The Copreneur Competitive Advantage

Recently, with great honor, 1X57 was named to Washingtonian’s 2011 Tech Titans list as an Entrepreneurial Couple. It got me thinking about the growing “copreneur” phenomenon as more women embrace the role of entrepreneur and more people start their own businesses following what Richard Florida describes as the rise of the “creative class.” Entrepreneurial coupling is certainly not new. There have been very successful businesses started by couples – like Cisco’s Len Bosnak and Sandy Lerner, or Rina and Will Stein of Philip Stein. But there seems to be a stigma about mixing business with pleasure or putting all your proverbial eggs in one basket (Wall Street Journal did a good write-up of the perils of running a business with your significant other).

It’s always puzzling when people discover Steve and I are not only business partners but also “romantic partners” (or vice versa). I encounter a mixture of surprise, skepticism, and an element of “Are you crazy?” followed by a “How’s that working out for you?” People seem genuinely shocked when I respond with how much I love it. But I do. And to be honest, I’m always a little taken aback by the dubious responses I receive from strangers.

Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. It can take its toll on you – physically, emotionally, psychologically (I love The 11 Harsh Realities Of Being An Entrepreneur). Getting a business up and running takes a lot of time and energy. If it fails, if you don’t succeed, you have no one else to blame but yourself. And when you do succeed, you’re the one steering the ship – success only brings bigger waves, stronger winds and less chartered waters.

I would hate to go at it alone. I love that the person I trust and respect and admire the most in the world is the person I get to work with every day – that no matter what challenges we face, we’ve got each others back, for better or for worse. Yes, we have our ugly moments, times when it literally feels like laser death-beams are shooting out of my eyes or Steve is conjuring the power of the robot overlords to have lightning bolts strike me down from the sky whenever we have a disagreement. But we work through it. And to be honest, I’ve always been an advocate of “fishing off the company pier.” As a workaholic, loving what I do, it just makes sense. There are only so many hours in the day. The separation of business life from personal life seems like a very inefficient approach to time management.

I think of other entrepreneurial couples I know in DC, like Leslie Bradshaw and Jesse Thomas of Jess3 or Jen Consalvo and Frank Gruber of TechCocktail, who like Steve and I, genuinely seem to be having fun growing their business, embarking on their entrepreneurial adventures together. I can’t imagine Jess3 without Leslie’s business acumen and sheer ‘fire in the belly,’ or TechCocktail without Jen’s savoir faire and diplomacy. Then I think of friends who are going at it alone and how they genuinely seem to crave companionship and suffer from not having it. I think of the final line in Clay Christensen’s award-winning HBR article: How Will You Measure Your Life?

Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.”

Love, companionship, family, intimacy – these are the things that make life worth living, at least for me. All the fame and fortune in the world seems utterly worthless if I don’t have someone to share it with.

Steve and I are best friends first, business and sexual partners second. If anything, this anchors and strengthens the latter because at the core is trust, commitment and communication, qualities essential to any business relationship. And we complement each other. There are things that come naturally to Steve that I struggle with and things that I do really well that he doesn’t. Some of the best and most successful companies in recent  history involve “Founder Pairs” – Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, Steve Jobs and Steven Wozniak, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. So I see our copreneurship not as a liability but a competitive advantage.

I’m curious what others think or have experienced. What are the keys to successful copreneurship? What makes it fail? What are the biggest risks? Is copreneurship more a competitive advantage or a liability?

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