2. Trials & Tribulations of Equally Owning a Company with your Spouse

“It was the first time Gavin and I truly had a disagreement over the direction of the company.”

 

The Question That Started It All

On a heart piercingly cold day in February of 2019 an idea so warm was conceived. On this seemingly lazy Saturday morning, Gavin and I were having one of our now so commonly occurring marriage conversations.  Since we began having these conversations we not only seemed to always be on the same page, but on the same word of the same page. Marriage for us seemed as inevitable as death or taxes.

This day and this conversation on this day were different, though. A question that neither of us remembered asking arose and altered the course of our lives.  It was admittedly a simple question, one that was not new to the universe. But this one question consumed our minds and sent us down a path of research, discovery, and creation. That one question was: “Why don’t men wear engagement rings?”

Many late nights, weekends, and cups of coffee later, born out of that one question, we contrived the idea of a two-part, connecting engagement and wedding ring. It began as a means for Gavin to show he was just as committed to me as I was to him, but we quickly realized that our ring went much deeper than that.  We realized that they could help break gender roles by empowering women to propose.  They provide an option for inclusion for LGBTQ couples who wish to propose but feel like the current options to do so are limited. 

With our ring and these ideals, we officially formed Collide Rings, a brand created to promote equality, commitment, and inclusion.

 

Formation of Equality

The ideation of forming a company is always the fun part. You fall into a state of flow, a term coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi essentially meaning to be in the zone. It causes you to dive deep into researching, developing, testing, and more developing and before you know it, you resurface with your creation. Something that you can then begin to form a company and brand around.

Often overlooked, though, is that formation is one part ideation, one part creation, and one part silly legal stuff. By silly legal stuff I mean forming an LLC to limit our personal liability and avoid overpaying taxes; writing an operating agreement, which states how the business will be run; obtaining a sales and use tax permit so we don’t have to pay taxes on goods purchased from our manufacturer that are intended for resell until after we’ve sold those goods to a customer. The list goes on and on.

A key decision that needs to be made when doing this “silly legal stuff” is the ownership structure of the company. How much of the business will Gavin and I each own?  Normally I’d imagine this is an awkward conversation between founders.

The funny thing is it seemed like a no-brainer that Gavin and I would split the Company 50% - 50%.  We both equally obsessed over the idea. We both put in an equal amount of time to create the company.  Although, we brought different skills to the table, we both worked equally as hard. To make matters seem even more obvious, one of the core ideals the company was founded on was equality for all couples. How could we promote that ideal and not equally own the business?

It seemed like the right idea at the time and to this day we still strongly believe that it was.  With that being said, owning a company 50% - 50% can be hard at times and even more so if it’s with your significant other.  What do you do if you disagree? How do you split up responsibilities amongst each other? Do each of you really need to check off on everything each other does?  Well, let me tell you, we have run into situations around each one of these questions and thankfully we are still around to tell the tale.

 

A Render to Remember

One such situation I remember all too well.  It was the first time Gavin and I truly had a disagreement over the direction of the company.

It was just about our one-year anniversary from originally conceiving the idea.  We had worked diligently over the past year with a manufacturer to develop and test our ring design.  We had worked with a patent attorney to file a utility patent.  We had created and filed every required company formation document necessary. All our ducks were in a row, and we were finally ready to bring our idea and ring to market.

Included in the go to market strategy, we needed to decide how best to show our finished rings on our website.  Our choices were either photography or 3D renderings. Photography had the benefit of authenticity, however photography of small and defined products such as our rings required cost prohibitive equipment. 3D renderings, if done right, provide a computer-generated, photo-realistic image of exactly what the rings look like in real life.

As an e-commerce business, our website acts as our storefront and is one of our only chances to showcase our product. It is imperative that we make a good first impression with prospective customers and established trust. So, we decided the best foot forward was to show renderings of our rings.

I should mention here that prior to starting Collide Rings, I worked as an Industrial Designer. It was my job to design products by first creating a 3D model of it and then rendering it for presentation purposes.  I designed everything from cookware to hair products. This was my bread and butter, and I was confident I could design and render our rings.  Gavin agreed so I set off creating our renderings for the website.

When I finished, I presented the renderings to Gavin to get his thoughts.  He felt that the renderings didn’t appear photo-realistic and was afraid people viewing the website wouldn’t be able to get a good idea of how the rings looked in real life, which in turn would cause customers to lose trust in our company.  At this point, it was just a simple disagreement. Something that could easily be worked through with adequate communication and honesty.

But alas, this is something that evolved into more than a simple disagreement.  After seeing my renderings, Gavin reached out to a professional rendering service to inquire about their ability to create them and he did this without talking to or consulting with me first.

On the surface, this may seem small, but at its core it was a breach of trust. Even if unintentionally, Gavin went behind my back.  I felt betrayed and as if my opinion didn’t matter.  But most importantly, I felt that my say in the Company was less than equal. Why wouldn’t he just ask me first? We both own 50% of the company so shouldn’t we both be involved in major company decisions?

These all of course were my thoughts and feelings.  I tried to voice them to Gavin, but felt my words fell on deaf ears. I don’t think he realized the impact on me of what he did. After all he did work in finance prior to Collide Rings, a field marred with unsympathetic and result-driven behavior. Instead of trying to get him to understand, we moved forward with letting the rendering service create some renderings for us.

The outcome? The service produced renderings that I hated, but Gavin preferred. We were at a stalemate. With both of us adamantly against each other’s opinion, but with both of us technically owning 50% of the company, we had to figure out a way to break the tie. That’s when we decided to take it to the public.  We posted both options to Reddit and took a vote.  Whichever option yielded the most votes, we would use on the website.

So, which set of renderings did we end up using on the website? It didn’t matter. COVID hit, our manufacturer shut down causing us to have to shut down.  To this day, we haven’t fully recovered. All of the renderings created either by me or the service were useless.

With this sort of ending, it may seem like it was all for nothing. But it wasn’t.  This was the first time in our working relationship that we had to deal with disagreement, confrontation, and (unintentional) betrayal.  We not only needed to get to the bottom of it if we wanted to have a successful business together, but to also prevent it from affecting our marriage. After the dust had settled a bit, I asked Gavin if we could have a talk.  I needed to voice how I felt, and I needed him to understand.

So we sat down and I fully opened up and told him how what he did made me feel, how in that moment I didn’t feel like we were equal owners of the business. I told him I was worried that the tension and animosity created out of this situation would bleed into our personal lives and affect our marriage. It was important for me to get everything out there. Gavin was very receptive to me opening up. We spent a long time diving into each issue and at the end of the talk I felt like we were back on the same page.

I, he, we learned a ton from this experience. Moving forward, we decided we would set aside time every week to talk through any underlying issues that either one of us might not be noticing. We also decided that we would set aside more time during the week for us to have quality personal time. The most important lesson we learned out of this is open and honest communication is key from the outset. It’s okay to disagree, but it’s not okay to not talk out a resolution together.  The saying “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission” does not belong in a business operated by an entrepreneurial couple that equally owns that business.

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Keep reading below for an excerpt from our next blog post, “Spending Time Versus Spending Quality Time.” To find out the rest subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email address on our website (www.colliderings.com) and follow us @colliderings on Facebook and Instagram! Please share this blog post on your social media using the social media icons below.

Photo Credit: Jenna Salvagin

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In the short amount of leisure time our corporate lifestyle did afford us, we made sure to spend every minute of it together.  No matter what we were doing, we were joined at the hip. We hiked together, traveled together, watched movies together, even washed dishes and cleaned together.  Although we cherished the time we did get to spend together, it seemed all too fleeting as it was usually only on weekends and late on weeknights.  Naturally, we craved more.

Written by Collide Rings

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