($31/pound).

Fromagination, Madison, WI

Nicknamed America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin produces more than a quarter of the nation’s cheese. Fromagination (est. 2007) stocks a wide assortment from the state’s creameries, plus Madison-made items, such as crackers, charcuterie, preserves, and relishes—perfect ingredients for a picnic just across the street in Capitol Square.

Cheesemonger’s Choice: Martone, a mixed-milk cheese from LaClare Farms in the nearby town of Malone, which features a mild, buttery flavor imparted by cow’s milk and a tangy citrus note from goat’s milk ($19.99).

James Cheese Company, New Orleans

Richard and Danielle Sutton opened their Uptown shop in 2006, a year after Hurricane Katrina, when the city was still in its rebuilding phase. But it wasn’t the first time they took a major risk in the name of cheese: in 2002, they left their jobs and moved to London, where Richard became manager of the 200-year-old Paxton & Whitfield cheese shop. The store’s location in the St. James neighborhood inspired the name of their cheese company upon their return to the Big Easy.

Cheesemonger’s Choice: Dancing Fern from Tennessee’s Sequatchie Cove Farm, a delicately grassy Reblochon-style wheel with a slight walnut flavor ($26.95/pound).

READ THE FULL LIST HERE.

More from Travel + Leisure:

MONEY Small Business

The Best Way to Keep Your New Business from Failing

Conjoined paperclips
Find the right partner if you want your startup to succeed. Helen Sessions—Alamy

Making sure you're compatible with your business partner is a key to success. So ask yourself these questions before you pair up.

Nearly two-thirds of high-potential startups fail because of conflicts between co-founders, says Harvard Business School professor Noam Wasserman. Make sure you know these things about a prospective partner:

How does he respond to adversity?

With a startup, “the highs are high, but the lows are very low,” says Eric Del Balso, founder of Ignite Advisors. Ask the person’s friends, family, and former co-workers how he handles letdowns and curve balls.

What are her goals for the business?

Discuss key decisions you’ll make together—like, Will you raise outside money? Pay top dollar for talent or hire temps? “If you can’t resolve those, there is a high likelihood the team won’t be aligned,” says Wasserman.

How does he handle money?

An overspender may burn through funds before you find revenue. But a timid spender can hold you back. Pull a credit report on your compatriot. Then discuss “what you each think is worthwhile to spend on and what’s lower priority,” says Wasserman.

More on starting your own business:

TIME Small Business

Recycle, Reuse, Reprofit: Startups Try to Make Money Selling Your Stuff

Phones, clothes and even food get a second life on these sites

In a bustling San Francisco warehouse, a buyer for a startup called Twice is inspecting a pair of used jeans. She checks the buttonholes and zipper for snags, the legs and cuffs for wear. If the pants pass inspection, the old owner gets paid and the pants are cataloged, steamed and photographed before being listed on Twice’s website–at a fraction of their original cost (perhaps $19 for Levi’s). When someone else buys them, they become a pound or two of the 400 tons of clothing that Twice will resell this year. “It’s environmental,” says co-founder Noah Ready-Campbell of Twice’s mission. “It’s about reusing clothing and avoiding manufacturing more.”

Twice is one of many startups attempting to make the environmentally sound choice preferable and easy for consumers while making a profit in the process. The statistics driving these efforts are shocking: In the U.S., 90% of mobile devices are thrown away rather than recycled. Up to 40% of the food produced gets trashed. Americans junk some 12 million tons of textiles each year. “There’s no way we can continue to produce waste at the level that we are and survive on this planet,” says Adam Werbach, a co-founder of Yerdle, a site where people trade things they might otherwise throw out. “It really is much easier to click a button than it is to knock on your neighbor’s door.” And that is the convenience gap these enviro-preneurs hope to close.

Consider the steps involved in listing a used iPhone on eBay: take a picture, set a fair price, outline the specs, connect your bank, pay fees, wait a week for bids to come in and then hope it actually sells. These are inefficiencies that Silicon Valley types seek out like bloodhounds. “People actually feel guilt that they’re holding onto these items,” says Ryan Mickle, founder of the electronics auction site FOBO, where bidding lasts only 97 minutes and the company suggests starting prices for you. But in surveys with potential users, he found that ignoring old stuff still causes less angst than confronting what can be the messy process of getting it to someone else.

Many items cluttering closets and garages are less desirable than gadgets: DVDs, picture frames, bird books, an old wine carafe. These are items companies like Listia and Yerdle want on their sites, where by giving things away, people earn credits that they can spend on other users’ property. The sites aim to replace the rush that accompanies buying something new with the fun of bartering and the satisfaction that comes from giving away something you don’t need. “People are seeking out human connection in our day-to-day economic transactions,” says Arun Sundararajan, a business professor at New York University who studies these budding economies. “There is a noneconomic value that comes from giving your stuff to other people.”

Sundararajan says that if a company like Yerdle achieves its aim of displacing 25% of new sales, that’s good for the economy because it decreases waste. On the flip side, there is a possibility of job losses among people who make those new items. But he believes that other jobs in newer sectors would replace them, as happened when technological innovation put farmers out of work. “Efficiency is the name of the game in all of consumption,” says Ready-Campbell of Twice, “and in the whole economy, really.”

MONEY Small Business

The 4 Essential Traits You Need to Build Your Own Business

It's not enough to want to be your own boss. The founder of an advertising company explains the key qualities that go into being a successful entrepreneur.

Many people aspire to become entrepreneurs, but it’s not something that just anyone can do. To actually succeed you need more than a desire to make money or be your own boss. You need certain qualities.

Soon after I started my own business, Fortune Cookie Advertising, I began to identify crucial qualities that were fundamental if I wanted to succeed. While I had all of these four traits to some degree at the outset, I also had to consciously develop them over time.

1. A Clear Vision

This is the foundation of your business. Your vision may be based on a product, a service, or simply the desire to solve a problem for your customers. This is the “why” of your endeavor, and it must be relevant to the people you will be serving.

That’s why it’s not enough to want to be independent—your customers or clients don’t care about this. They care about your vision, which could be anything from wanting to build the most advanced computer operating system to wanting to find a fast way to deliver flowers around the globe.

Your vision may change, expand, or narrow over time, but you need to have one when you start. In my business, I started with the vision of being able to provide advertisers with an innovative way to get their message out.

2. The Ability to (Quickly) Pitch Your Business

If your business is straightforward, like selling books or changing the oil in people’s cars, it’s easy to explain. But some products and services are more technical or abstract. No matter what kind of business you decide to run, however, you should be able to describe it to prospective customers, investors, or even friends and family members in a few short sentences.

If this isn’t your strong suit, you might want to study the art of the pitch in terms of the movies. A screenwriter must be able to sell his or her idea to a busy and skeptical producer in a few minutes. Any new business owner should have the same ability. It shows that you not only know your business well, but can convince others of its value in language they can easily understand.

3. Persistence

Many of the most successful entrepreneurs in history failed at their first (and in some cases second, third, or more) businesses. Notable examples include Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic, and even Bill Gates.

But perhaps the most famous example in history is Thomas Edison and his many attempts to design the light bulb. The quote “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” is often attributed to him. Hopefully, you won’t have to be quite as persistent as Edison, but the principle is the same. Many new ventures fail or experience setbacks, but you cannot let this stop you from trying over and over again until you devise the formula that works—you won’t get paid if you don’t.

At one point in our business, a computer failure resulted in the loss of hundreds of names of contacts, including customers and prospects. This data, of course, should have been backed up, but I had not gotten around to doing this. So my team and I had to manually rebuild the entire list. It was a painstaking process, but we recovered everything, and I learned a valuable lesson: Always back up!

4. Focus

This last quality is one that entrepreneurs need in abundant supply. You need to be able to see a project from inception to completion while overcoming distractions. You must be able to prioritize, set your own schedule, and meet your own deadlines. For people accustomed to having their tasks assigned to them by employers, parents, drill sergeants, or professors, this is a big change.

When I first started my business, it took me a few months to understand this. At first, I made elaborate schedules and to-do lists to keep myself on track. I still do that to some extent, but now it’s more internalized as I’ve gotten comfortable in the role of entrepreneur.

Almost everyone like the idea of being independent—in theory. The freedom to be one’s own boss is one of the most desirable things about starting a business. But only you can decide if you are focused enough to do it.

Shawn Porat is the CEO of Fortune Cookie Advertising, a media placement company selling advertising space within fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants throughout the United States.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

More from the YEC:

MONEY Raises

Why You Might Get a Raise Soon

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iStock

Good news for workers: Employers think the future is bright

If you’re looking for a raise — or a job — some good fortune might be coming your way. In the second quarter of this year, more employers reported rising wages and expanding payrolls, according to a new survey from the National Association for Business Economics. And businesses expect the economy will keep growing. A quarter of survey respondents now predict that real GDP will go up more than 3% next year.

For its quarterly business conditions survey, the NABE polls its members, which include business leaders, consultants and economists in a range of industries. They say they’re feeling more confident about the state of the economy — and that’s good news for workers.

Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, says as sales have gone up, businesses have finally needed to hire more employees to keep up with demand. Plus, now that Congress has averted a series of fiscal crises, employers think the economy will continue to grow, so they’ve started making investments again.

That includes investments in labor: This quarter, 43% of NABE’s respondents said their firms offered raises. That’s up from this time last year, when only 19% of respondents saw higher pay. A third of the respondents expect their businesses will raise salaries going forward. Also, 36% of respondents said their firms hired more people this quarter, and 37% expect their businesses to increase payrolls over the next three months.

“Employment has been rising, the unemployment rate has been coming down pretty sharply, so there’s no longer that deep bench of experienced workers,” Simonson says. “Increasingly, companies are having to pay a premium in order to have the best workers, to get anybody who has gone off to a competitor.”

The bad news? Overall demand for workers is still pretty low. Only 22% of respondents said they have a shortage of skilled workers. Compare that to before the recession: In January 2006, 44% of respondents needed more skilled workers.

But while the labor market remains slack, Simonson thinks the trends are positive.

“We’ve been hearing for the past year about companies having trouble finding workers,” Simonson says. “I do expect that at some point this year, we’ll see an acceleration in wage increases.”

MONEY

Should I Invest in a Marijuana Shop?

Have you ever wanted to be a personal-finance advice columnist? Well, here's your chance.

In MONEY’s “Readers to the Rescue” department, we publish questions from readers seeking help with sticky financial situations, along with advice from other readers on how to solve those problems. Here’s our latest reader question:

I have an opportunity to invest in a store in Washington that will sell marijuana for recreational use. The returns are expected to be significant. But there is an ethical question for me: Should I invest in something that may hurt some people’s lives?

What advice would you give? Fill out the form below and tell us about it. We’ll publish selected reader advice in an upcoming issue. (Your answer may be edited for length and clarity.)

Thank you!

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MONEY Small Business

How to Fire Your Boss and Break Free of the Corporate Grind

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When you're the boss, you have a lot of responsibility—but also a lot of freedom. Kali Nine LLC—Getty Images

Want to start a business? Do these four things first, advises entrepreneur Adam Root.

Imagine spending your whole life building a golden tower for someone else to live in. You sew the drapes, build the furniture, and put the feast on the table. And then, when you’re 62, you check out entirely and go live in your humble little house.

Guess what? That’s what you’re doing at your current job.

Each day you go to work, you contribute your time and effort to building someone else’s dream, not your own. The only way out is entrepreneurship.

Of course, the demands and sacrifices of entrepreneurship aren’t for everyone. You’ll likely end up with maxed-out credit cards and sleepless nights spent in front of a computer. Meanwhile, working for others does come with some plusses—like the fact that each time payday rolls around, you know the paycheck will clear, and you’ll be able to pay your mortgage on time.

That sort of certainty is nice, but it’s a luxury that’s costing you your independence.

Since launching my own business last March, I’ve experienced a few “entrepreneurs’ highs” that reinforce the decision to work for myself. For example, when I closed enough business to hire my first employee, I was able to bring on a college friend as an engineer. Sharing the vision of the company in its infancy was incredibly rewarding. Plus, writing my first paycheck validated the business, and made me think, “I can really do this.” It was totally liberating.

If you’re thinking of giving up the security of your current job in exchange for freedom, there are a few steps you should take beforehand:

1. Write your life plan

Yes, it’s cheesy, but putting your life plan on paper gives you a daily reminder of why you want to jump ship and start your own business. A life plan is a set of instructions on how to go from working for a company to creating one.

But rather than the numbers of a business plan, you’re going to write about what’s important to you and what will make you happy as an entrepreneur. Think back to the jobs you’ve had. What parts of the work did you enjoy doing? What were you good at? What did you like or not like about the workplace and culture? Did you prefer flexibility or routine? Would you rather collaborate or work alone?

The purpose of your life plan is to find the sweet spot where your passions, skills, and preferred environment intersect.

If you’re lucky enough to do what you love in an environment you like with a boss who values your skills, that’s great. If not, it may be time to ditch your 9-to-5 and strike out on your own.

2. Write a basic business plan

A business plan isn’t, unfortunately, that valuable to investors these days. They want to see traction and paying customers. However, a business plan helps you do essential things like recruit employees and provide guidance to your team—think of it as a Constitution for your company.

Writing a business plan was the hardest thing for me to do. It was tedious and it didn’t generate revenue. But I needed it. I spent two years trying to figure my business out; and once I had a plan, it brought clarity to everyone involved and gave the business focus. Do it early to spare yourself wasted time.

You don’t need to go into too much detail, but you should at least be able to answer the following questions:

·What does your business do?

·What problem does it solve?

·How will you market your business?

·What advantage will you have over the competition?

·How will you make money?

Also, write down how many customers you plan to have month-by-month. Then, cut those numbers in half and triple your estimated expenses to get a better idea of your financial outlook starting out.

3. Determine your core values

Your business plan may change. Your collaborators may change. You might even shift industries entirely. But with a solid set of core values, you will create a culture that will attract top talent to help you solve these problems as your company evolves. Take the time now—while you’re most passionate—to define what type of company you’re going to be.

Here are a few of our core values:

1) Collaborate, don’t compete.

2) Champion ownership.

3) Commend risk-taking.

4) Communicate transparently.

After we closed a second round of funding, we hired a lot of new people, and it was hard to maintain our culture. We missed quotas and deadlines, and people started pointing fingers. By realigning the company with these core values, we held each other accountable.

4. Set a timeline

Pick a date on your calendar when you plan to leave your job. I recommend saving at least six months’ worth of personal expenses before taking the plunge. After you leave, remember to keep ties with the companies you’ve worked for. Burning bridges always does more harm than good and can come back to hurt your business later.

I jumped in headfirst, risk taker that I am. I paid for it—I didn’t have savings and had to beg my parents and in-laws for money. It was painful and embarrassing, and it can be avoided by saving in advance.

Taking these four steps will set you up for success, but entrepreneurship is still going to be tough at first. You’ll work for years for hardly any money while your friends with six-figure salaries and golden handcuffs tell you that you’re crazy.

But one day, the scales will start to tip in your favor, and that money will buy you freedom. And even though you’ll work harder than you ever have in your life, you’ll be working for you.

__________

Adam Root, co-founder and CTO of Hiplogiq, has managed teams in interactive design and development for Fortune 500 companies, midsize agencies, and startups.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.

MONEY Love and Money

3 Questions You’d Better Answer Before Starting a Business with Your Spouse

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Defining your business roles early on can prevent fights down the road. Getty Images

Make sure you and your partner are in alignment on money, vision and business roles, says entrepreneur Allie Sarto.

When people find out that I’ve been running a company with my husband since I was 24, the reactions are always a mix of shock and wonder. “How does that work out?!” they ask us.

I’ll be honest: While it’s been a lot of fun, there have definitely been bumps along the road. We jumped in head first back in 2009 with no clear vision for what we wanted to get out of the company. We were both just along for the ride.

Now, five years in, I think I’m able to offer some advice to others who are thinking about doing something they feel passionately about with someone they feel passionately about. I’d suggest making sure you’re in alignment on these three areas before getting started:

1) How will you pay for expenses—your own and the business’s? This is arguably the most important aspect to be in agreement on from the get-go. Studies have shown a negative correlation between consumer debt and marriage quality; add in the stress of business expenses and a lack of steady household income because you’re both involved in the business, and you’re likely setting yourself up for trouble.

For every tale of an entrepreneur who makes it big after going deep into the hole with credit cards, there are dozens of other stories about entrepreneurs who are still struggling to pay off their plastic many years later.

What worked for us: We built up a six-month emergency fund before we ever left our jobs to start the new business. This absolutely saved us in the early days, since it took more than three months of hard work to earn a single penny for the new business.

Other couples I’ve talked to have had one partner stay in a full-time job while the other partner goes all in during the early days. This diversifies the risk and allows the couple to focus on building the company together without the stress of wondering how the bills will get paid. Once the company is to a point where business is consistent and the couple has been able to establish a safety net of emergency cash, both partners can commit to the business full time.

2) What is your vision for the company? A second point to be in alignment on before starting your business: your visions for your company’s future. How big do you want your company to become, and what types of sacrifices—typically time put into the business—are you willing to make to get there?

This vision will inevitably change over the years, so don’t discuss it once and consider yourself set for life. During the course of our business, we’ve had to make new decisions about whether to sell the business (we decided not to) and whether to slow down after having our first child (we decided this was the right choice).

3) What role will each of you play in the business? This may sound silly at first, but it’s important to set clear expectations of who will do what.

After meeting many other couples who run businesses together, I’ve found that in the most successful pairs, the spouses complement each other’s skill sets. For example, one is very business minded, while the other is the creative force behind the business. One might be great at managing the business behind the scenes, while the other is very good at managing client relationships.

I’d suggest making a list of roles that will need to be covered within the business, and then divvying these items out; that way, no one steps on anyone’s toes.

I’m not saying that answering these questions will prevent you from ever squabbling with your spouse about the business (if only!). But having the conversations early on can help you set the foundation for success—and prevent major disagreements from damaging your business or your marriage.

Allie Siarto is the co-founder of Fare Oak, an online women’s clothing company.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of promising young entrepreneurs.

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