When Business Meets Bedroom
"Taste this." she said. I had just seen her wrinkle her nose after sipping her drink. "I think this is spoiled." she said. "Try it." I looked at her, finding it difficult to keep from laughing out loud. My mother has done this since I was little. I didn't fall for it then and I wasn't about to start now. She waved her hanky in the air at the waiter and asked him to take a sip. He looked horrified and backed away as she raised the glass toward him. My mother has effectively put many of my favorite eating places at risk by, well, being herself. Lately I have been having our occasional lunches out of town in places I don't mind not revisiting. The spoiled drink episode was a welcome diversion from our previous conversation, however. I had committed the unpardonable offense of starting a new business venture with a girl I had only known for a few months. That wasn't the problem, those kind of things don't matter to her, it was the fact that I had not brought Sassy to her home. I had not given my mother the opportunity to find out the absolutely necessary information before I "got into bed" business-wise with someone whose people she did not know.
In the South, the women do not start off asking what you do, they want to know who your people are--where they are from, what church they attend, what social causes they support and often, their political leanings. Your financial position, while somewhat important, lags far behind the all important sense of history and who you have become. I had deprived Mama of what she considered an indispensable role in the assessing and appraisal of those closest to her only son. "What do you know about this woman?" she had begun. "With a name like 'Sassy" I can only imagine what kind of home life she had."
"A creative one." I said. "Her mother left when she was eleven and since her dad was in the Navy, they lived in several bases around the world. She speaks seven languages and has won a number of Ju-Jitsu competitions." Her nose wrinkled again, not a good sign. "How large is this woman?" I did laugh this time. "No Mom, Ju-Jitsu is a Japanese form of martial arts in which a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger one by using leverage and proper technique. She uses the opponent's force against himself rather than confronting it with her own. A very effective technique in our business, I might add."
She didn't look at all convinced, in fact if it were possible I'm sure she would have called the waiter to bring me another partner as this one was difficult to swallow. "Anderson, how is your little hobby going?" She has never acknowledged that our business, Affordable Luxury, is anything more than a hobby of mine. "Thank you for asking. It's going very well, we just signed up America West airlines."
Sassy and I are becoming recognized as a more and more indispensable component of recession business. We look at the cost cutting an enterprise is doing to stay in business and we help them do so in a way that appears trendy and desirable. Sassy had done this for Fresh Foods, a boutique market like Trader Joe's that cut out all the unnecessary items and offers artisan healthy basics with a packaging that says desirable, but affordable. I did a similar thing for a new Korean automotive company that needed to cut costs but still offer luxuries without frills. When we met at a trade show in Toronto, we were mutually impressed with the other's skills and decided to join forces.
"What do you mean 'signed up?' " As I was thinking about how I could put it so she could understand, I had an idea. "Do you remember what you did for your friend's bakery business." She was obviously flattered that I remembered. "Of course. She was losing money trying to bake everything that people could possibly want so I told her to concentrate on the things people were buying and come up with new, healthy recipes." I nodded, "You also helped her clean out a lot of clutter and fixed up a place in front for customers to have coffee and those delicious new pastries." She was beaming now. "Saved her business, it did!" For Mama that was being modest, because the truth be told, she not only saved the business, she tripled the traffic and made it into a local favorite. "That's what we hope to do for America West--cut out the unnecessary and whatever we do offer it will be recognizably trendy, but not ostentatious."
I said goodbye to my mother and made a mental note to polish up the profile for Sassy and I. It is very important in a close business relationship to focus on each others strengths and find ways for the differences in strength to compliment the others weaknesses. Sassy had the ability to size up a company and see it repositioned from a marketing and design perspective, while I was able to research and come up with the products or tooling that would get them there. While I had the corporate experience, she had more entrepreneurial skills because of starting and selling two successful businesses. She had not come up with the ideas for them, but launched and marketed them. My background was in incubating online strategies for established businesses and coming up with ideas for complementing products or services.
We both agreed that we would be equal partners and not boss and subordinate. While she had the money and could argue being the boss because of it, I had the contacts and the proven expertise needed to propel this business to the top. The only concern we had was how it would affect our personal relationship. Neither of us wanted a passion for the business venture to put out the fire of our own passion for each other.
That reminded me. Sassy was working while I entertained mom and I learned that she rarely stops to eat and that can bring out the worst in our communications. "A protein-style double-double and iced tea." I told the In-N-Out worker with the head-set. The Southern California franchise had retained its simple menu but found ways to accommodate the new low carb, healthy eating customer base by offering its burgers without the bun, wrapping it in lettuce and calling it "protein style." If my company had been called in I would have had them feature the actually beautiful fresh green wrapped burger and cheese on a billboard with the almost no grams of carbohydrates showing prominently. In our business, keeping your costs low doesn't mean you have to compromise on desirability.
"Oh you are a lifesaver!" she said when I handed her the food and just as I anticipated, she took a big juicy bite before she kissed me. "Mmmm two of my favorite tastes." I grinned. While two-thirds of couples who form small companies can make it past two years, only about 40% can make it to four years. We decided that we would find out all the buttons that shouldn't be pushed in our relationship and we agreed to avoid them out of kindness, respect and simple common sense. Making decisions on an empty stomach was something we both avoided. "A-hem!" our bookkeeper politely said as she came into the room.
Although our fledgling business could not afford all the outside help other, more established ones could, we both found Paula, our part time financial wizard indispensable. The number one cause of problems in "couple-preneurships" is being mired in financial matters. As another consulting firm owner said: Since we hired a third party to keep us on track and honest about budgets, cash flow, performance targets and so on, we've crossed divorce off our list of things to do.
Sassy asked Paula, a perky and amiable, sometimes marathon runner to sit in with us while we discussed our latest plans to open a new marketing area. We didn't really need her financial expertise, but Sassy found that with an employee sitting in, we were much less likely to make personal comments and kept things on a professional level.
I need to stop and let you know why we are working so hard at this. We just passed the two year point and both of us have had relationships before that didn't work out. We don't want to be part of the failing 56%. We recently made a $20,000 decision to redesign our office and found out that certain, expensive parts of the design was offensive to some cultures. We, the experts on such matters, missed it and it could have destroyed our relationship if we got caught up in blame and finger-pointing. Fortunately, we early on made a pact that we would stand behind each other, no matter how stupid a mistake we made and move forward. Our "no going backwards" rule has saved us time and time again.
"It's beautiful." Sassy was playing with her drink and looking out our favorite restaurant window at the sunset over the ocean. It was thursday night and we always had a date completely business free on that night. One of the things we learned was to keep our business and life separate. "It is beautiful, but it pales next to you." I replied. She smiled and leaned close as I put my arms around her. "I know we don't talk about business." she said pensively. "But if it all goes sour will you still love me.?" I laughed softly and told her the truth: "We started this business because we wanted to spend the time with each other and build a dream together." She looked at me and added: "That's right, and if the business gets in the way of us being together" I picked it up again: "Or if it takes away from our dream"
We didn't have to finish, as I kissed her again we both knew, nothing about our venture was as important as the adventure we were on--we would adapt, we would find a way to respect each other, we would play to our strengths, we would push each other not our buttons and if it came to it, we would walk away from the business rather than lose even one iota of the love that brought us together in the first place.
Trouble is part of your life, and if you don't share it, you don't give the person who loves you enough chance to love you enough. ~ Dinah Shore
When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves. ~ William Arthur Ward
Ronald Reagan who considered his wife to be a partner in all his endeavors had this to say after he was shot and nearly killed. "I pray I'll never face a day when she isn't there. Of all the ways God had blessed me, giving her to me was the greatest - beyond anything I can ever hope to deserve."
We Were Good Together
We were capable and savvy
Busy and important
Socially engaging and networked
Our calendars full
Our appointments overlapping
We were good
We were happening
And we wanted it all to go away
We worked well together
We were steps ahead because
We knew what the other was thinking
There wasn't anything we couldn't do
And we didn't want to do any of it
We were good
We were good together
And we only wanted to be
©Winsome Publishing 2011, All rights reserved
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