Back in April this year we took a huge risk, possibly the biggest one we've taken in our start-up life to date, when Stef joined me full-time at Makelight. Suddenly our whole family income was reliant on one thing and when you're a family of 6 living in London, this is a kind of a big decision to make!
People ask us all the time what's it's like working together. Some are shocked, others envious and lots are curious about how we make it work. So, we thought it would be both fun and interesting to write about how it's been working together in 2016.
I really was so excited when we made the decision for Stef to be 100% at Makelight. We’ve been building it together since the beginning but during evenings and weekends, which is never the same as those precious, uninterrupted daylight hours.
For Stef to join me full-time was a big boost in my confidence in what Makelight already was and more importantly in what it can become. Stef has done some really big things and is very well known in the London start-up scene. He could have done so many other things at that point in time but chose Makelight. This was, and still is, a big deal.
Working with your best friend is the most wonderful thing because you have 100% trust. There are no questions about motivations or commitment. There are no worries about your co-founder leaving to do something else. Or about not being all in. Or not being focussed.
Start-up life is tough. It’s messy. It takes so much grit, crazy late nights, big decisions. Going through this with someone you trust 100% is so, so much easier.
Working Towards The Same Goals
Having four children makes our life busy. It takes a lot of time, commitment, thought, a whole lot of logistical planning and a big family calendar in the kitchen! Combine this with two creative, ambitious A type people who have more ideas than time and life gets pretty complicated pretty fast.
Working on the same thing and working towards the same goals really has made life easier for us. It’s taken away all of the ‘well, if you do your thing for the next couple of years and then we focus on my thing’ conversations. I think it’s really hard and complicated for couples with children to both work on their own start-ups at the same time. It’s something that we have talked about a lot over the years and I have definitely been waiting for my turn to build what’s been in my head for what feels like forever!
We thought and hoped that we’d do something big together but until this year we didn’t really know what that might be. It feels so good to be working on the same thing and to know that together we can grow it to be as big as we can dream it to be!
Stef had worked on Makelight since the beginning but until he made the 100% move it was still very much my thing. He has worked with me on lots of things but they have always been my thing that he’s been helping me with. He’s always had something much bigger as his main thing.
Suddenly my thing was also his thing. That was super cool and at the same time also super scary. I had to let go a bit, while also keeping a tight grip on the things that I just wasn’t prepared to compromise on. And then other things I had to learn to let go of to enable the company to grow. Sometimes that was the right thing but other times I was right to be holding tight. There’s a whole story in just this that I’m sure we’ll share over the coming year.
Stef has worked in start-ups for the past 10 years and before that he ran his own design studio. He is a Clore Fellow, the Chair of Governors at our local school, on the Court of the University of Birmingham and on the board of their Computer Science Department amongst many other things. His won a lot of awards and well, his CV is pretty much bursting at the seams and his national and international network is amazing.
He’s exactly the co-founder you’d dream of having. The skills he brings to the table are really wonderful but they can also make me feel a little small. I am certainly not belittling the skill set I have. But it is the running a start-up stuff that I’ve needed to catch-up with. I have worked for myself for years but it’s just been me. Growing Makelight is the biggest thing I’ve done so far and there has been so much to learn and so much that I still want to learn and build on.
I have learnt so much from Stef already but it's important that I learn by myself too, so that I can add to our knowledge base and most importantly feel equal. In 2017 I'm planning to dedicate one day a week to reading and growing my skill set.
That’s not to say that there aren't things that Stef needs to learn too but there is no doubt that he’s in a better place with so much of this stuff than I am right now. Good job I’m a fast learner!
When It Gets Tough
I don’t think you can do a start-up without there being tough parts. We’ve definitely had a large number of tough bits this year and I know there will be more to come in 2017. This is without a doubt the hardest part of working together.
We have been through so much in our start-up life so far. We’ve done hard stuff in ways I wish we hadn’t had to but until this year we’ve been able to provide each other with some balance during the tough times because the tough has been in one of our things at a time. Yes, the bad times have been stressful for both of us but when you’re not working in the mess and muddle, it is a little easier to disconnect from it.
When you are both very much in it, it can be hard to be there for each other. We are pretty good at taking the stress in turns….I’m not sure that’s anything to shout about but it does seem to work that way. However, some days we’re both in a mess and then it’s really, really hard to get anywhere.
And yes, of course it impacts on our home and family life. Yes, we can’t get a way from it and it’s tricky. I think this is the bit of working with your partner that makes people quiz us about it so much.
However, each week we still have a date night, each month we still have a weekend without the children. We make time of each other. Yes, our conversations very often end up being about Makelight but the fact that we haven’t let these things go is super important. We are both very conscious that the one thing that running a start-up together mustn’t do is get in the way of us as husband and wife, just in the same way that we’ve made sure that having four children hasn’t stopped us making time for each other. Happy parents make happy children. Happy couples make happy start-ups!
Working on the same thing and leading it together means that it’s really important to feel and be equal. For me this has been the trickiest part of working together. As a couple and a team we are definitely equals. I am sure anyone who has met us would say the same. We are very similar people in so, so many ways. In fact it’s kind of crazy and definitely one of those ‘meant to be’ relationships.
I mentioned above about feeling like I need to catch-up with Stef's start-up and leadership knowledge but there is one area that isn’t equal or the same…. parenthood, or to be more exact...motherhood! Stef is an amazing Dad and very, very much a family man but he has the ability to switch on and off family mode in a way that I just can’t - not just because of the way his mind works but also because of how the children are with us. I am writing this with a little girl sitting next to me on her iPad. We are singing, counting and laughing. It's taking me ages! When Stef writes his part I can pretty much guarantee that his headphones will be on, no-one will disturb him and he'll probably even have time to get a couple of people to read it for him before he publishes it!
But if I didn't split my time between Makelight and motherhood things just wouldn’t really function for either of us or the children. He can be 100% on Makelight. I have to juggle Makelight and motherhood. I am planning to write about this in a much longer piece very soon because it’s complicated and important to say more than just this.
It’s tricky stuff and it’s taken a lot of getting my head around over the past ten years. Now we are working together it is sort of easier but sort of not. It’s easier to focus on the motherhood part knowing that Stef is working on our company and not just on his thing but it can also make me feel incredibly frustrated and totally jealous of fatherhood!
Family/Work balance - A Family Affair
However, there’s a bigger plan to what we are building with Makelight. And one in which the whole family/work balance and motherhood/fatherhood stuff makes way more sense and is so much easier to get my head around.
Makelight is our family company and I’m excited to show you what we mean by this in 2017 and beyond. This is definitely the part that makes working together my dream come true! xo
Stef is going to share his ‘Working Together’ story with you very soon. We’d love to hear from you if you work together too. And we’d love to wave hello to two people we admire, Mike and Megan Gilger from The Fresh Exchange. Do check out their Working Together series for more husband and wife team adventures! xo