Would you go into business with your spouse? Olivia Skuza and Heath Wells have started three businesses together over the past twenty years. They are currently co-CEOs of B2B e-commerce platform NuORDER.
The company enables brands and manufacturers to create digital catalogs of their products, send proposals and create orders for retailers. NuORDER employs more than 100 people, and more than 400,000 retailers use the NuORDER platform.
Key customers include Asics, Levi Strauss & Co., Ted Baker, LaCoste and Nordstrom. NuORDER also recently secured a Series C round of funding worth $15 million.“Both Heath and I are extremely passionate and driven and hardworking people, and we work at crazy human speed,” said Skuza.
Define Your Swimming Lanes
Co-CEOs aren’t usually considered productive because it can confuse reporting lines and even lead to power struggles. Skuza attributes her healthy working relationship with Wells to clearly defined work roles. Wells is the visionary who ”sells the dream,” whereas Skuza “makes it happen” as strategy and execution with a customer focus.
“He very much owns sales, business development, marketing,” she said. “I own all customer success, renewals, services and support, and product and engineering. The Nordstrom partnership is something I own.”
Entrepreneurs struggling to define their swimming lanes like Wells and Skuza should consider where their strengths and weaknesses lie. “Heath and I will never say, ‘Well, I need to have X amount of direct reports,’ or, ‘These people need to report to me,’” Skuza said. “It’s very important to make sure that you focus on what you’re good at.”
Manage Disagreements Professionally
Partners in every healthy relationship must learn how to manage disagreements constructively. Office place disagreements can prove difficult for spouses to negotiate as they affect employees and even customers.
“If someone feels differently about a situation, but there’s defined swimming lanes, ultimately that person gets to make the call. There’s no stepping on toes,” Skuza said. She and Wells always try to solve work issues at the office at the end of the day.
“We’re forced to work it out always because this is our life, both personal and professional. So when we come home, we need to make sure we’re talking to each other,” Skuza said.
To this end, Wells recommends treating disagreements in the workplace like two professional colleagues rather than spouses. “Book a meeting with the other person just like you would with another team member,” he said.
“Both parties must prepare for the meeting so they can present (factual) points about why they feel or believe in a different point of view. Quite often this preparation will lead to the right solution.”
Agree On An Ideal Working Routine
Some new entrepreneurs have no qualms about working sixty to eighty hours a week, every week. That doesn’t work if an entrepreneur is in business with their spouse or they’re raising a family.
Wells and Skuza have a two-year-old and adjust their work routine around family life. ”We rotate mornings. I’ll get up super early the first morning and do a workout and then get to work as quickly as I can, whereas Heath will be the one responsible for our daughter,” Skuza said.
”We’ll flip the next morning, so he’ll work out, go to the office, and I’ve got my daughter.” In most healthy relationships, both parties work together toward a common goal.
A couple builds a life together. Two parents strive to raise a child. And business partners work on building a profitable venture. Skuza and Wells show it’s possible to do all three.