I Married My Business Partner: What's it Like to Mix Family and Startup Life
Happily married couple and business partners Nesma El Far and Yousef El-Sammaa deal a strong blow to the taboo of office relationships. The college sweethearts kicked off their startup as they were preparing to tie the knot. Stressful you say? You betcha. El Far tells it all, in her own words.
Yousef and I met in college, but we had already been working together in ‘Entrepreneurs' Society’ – a student activity which promoted entrepreneurship. Within a year of graduation, our then best friend and later business partner and best man, Omar Hamdallah, had brought us together to start our company.
Day and night, Yousef and I worked hard to develop and launch our first platform, El Wafeyat. While most couples bond over romantic dinners, movie outings or even workout sessions at the gym, for us the ultimate bonding experience were the tons of hours we poured into the business, especially in its early days. The time we spent together is what brought us closer as a couple. Today, we offer our services to over 1,000,000 people on two different platforms: Elwafeyat.com and InMemoryOf.com, through which we succeeded in collecting donations of more than two million EGP in memory of loved ones.
It’s been a steep roller-coaster ride, but sharing a vision and a dream only strengthened our bond over the years. Planning a wedding and building a company at the same time is already tough enough on anybody. And it was stressful for us too. I recall that only a couple of days before our wedding, while we were both pitching and speaking during the RiseUp Summit at the Greek Campus, Yousef had to ask his tailor to come and take his shirt measurements in between sessions!
It wasn’t so hard to balance work and life at the beginning, since work was practically the only life we had; so we would gladly work late hours or dash off on business trips… because we knew we were in it together. If we had an argument at home, we'd arrive at the office and pretend all was good throughout the whole day. By the time we left at night, we had already forgotten what the fight was all about.
But it was essential to feed off each other’s passion and enthusiasm. When things get tough and one of us is down, the other one immediately stands up and we constantly have each other's back. To us, this is not just a risk to calculate with; our destiny depends on it. If we go out of business we, both, won’t have a job. So we must always get back up.
And just like it took us a lot of experimenting to reach the right product market fit, it also took a lot of experimenting to find the right dynamics of our partnership; at work and at home. With time, we got the hang of when to pull together and when to give each other the necessary space to work individually. One of us likes to work on the small tweaks and on enhancing the experience, while the other is pumped up by big ideas. Through trial and error, we understood how to restructure the tasks in a way that when we work together, we achieve the most exciting results.
Like in most relationships, we thought that sharing the responsibility for everything is vital. But we spent a lot of time arguing and debating instead of actually getting things done. Until we discovered that ‘separation of powers’ is a great idea, indeed. So we made each one boss of a specific area of the business and agreed that only one person would have the final say on a given task.
Communicating a lot; that we learned the hard way. The two of us will eventually disagree at one point or another but we cannot allow it to ruin our business and we cannot, most certainly, allow it to ruin our marriage.
So here's my two cents: marrying your business partner could be a blessing or a curse; it might as well be a blessing in disguise. But it will definitely be what you make of it. Sure, you will be sharing all the stress and the brawls… yet if you are doing something you love, you’d also be realising a dream and fulfilling your goal.
Photo by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.
Main photo courtesy of Nesma El Far.