How to work with your partner and make it work

Ben and Ginny Eckblad, GorillaSpace

Ben and Ginny Eckblad, GorillaSpace

Ben and Ginny Eckblad have done something most couples would hesitate to do — they’ve started a business together. The Eckblads have been married for 17 years, and are the parents of two children. They’re also the co-founders of GorillaSpace, a platform for companies to find the ideal office space.

Most people go home to escape from work, but what’s it like when you both work and live with your co-founder? What should you do when you argue with your partner then? How can a relationship survive the rollercoaster ride of running a business? Here’s what the Eckblads have to say.

Were there people who warned you about going into business with your spouse?

We didn’t ask for anybody’s opinion on whether we should do it together. Rather, we asked if the business idea held water. Because you can have a good idea, but does the market also think it’s a good idea?

We took time off and did market studies. We asked about a hundred people, from the smallest co-working operators to institutional landlords. Almost everybody said yes, which was unusual. When you’re starting something new, you usually get some pushback. But the experience we had in property helped us understand the market’s key pain points.

So we decided we had to do it.

Since you work and live together, how do you separate your work and personal lives?

There really is no clear separation of between work or personal time. To us, the whole thing is life. But we do set clear boundaries for family time. For example, at meal times there are no devices and we don’t talk about work.

What makes a couple-business relationship work?

We’re able to work together because each of us has skills and experiences we bring to the table. We’re not sure it would have worked out so well if we had tried to work together when we first met. We wouldn’t have had the weight to throw behind our opinions. Now each person brings an equal weight to the table.

How do you handle conflict gracefully?

We practice something called ‘nonviolent communication’ by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. Dr. Rosenberg developed this method for war conflicts. The workplace isn’t war, but conflicts do happen because everybody has their own goals and sometimes things don’t go well.

It’s important to state facts and say how we feel. And talk about what we need as well as how people can help us get what we need. Work and charting a start-up is very emotional. There are lots of things at stake so talking about feelings is very important.

We have to work things out, because we still have to see each other when we get home.

What have you learned about working together as a couple?

A strong couple working together makes the business stronger. Talk about conflict resolution and founder disagreements! We have to work things out, because we still have to see each other when we get home. Having children around to see how we work things out is very rewarding and gives us more clarity. Your understanding needs to be very clear when you explain things to a child.

What are some key habits that keep your relationship strong?

We’re clear about family and ‘me’ time, so we have time for ourselves. We’re very disciplined about that. Also, we over-communicate with each other. Share when things are good, share when things are not good. Share how you think, share how you feel. Because all this only makes sense if we’re stronger in the process.

Any advice for other couples who want to go into business together?

We’ve had conversations with investors who say they don’t invest in companies where the co-founders are partners. Our advice is not to listen. There are plenty of successful companies run by couples. If you believe in it, just do it.