Love and marriage-and fast growth? The combination might sound like a recipe for disaster but, here, we talk with five couples who swear it's the key to their success
Standing Up to Your Spouse to Move the Needle
Norm and Elaine Brodsky have been married for 54 years--and have worked together for 32 of them, first as business partners, and then as co-founders. Their Brooklyn-based delivery company, Perfect Courier, would hit the Inc. 5000 for three consecutive years, starting in 1984, and the Brodskys would go on to found a handful of other businesses, including CitiStorage. While Elaine, 76, stands several inches shorter than Norm, 80, she towers among many in spirit and verve. Her greatest attribute, though, may well be convincing Norm that his big ideas aren't the only good ones.
--In conversation with Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
You two have worked together for decades--so long that other couples who are also business partners come to you and ask: How do you do it?
Norm I always say: One person has to be more forgiving. It's her.
Elaine I attribute our success to the fact neither of us wanted to get divorced on the same day. But seriously, we each took care of different things and didn't step on the other's toes. I think the main thing is respect. Respect and trust that the other person would not do anything to destroy our marriage--or our business.
Did you set boundaries?
Elaine Yes and no. We lived where we worked. The offices were on the third floor, we lived on the fourth. At the beginning, I said, "There's no discussing business up here."
Norm There were no computers, no nothing. Computers were huge then, so that part made sense.
Elaine That lasted precisely one evening. Every night, we'd go upstairs, and I would say, "Oh, my god, I have to tell you what happened today!" And he would say, "Well, I gotta tell you what happened today!"
You didn't always work together. Elaine, you stayed at home when your kids were little. Did that inform your dynamic when it came to the business?
Elaine We learned a trick from parenting: Never fight in front of your children.
Norm There were glass walls in our office. But inside our office, we had a bathroom. So any time we both walked into the bathroom at the same time, everybody on the floor knew that we were going to have a "discussion."
Elaine At home, we used to shut ourselves in the bathroom too. It's just where we fight. There are no windows. It's a nice, small, safe space. One day at the office, we went into the bathroom and I said to Norman, "We can have only one culture in this company, and it's going to be mine. Now you've got to come along with it, because otherwise these tough guys in the warehouse are not going to believe in it." And he did. And that's how the company grew.
Norm I was really "It's my way or the highway." I had to learn to live with the idea that I'm not always right. Although I think I am.
Elaine His management style leaves a lot to be desired. No offense, Norman.
Norm No offense taken!
Elaine I'm his biggest fan and his worst critic. My therapist helped me realize I was actually the only person who took him on.
Norm It took both of us to say, we are two entirely different people--and that's OK. The main thing is respect.
Building a Foundation That Won't Crack and Crumble
After a stormy start to their relationship 24 years ago, Shahab, now 44, and Durana Elmi, now 43, quickly realized how they complement each other--he's analytical and shrewd, while she is organized and thoughtful. That marriage of skills helped propel their San Diego-based supplements brand Cymbiotika (No. 187, 2023; No. 624, 2022) to $40 million in 2022 revenue, with a projected $110 million in 2023. They've also been smart about keeping their home life in check, allowing for snap reality checks and weekly date nights.
--In conversation with Rebecca Deczynski
Durana The first time I met Shahab, he said to me, "I'm going to marry you."
Oh, that old line. You sent him packing, right?
Durana I did. Because he was that charming guy--a bit of a Don Juan.
Shahab For context, I was a way better-looking version of myself back then.
So, how did he recover?
Durana My roommate, who had met Shahab separately, was so persistent--she kept saying he was a really sweet guy, so finally I said, "OK, fine, I'll go on a date with him. But it has to be on a Friday and he has to be punctual at 7 p.m." I knew he'd be in about three hours of traffic coming from Orange County to Santa Monica, where I lived.
Shahab I took her to a nice restaurant and I was so taken aback by this woman's beauty that I ordered a barrage of food, trying to impress her. Then she went to the bathroom and was gone for five, 10, 15, 30 minutes. Eventually, I learned she had been on the phone with the bank pleading for a credit line increase so she could pay for the meal--and she did. She didn't want me to think I could buy her love. I was so impressed by her class and dignity.
How did that admiration turn into running a business together?
Shahab We resigned from our corporate jobs between three to four months of each other in 2015 to start our first venture, operating Cricket Wireless stores. We lost so much money in the first five or six months. I would sit up at 3 in the morning, questioning the decision we made. We were so close to losing it all--I had gotten a second mortgage on our house. But we stuck together, and with only a few months of runway left, we heavily invested in marketing and head count. The business became profitable when we had nine stores. We scaled it to 173 stores in six states, and had a successful exit. We were going to retire after selling to a private equity firm in 2018. But my childhood friend had reached out with a concept for a health-focused business. The question then wasn't, "How much money can we make?" but "What do we want our legacy to be?" That became Cymbiotika.
Durana We wanted to be able to teach our children that you can create a profitable business out of helping others.
But surely you have dark moments. How have you prevented them from infecting your marriage?
Durana We have date night once a week--we rarely miss it. On Fridays, we do family date night, and everyone gets dressed up. We've realized that our foundation is our relationship; if that goes, the business can't last.
Shahab If we get into a heated conversation because we disagree about something, one of us will say "reset button," and then we leave the office to grab a drink. We're two equally talented and passionate people. There are going to be those moments. And while I'm not advocating drinking, champagne and a martini can do wonders sometimes.
Finding the Balance in Power as a Power Couple
Psyche and Vontoba Terry--self-proclaimed business nerds who met in graduate school--have poured their passion into growing their Plano, Texas-based natural hair and skin care line Urban Hydration (No. 696, 2021; No. 1,552, 2020; No. 1,452, 2019). Along the way, the 41-year-old founders have learned more about each other than most couples would care to know after 18 years of marriage. It's led to squabbles, tiffs, and resignation letters, too. But they're better together--and they know it.
--In conversation with R.D.
Psyche What we do apart isn't as fulfilling as what we do together. But we've both had moments where we've "resigned" by sending an email to the other saying, "You need to find someone else to be your business partner."
Whoa, you send resignation emails to each other? Is this common?
Vontoba It's not common but definitely happens. The last time, I told her, "I do not accept your resignation." I put it in all caps.
So, it's been tough. What's your advice to others hurtling into marriage and business?
Vontoba We tell people, look, you've got to have a healthy marriage going into business. When business is bad, we're able to work together and work it out--which typically involves multiple apologies. And then I rub her feet with our lotion.
OK, I think I'd forgive him. Psyche, does that work?
Psyche I'm usually like, "What are you sorry for? What did you do?" I want to be sure you're clear about why I was upset.
How do you avoid letting small things fester?
Vontoba We try not to go to bed angry. But if we do, when we wake up, we're usually more clearheaded. Some of the worst conversations happen when we're tired or frustrated--and usually we're not even frustrated with each other. It's about a situation.
Psyche We complement each other, but we're also very similar. I handle sales, marketing, and product design and creation--but when he first came on full time, he said, "I do sales." I said, "Well, if you're so good at sales, take over sales." So he did, and we lost every account!
Vontoba She's joking, but I did make a lot of mistakes. I had been selling financial products, and then I switched to pitching hair and skin care products primarily marketed toward women. That led to quite the conflict.
Psyche Humility has been hard for both of us. It's especially hard when you're growing a business alongside someone who's your equal--I can't always get my way. But what that really means is that he cares just as much as I care.
Using Their Company as "a Jungle Gym" for Their Relationship
Evan Horowitz, 42, and Geoffrey Goldberg, 39, began their relationship years before they began their firm, Los Angeles-based creative agency Movers+Shakers (No. 63, 2023; No. 52, 2022; No. 78, 2021). They'd previously been on different paths; Goldberg had been choreographing Broadway shows when they met in 2011, while Horowitz had just minted a Harvard MBA. But the company, which bet big on then-obscure platform TikTok in 2019 and soared to nearly $7 million in revenue the following year, brought together their disparate skills, and taught them all they needed to sustain their relationship.
--In conversation with C.L.-C.
I hear you adopted another baby. Congrats! How are you able to juggle living and working together--and now parenting two kids under 5?
Evan We're strong believers that the patterns and issues that you have as a couple are going to be the same underlying issues in any context of your relationship. If somebody doesn't feel respected, or you don't deal with conflict well, that pattern is going to show up in travel, in finances, in kids, just as obviously as it does in business.
Geoffrey People recommend if you want to stress-test your relationship, travel together. Within months of dating, we went to Paris. A trip forces you to organize things, and make decisions collaboratively, navigate certain conversations and situations. So it kind of catapults your relationship to the next level. That's taken to the 20th degree when you're running a company together. It's a jungle gym for your relationship.
Evan Then we became dads. Becoming parents together was actually quite smooth--because we had already worked through so much of our shit. There were still plenty of times in the first few years of our business when I was like, "Wow, are we going to ditch the business or are we going to get divorced?" It almost felt like it was going to come to that.
Clearly, it didn't. And yet you still seem like polar opposites. How do you make it work?
Evan There's a funny story.
Geoffrey How did I know you were going to tell that story?
Evan So, I'm a just-in-time person. I get things done before the deadline--but very last-minute. One morning, we're on a crowded New York City subway. I'm squatting on the floor (because all the seats are taken) with my laptop on my squat-lap, and I'm banging out our PowerPoint deck that in 10 minutes we're going to be taking into a major client opportunity to pitch. Geoffrey--who likes to be organized, and plans everything--is pissed we didn't get it done last night. He's annoyed and probably embarrassed that I'm squatting on the subway. Smoke must have been coming out of his ears.
Geoffrey I still have a photo of him in that moment.
Evan Yes! He took a picture of me like that. Probably so he could look back on it later and ...
Lord it over you if the client passed?
Evan Well, it worked! We got that deal.
Still, did the experience prompt a deeper discussion? Moreover, what's your strategy for overcoming or disarming issues before they explode?
Geoffrey Whether you're entering a relationship or you're starting a business--or both--there's a decision you make: I'm going to make this work. And you kind of know. I think for us there's this sense that we walk around with every day, which is: It's not a matter of if we can do it, it's just how we're going to work through this. Which is really empowering.
Evan We both work hard to take responsibility for our side of any issue--to get out of a blame perspective and into a personal- accountability perspective. How am I instigating or amplifying this? How can I show up differently in the future to not do that?
Geoffrey Believe me when I say we've practiced the other route. Life teaches you that doesn't get you as far.
Staying Connected Even When They Don't See Eye-to-Eye
When Bhavana Rakesh and Rakesh Peter met 33 years ago, they weren't just strangers-they were from different communities, though they lived five houses apart on the same street in Bangalore. But tangled phone lines managed to connect them anyway. The calls turned into furtive meetings and, eventually, love. Despite Rakesh's overseas education journey, the two stayed in touch. When Rakesh, now 51, and Bhavana, now 48, reunited in 1998, wedding bells would ring--and in time they'd launch Axiom Consultants, a Rockville, Maryland, consulting agency, which hit this year's Inc. 5000 at No. 409.
--In conversation with Melissa Angell
Rakesh Back in Bangalore, I'd be talking with my buddies and suddenly we'd hear a female voice on the phone and we're like, wait a minute, there's somebody eavesdropping on our phone call. That's how I met Bhavana.
Bhavana We kept talking over a three-month period and decided to meet. We wanted to go to a cool place. We thought America was cool, so we went to a place called Indiana Burgers.
Rakesh They make the mayonnaise fresh in house, right in front of you.
Bhavana We had a connection, but I knew he was going to apply to schools in the U.S. It was a lot of long distance.
But he wasn't deterred.
Bhavana Right. After his MBA, he wanted to come back to India and marry me. He asked his parents to talk to my parents, and that's when I had to tell my parents about him. It was a big deal because we come from different religions and my parents had never met Rakesh.
You sound very dedicated to each other personally. How does that translate into your business?
Rakesh The way she is able to connect the dots and see the big picture is phenomenal. That's helped us go in a direction that, if it had been really up to me, I don't think we would have gone in.
What's an example?
Bhavana When we got into the government contracting space, one of the biggest challenges we faced was not having past performance. One way to get around that was to do an acquisition.
Rakesh We were two to three months into negotiations and I wasn't getting the numbers that I wanted to see. So I called our broker and said, "I'm walking away from the acquisition."
Bhavana I wasn't ready to let it go. My thought was: If we don't have data, then let's get the data.
Rakesh She asked me a few questions, and the deal was back on.
That trust is vital. What happens when you disagree?
Rakesh I wouldn't call what we have disagreements; I would call them different points of view. We each might have a different approach to how things should get done. So we walk through those.
Bhavana We are beginning to get comfortable with the fact that as long as we define the end goal, we are able to meet it--together.