Being in a long-term relationship is a full-time job, from balancing your social calendars to raising children (both furry and human) and constantly perfecting your communication skills. So, it can be hard to imagine throwing a business into the mix. But, these five couples did just that—and they make it look easy. Don’t be fooled, though. Each pair has learned their fair share of love (and business) lessons that they’ve so graciously shared with us today. And we asked all of the juicy questions: How do they balance their professional and personal lives? Do they ever get sick of each other? Would they recommend it to other couples?
Here’s what they had to say:
Dwayne Vatcher (left) and Brittney Mackinnon (right)
Photo: Nathan Legiehn
The business: Body of Work, a design studio specializing in elevated, unisex basics
The love story: Mackinnon and Vatcher met in university, where they started off as friends, then, like many good love stories, they started dating a few years later. The Toronto-based duo both pursued careers in the apparel industry (Mackinnon was at Aritzia and Canada Goose and Vatcher was at Reigning Champ and OVO), then the pandemic hit. “We started to think about how our relationships with physical activity had changed over the years as our lives got busier,” says Mackinnon, who embraced slower movement during lockdown. “We are both very creative and ambitious and began to discuss the idea of creating a made-in-Canada, design-led active lifestyle brand that brought a sense of ease to activity.”
When asked if they had any apprehension about starting a business together, Vatcher says: “At first, we thought it might not be a good idea to work together as you don’t know how working together will affect your relationship. When we started brainstorming, we quickly realized that our skills really complimented each other, so when the time came to start Body of Work, we couldn’t imagine starting a business with anyone else.”
The balance: “We enjoy the work we do and we try to be mindful of taking personal time or doing something as simple as going for walks or out to dinner on a regular basis,” says Vatcher. “Our work in many ways is a creative extension of ourselves, so we find a lot of joy in working together and every day is different—some days are more balanced than others.”
The lessons: “Working with your partner means you have to talk through disagreements as they happen,” says Mackinnon. “Working together taught us to make sure we were actively listening to each other’s ideas or concerns and continues to make us better communicators. It’s almost impossible to work any other way. It’s important to try to approach things with humility and understanding for the other person’s point of view.”
Would you recommend it to other couples? “If you are both equally invested and you are aligned in your goals, values and expectations then yes,” says Vatcher. If you’re not, then we would suggest that you work through this first because having a business has no shortage of challenges and you have to work as a team.”
Lani Gobaleza (left) and Amy Truong (right)
Photo: Studio Laniste
The business: Paru, a loose-leaf tea brand with Japanese influences
The love story: Gonaleza and Truong’s meet cute is something out of a movie. It was 2010 and the then-strangers were both studying abroad in Yokohama, Japan, during cherry blossom season. “I remember being so nervous,” recalls Truong. “It was my very first time being away from home and then I met Lani, and everything felt a little more comforting again.” The two struck up a friendship and reconnected a few years later.
Truong alway wanted to start a business, and Gobaleza was always super supportive of Truong's ideas—not realizing that she would also be a part of the business. “I don’t think we had a full official conversation about it, I think it fell together very naturally,” says Truong. “Business can be a very high-risk and terrifying thing, but I think we really focused more on how we could support each other.” Plus, it helps that they’ve worked together in the past and are able to bring different strengths and skills to the table. “We riff off each other well,” adds Gonaleza. “It’s a lot of fun.”
The lessons: “To be patient and make space for forgiveness,” says Truong. “There’s already increased financial and personal strains in marriages and business, but you should remind each other that they’re not the same thing. Also, hire to fill in nitty gritty details and make the executive, big picture decisions together.” Adds Gonaleza: “Always choose your relationship. Everything else is secondary.”
The balance: “We’re still learning,” says Gonaleza. “We schedule one-on-ones so that we know not to bring things up spontaneously unless absolutely necessary. We also plan weekly date nights. It’s such a simple thing to do but it reminds us to take our time with one another seriously, in and out of work. Another thing we do is maintain hobbies. We both practice chanoyu [a Japanese tea ceremony]. Amy loves all things LEGO and Pomeranians, while I spend a lot of my extracurricular time taking acting classes and hosting Spare Pen Club, a club for local writers.”
Would you recommend it to other couples? “It really depends on the couple. If your hearts are in it, maybe. But that’s only part of the work,” says Gobaleza. Truong adds a different perspective: “It’s also an incredibly unique experience to build something with the person you love. And if it doesn’t work out, you can always do something else. Or try again.”
Erin Bury (left) and Kevin Oulds (right)
Photo: Tara McMullen
The business: Willful, an online platform that lets you write your will and manage your estate
The love story: The year was 1999 and Bury was immediately intrigued by Oulds frosted tips outside of their high school cafeteria. The couple met through mutual friends. They even dated briefly but later reconnected after university in 2008 after both moving to Toronto to pursue their careers. “Kevin has always been extremely entrepreneurial,” says Bury. “When we started dating, he was working in trades, and he would constantly come up with business ideas on his shifts. I was a tech journalist at the time, and he used to call me the ‘dream killer’ because I would always point out the flaw in his ideas (I swear I was supportive, but as a tech journalist I saw so many ideas!).”
Fast-forward to 2015, when Oulds’ uncle suddenly passed away without any discussion of his funeral or burial wishes, the idea of Willful was born. A year later, Ould quit his full-time job to bring this digital estate planning company to life. “I was always meant to be a supporter but not a team member,” says Bury. “But, a few years later, I was looking for my next role [at the time, I had my own tech marketing agency], and Kevin convinced me to join Willful as CEO. The two have been working together ever since.
And in case you were wondering, they definitely had apprehensions about working together. “Kevin and I have very different working styles,” says Bury. “I'm extremely Type-A and organized, and Kevin is much more creative.” Adds Ould: “But our day to day has very little crossover as there’s many separate areas of the business that need our focus.”
Between caring for their 15-month-old daughter and growing their business, they’ve learned to embrace the chaos. “Being married and working together is our superpower,” says Oulds.
The lessons: “Starting a business brings you closer together,” says Bury. “I’ve also learned that we are risk-takers. You have to have a threshold for risk to be an entrepreneur, and we've tried to extend that sense of adventure to our personal lives as well. Finally, we've learned the importance of communication. Especially with a fully virtual team, communication is so key—and that's true of relationships as well.”
The balance: “We can talk about work when needed and have no issues. When you both understand explicitly how demanding a startup can be, it’s easy to see why one would have to work late or sometimes work over weekends or late nights.” But, Bury and Oulds are not ones to subscribe to toxic hustle culture. “This idea that you have to work 24/7 and give up friends, family and hobbies in pursuit of business success is not only false, it's extremely damaging. We work extremely hard, but we focus on output and results, not hours spent.”
Would you recommend it to other couples? “One hundred percent, but with a warning,” says Oulds. “If you’re both super passionate about a problem you want to solve, that's a great start and would seem to have better chances of success. But if only one of you is super into something and you try to force it, it’s probably going to end badly. Just be honest with each other and try to look at the scenario with honest intentions. If you decide that it might not be the best idea together, then that’s fine—you can still support and encourage your partner from the sidelines.”
Bury adds: “I would recommend this to couples who love spending time together. We love it, but if you're someone who likes getting out of the house and away from your spouse and having some separation between your work and personal life, then it might not be for you. Also, for many couples, there is one entrepreneur and one person with a steady stable job. When you're both entrepreneurs, you have to make a lot of sacrifices while you're building your company; and your family's net worth and financial stability is tied to the company's success. Again, it's all about risk tolerance—and we have a big appetite for it!”
Al Rose (left) and Ab Gibson (right)
Photo: Courtesy of Queer Candle Co.
The business: Queer Candle Co., a refillable candle company
The love story: Rose and Gibson’s business started out as a hobby in the early stages of their relationship. The couple—who met in college—made candles at home to save money (Rose loved buying them from big-box stores which quickly got expensive). “As we learned more about making candles and came to really enjoy it, we made way more candles than our junior one bedroom in Washington Heights could accommodate, so we started selling them to friends and family via Instagram DMs,” recalls Rose. From there, they started selling at pop-up markets, created their website and found their way into small retail shops. Queer Candle Co. grew so much that Gibson was able to quit their full-time job and began their gender transition. Now, Rose and Gibson both work 7 days a week and at least 70 hours a week for most of the year.
“Neither of us has a background in business, so we didn’t really know what to expect as we took it on,” says Gibson. “Starting QCC just seemed like the natural next step for something we both really enjoyed doing. [We were just worried about] how being full-time coworkers would impact our relationship. At the end of the day, we felt confident that it would be a good path for us because we’re both pretty intense workers—neither of us can really help but invest ourselves passionately into whatever project we’re working on. Being on the same team and working towards the same goals means we get to spend more time together, and it’s been so satisfying to work side by side as we’ve built something we both love from the ground up.”
The lessons: “We’re on the same team! It seems obvious, but it’s so helpful to take a step back when there are things we aren’t seeing eye to eye on and remember that we both want the best for our business, and that we’re in this together,” says Gibson. “Then, we’re able to take that dynamic back home so that we act as a team in our love life as much as in our work life.
We’ve always worked hard on really hearing each other out (not just listening), and not taking things too seriously when we’re having trouble. Will this matter in a week? A month? A year? Another thing we’ve learned is that having community with other couple-owned businesses is so valuable! It’s a unique work situation for sure, and it’s so nice when other folks just get it.”
The balance: “This is something that we’re working on, but it’s so hard,” says Rose. “We’re constantly thinking about work and how we can make QCC the best it can be. One of our goals as a couple in 2023 is to spend more time on non-work related hobbies, and really support one another in that! I’m training for a half marathon, and Ab has started homebrewing!”
Would you recommend it to other couples? “No. Working for yourself isn’t something I’d recommend to everyone, whether they were doing it alone or with a partner,” says Gibson. “If you as an individual wouldn’t enjoy being self-employed, you probably wouldn’t enjoy it as a couple either. You’re going to be spending A LOT of time together, and you’ll need to be ready to give each other grace—nobody can be at their best 24/7. Just like most things in life, this works for some people, but not for everybody.”
Grace Alvarez (left) and Eduardo Ramirez-Holguin (right)
Photo: Courtesy of Grace Alvarez
The business: vibemade, a healing crystal jewelry brand
The love story: Their similar sense of humor and shared love of music made Alvarez and Ramirez-Holguin instantly connect when they met in design school in the Dominican Republic. “We learned about each other as students, and later, as professionals,” says Ramirez-Holguin. Alvarez’s entrepreneurial spirit was contagious. “I would constantly bounce my ideas off Eduardo and he had a way of making me see things from a different perspective.” But being in business together seemed out of the question—they could never decide how to divide up the domestic tasks and were worried about spending too much time together.
Then, in 2020, when the world was in lockdown, Alvarez and Ramirez-Holguin started opening themselves up to the possibility—and vibemade was born, when Alvarez saw how many people struggled to wear crystals near their chakras, often resorting to velcro or rubber bands. “We never had a formal sit down to agree on it,” she adds. “We just agreed it was an exciting idea and got to work on it somewhat organically.”
Their differing design backgrounds compliment each other—and the business—beautifully. “We’ve always supported each other’s dreams,” says Ramirez-Holguin. “We know each other's strengths and weaknesses and we are good at aligning and committing with each other to achieve our goals. Being together for so long means we have a good grasp about each other’s ambition, passions and work ethics.”
The lessons: “When working with a loved one, the act of compromising takes on a whole new dimension,” says Ramirez-Holguin. “Compromising for the business is simpler because we have established areas of ownership for each of us, and we respect final say in those. Grace decides on jewelry designs and I decide on the software. Also, celebrate each other's wins, regardless of size. Growing a small business comes with a lot of these but only if you learn to spot them and appreciate them (like a sale, more followers, better conversion rate). It’s built a muscle for us to do the same in our relationship and life—whereas before, we might have reserved the celebration only for bigger things that don’t come as often.”
The balance: “We’re good at setting boundaries with our regular jobs and we apply those same boundaries to our business together,” says Alvarez. “We make up ‘shifts’ to put in work, and we set days where we’re off from the business. We try to keep our shifts parallel, so if either of us needs help or input, the other one isn’t in ‘leisure time.’ However, sometimes we’re so excited about something happening with vibemade that it is inevitable to talk about it when having dinner or going out. We’re both fine with that because we love the business.”
Would you recommend it to other couples? “Absolutely,” says Alvarez. “Starting a business with your significant other can take off the pressure of finding the right business partner, because you’ve already determined your significant other is someone you trust and get along with. It means that you’re working with someone you love and support, and they love and support you back.”
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