“What’s it like working together as a married couple?” We’re always asked this question. Or my friends will ask “How’s it going working together?”. Slightly different. My response completely depends on the day. I’ve enthusiastically said how great it is, I’ve frustratingly ranted and I’ve cried in despair. Sometimes it feels like it’s our biggest opportunity, sometimes it holds us back, sometimes I can’t believe how lucky we are to do this together. The conclusion – it’s pretty great, we both love it, but it’s far from all rainbows and butterflies.
I’m an INFJ. Oli is an ENTP. According to the 16 Personalities online test I’m an Advocate (“quiet and mystical yet very inspiring and tireless idealists”) and Oli is a Debater (“smart and curious thinkers who cannot resist an intellectual challenge”). When we were on the Resurgo Ventures accelerator last year we did a lot of this kind of personal reflection / soul searching. We used the colour chart then - Oli is more red and I’m more bluey green. We have lots of similar interests and dreams, plus our mindsets and perspectives on life are similar too. But our characters and tendencies and ways of working differ quite a lot.
We never questioned starting a business together. We had gone to Peru to shake up our lives a bit and to jump off the London treadmill we felt we were relentlessly running on, ticking off all the life milestones expected of us along the way. In the end, Peru kind of chose us. I was lucky to land a freelancing role there, running innovation workshops for the girls’ rights charity I had previously worked for. Oli spoke Spanish and I wanted to learn (las burbuhas remains my favourite Spanish word I learnt over there, it means bubbles and I saw it on a really fun truck of fizzy pop that passed as we were wandering along in Lima one day). That was the nudge we were after. It was about six weeks in that we started considering setting up a business. 18 months on and I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been asked this question about working together.
2020 has been one hell of a year of upheaval for everyone. Earlier this year covid put our clothing supply chain on pause so we decided to do something different to what we had been planning, for 2020 at least, until the worst of covid was over. So we launched The Motherhood Prints in April – unique, limited-edition art prints inspired by motherhood. Oli and I became aunty and uncle for the first time in April. Not being able to celebrate our new niece and support the new parents in the usual ways was frustrating, so we channelled that into something positive and created The Motherhood Prints. Because art is such a personal and meaningful gift. 100% of the profits went to NHS Charities Together (this is when they were doing their huge fundraising drive) and in the end we donated over £7000.
The Motherhood Prints is when we properly started to work together. Practically, we’ve both been doing a bit of everything. Managing orders, creating content, writing blogs, updating the website, sorting out invoices, talking with suppliers and other partners, figuring out SEO - at some point in the future we’ll divide up the roles. We have a whatsapp group specifically for NINA and we write each other handover emails at the end of each day (we’ve both got part-time freelance roles meaning we’re working on NINA on different days during the week). But you’re not here for the practical stuff.
So what’s it actually like working together as a married couple. It means you have ‘conversations’ whilst the other person is in the shower at 10pm, you shout an idea to them, they can’t hear you, there are a few more attempts, then they finally turn off the shower to figure out what you’re saying. It means that, if you didn’t already, you’ll really get to know the other person’s vulnerabilities and anxieties. It means we have more to celebrate together. It means we’re way more conscious about not letting the other person down. It means we look at ourselves as a couple more objectively. It means we’re very honest about how we’re feeling (cue no emotional boundaries like you’d usually have with most colleagues).
We definitely have more arguments. We’re never really arguing about the thing we say we are, it’s always much deeper. Sometimes it’s to do with our different levels of expectation or different feelings towards failure or feelings about risk. Sometimes one of us is living too much in the future, whilst the other is too much in the day to day. But we’ve got pretty good at getting to the crux of the matter more quickly.
And then there’s day to day. If something has gone wrong, I find it difficult not to take it to heart. And I get frustrated when I can’t control things in our supply chain e.g. production delays or delivery delays (and this year with covid there’s been many, inevitably!). Oli does too, of course. But he is very good at focusing instead on what we can do and doesn’t like to linger on problems. On the other hand, I’ll enjoy a little linger. I’ll compare sticker companies to work with. I’ll catch the typo. I’ll plan the content for the month.
One thing we’re discussing more lately is how to divide up the tasks so we’re working on the things we love working on. We didn’t start NINA just to run any old business. It’s important to us to keep it authentic, to do something we really connect with, otherwise there’s zero point in doing it at all. The same goes for all the things that make up the business. Take social media for example. Sometimes you just want to share purely factual information, and other times you have a long to-do list so can’t dedicate the time you want to it. But in an ideal world, every post is thoughtful and isn’t just spilling out more stuff. Yes, in reality, you probably need to balance it, but the worst thing is to fall into the trap of doing, doing, doing.
I would love to hear if any of this resonates with anyone else and I hope the above is a better answer to all the people who have asked me what it’s like to work together! Maybe I’ll get Oli to also write something on this, from his perspective. That would be interesting.