Will Stein moved to the U.S. in 1996 and met his future wife Rina the next year. After having only been married for six months, the couple decided to launch a high-end watch company called Philip Stein. Rina had worked in the watch business for years, but Will was a marketing man and for him the whole idea of running of a business with his new wife required a major adjustment.
“I’m the kind of guy who can leave the office and shut off my phone and have a private life, but my wife is more the kind of person who constantly thinks about the business,” Will explained. The Steins had to work on insulating their personal lives from their company, and force themselves to ban business talk from time to time to focus on their family. Yet, as Stein jokes, he lets his wife break these rules from time to time. “You know how women are; you always do what they want.” Today, the couple has managed to find a balance and their business has thrived because of it, with several of their products promoted by celebrities like Oprah and Madonna.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 3.6 million businesses in the U.S. were run by husband and wife teams as of 2002, and this phenomenon may actually be on the rise now. Last year, Americans launched more new businesses than at any other point in the past 14 years largely because of dismal employment prospects. Similarly, some have speculated that more couples are now teaming up to pursue this option.
In fact, Schoenfeldt has noticed that lately, more men are following Will Stein’s example and following their wives into a new business. “You might think that women are joining men in their business or they are starting them together, but what I am also seeing are women who have started successful businesses maybe on the side or while the husband was in a more traditional career, and have gained traction and men are coming aboard to take it to the next level.” Schoenfeldt attributes this new trend to the fact that men are having a more difficult time finding work (it’s not called a mancession for nothing) and therefore they are “putting their talents to work to benefit the family business.”
For those who are considering going down this path, Schoenfeldt recommends that you start by honestly evaluating your relationship to ensure that you have “open communication” and no tendency toward a “power struggle.” These two fundamental factors are arguably what distinguish Elliott’s failed business from that of Philip Stein. While Elliott’s husband refused to share responsibilities with her, the Steins quickly learned that this was necessary for their business to survive.
“In the beginning, when we were a smaller company, we both did the same work and sometimes did double the work because we’d disagree with how the other had done it,” he said. “Then we sat down, analyzed our strengths and weaknesses, and divided up the labor that way. After that it went much smoother.”