Fortune Magazine: ‘Pillow talk would turn into a status meeting’
Three married couples reveal the delights and pitfalls of starting a business together
Your coworker totally screwed you over today. They forgot to send the invoice; they didn’t answer the biggest client’s call; or they dropped the ball on the slide deck. Then you go home in a huff, ready to vent about it to your partner—but there’s that coworker, sitting at your kitchen island. Working with a spouse can be problematic—threatening both work life and the sanctity of a relationship. But for some couples who have gone into business together, that collaboration has been the unlikely backbone of a strong marriage.
For Crystal Anderson, going into business with her partner, Kiesh Herman, at their event production and digital marketing startup, A Very Good Job (AVGJ), wasn’t a decision at all. “The universe decided for us,” she tells Fortune. The two began dating in 2018 and formed AVGJ in June 2020. Anderson leads creative development; Herman is company president. Prior to the pandemic, the couple worked outside the home, knowing nothing about each other’s work styles. Now, under the same roof, they’re meeting one another anew. “You realize your boo is the person who never sends a follow-up email,” Herman says, laughing. “Or who follows up three times in one day.” Even so, she adds, working together creates an array of issues—opportunities, Anderson interjects, to grow closer.
But not every couple who works together wants to be that close. “I don’t want to paint a picture that [the beginning] wasn’t hard,” Herman says of their experience launching AVGJ. “Crystal and I are so in love and aligned in our lives, which helped in our work life, but we were starting at zero and had to learn each other as new people.” Part of that education has been realizing distance does make the heart grow fonder. “We have to miss each other,” Herman says. She now works from a coffee shop twice a week. When she’s home, she puts a small homemade sign on her desk with two sides, one reading “Do not disturb,” the other reading “What’s up?”
They regularly attend couples therapy, which they suggest for any coupled cofounders. Their main, therapist-approved takeaway: Separate work from their [relationship]. “Pillow talk would turn into a status meeting, often led by me,” Herman recalls. “But we got to a point where we didn’t want to be engulfed by it.” Their edict: Don’t make roommate problems relationship problems—or coworker problems. “If we’re bumping heads because we have different work styles, I have to realize that we can pick that up at the office tomorrow,” Herman says. “But once the workday is done, this is my boo.”
Going into their fifth Valentine’s Day, Herman and Anderson haven’t lost their excitement for one another, and often leave little notes on each other’s laptops or desks. “When I’m working at the coffee shop, I’ll be running home because I miss her,” Herman says. “I couldn’t run this without her, and what she brings to the table.”
“Any project we do, after it’s out in the world, I get to turn to my partner and be like, ‘We made something really cool,’” Anderson says when asked what the best part is. She looks at Herman. “I get to do that over and over again, every single day, and I get to do it with you? What’s better than that? That feeling is lightning in a bottle.”
Written by Jane Thier