Since the beginning of the company, my husband has made it a priority to celebrate when his team achieves a goal or has a big success. He owns a real estate photo marketing company, and one way he does this is by celebrating when they surpass a major milestone in the number of property photoshoots they do in a week. Usually, he will throw a big party for all the team members and their families, and these parties have grown much larger and more elaborate with every milestone surpassed. Throughout the years, I have acted as the unofficial party planner, which has included a variety of roles and responsibilities. For their very first party (when they surpassed 100 photoshoots a week) I spent hours making and decorating 100 mini cupcakes to commemorate the goal. At their 200 shoot party, I painstakingly stuffed and filled 200 balloons with tiny pieces of paper with numbers on them, so everyone could pop a balloon and exchange the number inside for a prize (I still can’t believe I did this)!
Needless to say, as the company and team have grown much of my party planning duties have diminished or been handed off. In fact, all of my direct roles in the company have completely faded away and I have very little involvement in the day-to-day operations of the company at this point. To tell you the truth, I now tend to feel a bit awkward and a little out of place at these milestone parties. I used to know everyone on the team and I’d be busy helping out to make sure everyone was having a good time and things were running smoothly; but now that they have grown to over 250 people, there are many team members who I have never even seen before. Most of the team members have their small group they hang out with and Jeff is off entertaining and chatting it up with everyone, which leaves me to fend for myself.
There is always a point during these parties, where my husband Jeff stands in front of the team and gives a motivating speech thanking key employees for stepping up and making the milestone goal happen. During these speeches, you can usually find me at the back of the room videoing the speech and wiping away tears of pride and awe for my husband and how far the company has come. At the most recent “shoot party” last summer, when the company surpassed the goal of 1500 shoots per week, Jeff got up to give his speech. It started out as a very typical speech with him explaining how they had reached this goal and how proud he was of the team. He recognized the IT team for launching the new platform they had been working on for over a year. Then he talked about all the contributions another key employee, who they were sad to lose due to an international move, has made. He then went on to say there is one other person that he wanted to recognize for all of her hard work and dedication to the team. He said that “she is often working behind the scenes and most of you probably don’t realize the impact she has on this company but I would be lost without her.” As I was racking my brain to think about who this employee was that Jeff would be lost without, I heard him say “and that person is my wife Ashley.” I was shocked. He then called me up in front of the entire team and he emotionally explained how he wouldn’t be able to show up every day the way he does without me and my unconditional support. Everyone cheered and so many people came up to me afterward to thank me for everything I am doing for the company.
In the beginning, it was easy to see the impact of my contributions to the company. I knew everything that was going on and we would have many deep conversations about what was happening and all of the decisions that had to be made. Now that the company has grown so much, I no longer have a direct role in the company and our lives have become infinitely busier and more complicated, and I feel far removed from the day to day operations. It can be easy to think that I have no impact on the successes and challenges the company faces. However, even though I have not had any direct roles within the company for several years now, I know that I indirectly support my husband and the company in many ways. These roles include but are not limited to: a psychologist, event planner, chef, social coordinator, coach, personal assistant, house manager, advisor, and much more! I kind of like to think of myself as the CSO (Chief Support Officer) of the company; offering support, filling in, and picking up the pieces wherever and whenever I am needed!
Regardless of what phase of the company you are in and your direct involvement with the business, the spouse of an entrepreneur is required to wear many hats. Most of our contributions are behind the scenes, unglamorous, and outside of the spotlight. Taking on all of these roles to support our spouse and the company is no easy job and much of what we do can be overlooked or goes unnoticed or feels unappreciated. Believe, I know because I have felt this way many times! I also know I am not alone in this sentiment. One question that I have asked every spouse I have interviewed is “what does your entrepreneur do that makes you feel appreciated and valued for all of your contributions to the company?” and a vast majority of spouses laughed at the ridiculousness of the question or had a very hard time answering. However, make no mistake. Without our support, motivation, and unconditional love, our entrepreneur’s business would not be the same and the business would not be as successful.
Even with Jeff proclaiming this is the case in our relationship in front of his entire company and knowing in my heart that it’s true, I still hesitate to write those words today. Over the years, there have been many days that I have thought the opposite was closer to the truth. I have thought about how much further along the company would be if Jeff didn’t have to worry about me and our family’s needs. I often felt helpless in regards to the outcome of the business and it is not uncommon for me feel like I am only a distraction to the work that needs to be done to further the business. But, I have come to realize that way of thinking only serves to devalue my contribution to the company and our marriage. And guess what?! Even the anecdotal and scientific research supports that sentiment.
Let’s first take a look at some of the anecdotal “research” from some of the most successful and famous entrepreneurs in regard to their spouses' contributions to their success.
What Famous Entrepreneurs Have Said
Warren Buffett (who is arguably one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time) has been open about the fact the most important decision he ever made was to marry his wife, Susan Buffett. He has been quoted saying, “what has happened to me would not have happened without her.” In his 2017 HBO documentary “Becoming Warren Buffett,” here is what he said about his wife of 52 years after her passing:
“She put me together. Not only would I not turned out to be the person that I
turned out to be, but I actually wouldn’t have been as successful in business
without her. She made me more of a whole person.”
Henry Ford’s nickname for his wife Clara Ford was the “great believer” because she was the only one that believed in his idea of a motor carriage. Historians have also documented that “at every point in the remarkable trajectory of Henry's career, Clara was his indispensable partner - a confidant in business matters and a true companion.” Even after his invention of the Model T car and his amazing success in business that revolutionized the auto industry, he was quoted in a 1938 New York Times Magazine article as saying,
“The greatest day of my life is when I married Mrs. Ford.”
In a personal blog post about love, Virgin Group founder and billionaire Richard Branson has shared this about his wife of 40 years, Joan Templeman:
“Having spent 40 years with Joan by my side I have had the courage to do so
many things others would deem impossible. I have been able to take risks – that
have been fundamental to my success in business – which I probably wouldn’t
have dared to make without Joan’s love.”
More recently on an episode of the entrepreneur podcast How I Built This, Sarah Kauss (the owner and CEO of the widely successful water bottle company S’well) explained how much she valued her husband’s support and contributions to her company:
“It’s been so incredibly valuable for the company to have him there by my side. I
really couldn’t do it without him. There is no way that S’well would be the
company that we are today if he wasn’t willing to sort of put his ego aside and
say hey listen I am going to drop what I’m doing to support you and your dream
and your company so all of this will work.”
When John Foley the creator and founder of Peloton was asked how the company has impacted his personal life, he responded:
”It was tough. The fact that my wife believed in it meant a lot. Again, either our
marriage wouldn’t have worked or Peloton wouldn’t have worked if she hadn’t
been a believer in it.”
Andy Bailey, serial entrepreneur and current Founder and CEO of the business consulting firm Petra, wrote a blog post on his company’s website titled “My Wife is Brave--She Married An Entrepreneur,” and this is what he said this about his wife of 19 years:
“Without the support of my wife I would not be where I am today. With my career
as a small business owner and entrepreneur, she’s had to put up with a lot – long
hours, extensive travel, missed paychecks and the list could go on. Lucky for me,
19 years later she’s still by my side.”
And I could go on, but I think you get the point!
What Does the Research Say?
Many famous and successful founders have publicly given credit to their spouse’s contribution to their success and the research in this area also supports the fact that the spouse’s role is critical to the success of the business. A study published by psychologists at Carnegie Mellon University found that people with supportive spouses were more likely to take on potentially rewarding challenges. The lead author of this study, Brooke Feeney, said: “Significant others can help you thrive through embracing life opportunities or they can hinder your ability to thrive by making it less likely that you’ll pursue opportunities for growth.” Being able to take on risk and pursue opportunities is essential for success in business and this research proves that the spouse has an impact on their entrepreneur’s ability to do just that! There have also been several studies conducted specifically with entrepreneurs and small business owners from all over the world that have shown that family support is an important enabler of venture growth (see reference list). In addition, another study found that specifically having a supportive life partner has a positive effect on the entrepreneur’s performance and directly affects their satisfaction with their work and income. Further, other researchers examined the top motivations for highly successful entrepreneurs and one of the most commonly cited factors reported was their “spouses forbearance and support.”
Along the same line of reasoning, a study by Shelton (2006) found that any work-family conflict hinders entrepreneurial venture performances and therefore makes them less successful over time. Stress at home or having a spouse who is not supportive of the business will obviously negatively impact how the entrepreneur shows up, operates and the decisions they make. This is the reason why it is also common practice for venture capitals (VCs) to not only be interested in the health of the business but also the health of the founder and CEO’s marriage. VCs know the devastating impact problems at home or a failed marriage can have on a business’s performance and profit. Many states have common property laws wherein the case of divorce all assets are split down the middle. This includes all company assets and stock. You are the largest shareholder in the company and the health of your marriage may be the single most important factor in the success or failure of the company.
If you aren’t convinced now the marital relationship profoundly affects the entrepreneur and that the spouse plays a critical role in the success of the business, then I don’t think you’ll ever be! The point is whether you realize it or not, you are extremely important to the success of your company. Your relationship is either going to propel the business forward or hold it back. Also, whether or not you feel deeply appreciated for all of your contributions, never forget that you are the business’s number one asset!
If you are like me and questioning the impact you have on the company or have ever felt underappreciated or undervalued, have a conversation with your spouse about it. Ask them what they appreciate most about you and what you do specifically to allow them to work toward and accomplish their dreams with the company. You can also tell them everything you value and appreciate about their contributions too! Check out this blog post for a simple yet powerful way to show appreciation for one another.
As always, thanks for reading! I’d love to hear more quotes or ways your spouse makes you feel appreciated for all of your contributions to the business and your family!
Bruderl, J., & Preisendorfer, P. (1998). Network support and the success of newly founded businesses. Small Business Economics, 10(3), 213–225.
Carr, J., & Sequeira, J. (2007). Prior family business exposure as intergenerational influence and entrepreneurial intent: A theory of planned behavior approach. Journal of Business Research, 60(10), 1090–1098.
Carree, M., & Verheul, I. (2012). What Makes Entrepreneurs Happy? Determinants of Satisfaction Among Founders Happiness Study, 13, 371–387.
Cruz, C., Justo, R., & De Castro, J. (2012). Does family employment enhance MSEs performance? Integrating socioemotional wealth and family embeddedness perspectives. Journal of Business Venturing, 27, 62–76.
Feeney, B. C., Van Vleet, M., Jakubiak, B. K., & Tomlinson, J. M. (2017). Predicting the Pursuit and Support of Challenging Life Opportunities. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(8), 1171–1187.
Özcan, B. (2011). Only the lonely? The influence of the spouse on the transition to self-employment. Small Business Economics, 37, 465–492.
Prasad, V., Naidu, G., Murthy, B., Winkel, D., & Ehrhardt, K. (2013). Women entrepreneurs and business venture growth: An examination of the influence of human and social capital resources in an Indian context. Journal of Small Business & Entrepreneurship, 26(4), 341–364.
Shelton, L. (2006). Female entrepreneurs, work-family conflict, and venture performance: New insights into the workfamily interface. Journal of Small Business Management, 44(2), 285–297.
Wadhwa, V., Holly, K., Aggarwal, R., & Salkever, A. (2009). Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation. SSRN Electronic Journal. 10.2139/ssrn.1431263.
Welsh, D., Kaciak, E. Memili, E., & Zhou, Q. (2017) Work-Family Balance and Marketing Capabilities as Determinants of Chinese Women Entrepreneurs' Firm Performance, Journal of Global Marketing, 30:3, 174-191.
Welsh, D., Kim, G., Memili, E., & Kaciak, E. (2014a). The influence of family moral support and personal problems on firm performance: The case of Korean women entrepreneurs. Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship, 19(3), 1–17.