Thoughts on starting a startup with your spouse

I co-founded Carrom with my spouse Keerthi. Carrom was recently acquired by Oyster.

A question that I get often while talking to investors, entrepreneurs, or customers is that, how do I manage to work with my partner.

I thought I’d write about that.

The dynamics

Starting a startup can be hard. Starting a startup with your spouse can be harder.

Results can be binary and extreme. You either end up destroying your relation, or you come out of the other end stronger than ever.

In another sense, starting a startup with your spouse is like having kids. It will amplify what is already going on in your relationship. A bad relationship can end. A good relationship can get stronger.

I can say with confidence, in our case it was the latter. And yes, like everything else in life it needs some conscious effort from our side.

If done right, your spouse could be your best co-founder. If you can build a meaningful life together, why not a company?

Of course, we got lucky with the fact that both of us are engineers. We have complementary skills to build a SaaS product.

I’m not saying everyone should start a company with your spouse. I’m going to explain how and why it worked for me.

We are a team

We have known each other for almost 10 years. We have started all the important projects of our life together.

Our first full-time job, a new workout habit, our travel blog, etc – we do it like a team. We are used to working together. In fact, not working together makes me feel weaker.

There is so much mutual understanding. Communication becomes a lot easier.

Use the right tools

When you live with each other, it is easier for features to get lost in conversations. This happened very often. This leads to conflicts.

Towards the end, all our conversations happened in Asana and a dedicated Telegram channel. Only, the most important conversation that needed face-time where discussed. Think of it as video calls you to have in a remote-first company. Do it only when you can’t do something in writing.

Even as a two people team, we tried to follow the principles of running a remote-first company. It made our life much more peaceful.

Less words, more understanding

You understand each other’s vulnerabilities excepetionally well. You are not afraid to show your weakness. You don’t care about the image you have built up for others.

There are days of highs and lows. There is a lot of anxiety and stress while building a startup. On the days of lows, it is easy to have a conversation about what is bothering you.

Honest conversations are easy

Otherwise awkward conversations become easier. You can have any kind of co-founder conflicts. Having honest conversations about what is working and what is not working is much easier.

It is easy to avoid these tough conversations, and in the end, they accumulate and blow up. Often, companies die because of this.

You can critique your co-founder without offending them. But when it is your spouse it is much easier.

This goes both ways. Keerthi is my best critique, and this feedbacks have been crucial for my growth.

It is ok to have disagreements.

Avoid nitpicking

This is a mistake I’ve made.

The other side of easy conversations is a tendency to nitpick. Avoid trivial feedbacks. Instead, give actionable feedback. Think about it like this – would this feedback be useful to your co-employee? If not, forget it.

When you mix your professional and personal life, this can happen often. The extra freedom you have for giving feedbacks shouldn’t hurt each other’s feelings.

The key to a healthy relationship is balancing feedbacks and compromises.

Set boundaries

You are living together. You can dedicate all the time to building your startup. This was a mistake I made with my first startup when I lived with my co-founders. We did the coding and nothing else. This leads to quick burnout.

Be it conversations about work, or doing the actual work itself, dedicate separate time for that. Stay away from having work-related conversations at any other time. This mindset can be hard.

But once you practice deliberately, it becomes second nature. Have it on your calendar.

Take breaks

Avoid burnout at all costs. Hustling is not always the answer. Consistency is the key. It is important to take healthy breaks together.

We traveled a lot while building Carrom. More than ever before. Once a month, we would go and work from a different location for a week. We would hike together. Hiking is an excellent way for us to make our bond even stronger.

Keerthi Sooraj

Complement each other

You know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Take control of your life and startup by assuming authority on your strengths. Take lead in things that you are comfortable in.

Equal relation is not when you do the same thing. It is when you get to choose what you want to do, and what you don’t want to.

Do retrospectives of work and relationship

Sprint retros are a thing from the tech world. A sprint is a process where you build features over a specific period. In the end, the team sits together to discuss what went well, and what can be improved.

You can apply the same lesson in your life. We dedicated time to talk every week. Giving technical and personal feedback to each other. Putting it on our calendar is a good first step to doing something.

Parting notes

If I had to do this all over again, knowing that the outcome would be different I’d happily do it with her. In fact, If I ever start a company again, I’ll have to look no further for a co-founder. I’d change nothing about it.

Thanks to Keerthi, for reviewing this post.

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