Just after committing to each other, newlyweds Jennifer Mellon and Danny Boice made a second commitment. They decided to start their company, Trustify, while sitting on a beach during their honeymoon.
Trustify helps individuals and businesses find vetted, private investigators (PIs) on demand for things like locating a lost relative or birth parent, or running a background check on a potential employer or boyfriend. Their business has quickly gained traction. The 25-employee company had first-year revenues of $1.4 million and is on track for $4 million this year.
Co-founders Mellon and Boice had met nine years before, when they were both married to other people, at a Gymboree class. Their kids became friends and so did they, talking often about entrepreneurship. Mellon had been executive director of an international child welfare organization and co-founded two companies, and Boice had launched three.
The idea for Trustify came out of Boice's own experience during his divorce, when he worked with three different — and expensive — PIs with less than satisfying results. After Mellon was also divorced and the two started dating, they tossed around ideas for a company they might someday start together. Boice is a Lean Startup devotee, and when they tested their MVP for Trustify, the conversion rates were “through the roof," says Mellon.
Putting all their eggs — their relationship, their careers, and their finances — in one basket was a bit scary. But having both their incomes dependent on the company's success has upped their determination. Knowing each other as well as they did also calmed any fears. “We already respected each other as entrepreneurs," says Mellon. “We had both seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in the other, so we went into this with realistic expectations."
Investors weren't always so sure. Several worried that the business would suffer if the couple divorces. “Once they meet both of us, and see our dynamic, they are reassured," Mellon says. “And we make clear we don't have a Plan B and are all-in to make this work. I tease Danny we can't get divorced or it's a brand fail."
Working with a spouse may not be for everyone, but Trustify's co-founders say their personal relationship has shed light on what helps make any co-founder relationship work:
Define Roles And Stick To Them
Trustify's co-founders clearly delineated responsibilities, including who makes the final decision in various aspects of the business. Boice focuses on the board, technology and finance, while Mellon handles branding, marketing, partnerships, and the company's social mission, which includes offering pro bono services to agencies addressing domestic violence. Both partners respect the other person's decision-making in those areas. “We give each other feedback, and we don't always fully agree, but we keep the lines clear," Mellon says. “The buck stops with me in my areas and with him in his, and we honor that."
Try to Balance Work and Home But Let Go of Perfectionism
With five children, including a son born soon after launch, the couple has no choice but to be highly organized at home. “We're a well-oiled machine," says Mellon. Teaching yoga classes once a week has informed her perspective on balance. “I see people try difficult positions and get so upset when they don't get them right away, but there is always going to be time you are off balance," she says. “It doesn't matter because you try again the next time and the next day. Some days I do more as a mother and the next day as a founder." The couple makes time for exercise and community volunteering to keep things in perspective. And they take a quarterly break together away from the business and the children. “Sometimes we just leave the kids with their grandparents and go to a hotel and that's it, but we do take time to unplug, which is really hard for us," she says.
Learn to Be Vulnerable and Humble
Letting your co-founders and team see when you are uncertain or worried is difficult for any founder, but Mellon and Boice have learned to be vulnerable with each other. “Many startups fail because of founder dynamics," Mellon says. “It is hard for entrepreneurs to defer to other people, but we can because we know and trust each other. Ego is put aside." They both feel comfortable enough to admit when something is not their forte, and step aside. “We don't try to prove anything to each other,' Mellon says.
Make a Commitment to the Long Haul
The co-founders work long hours, and they feel their employees notice and appreciate how determined they are to make Trustify a success. They aim to hire employees who share their mission and have a desire to work with the company for the long-term. From the start, Trustify had family-friendly policies including maternity leave and an adoption credit, as well as a nursing room for mothers, to show they support employees who commit to the company as well.
Work Together But Not As One
Sometimes new employees don't feel comfortable when the couple debates a business issue, but they don't hide if they hold differing opinions and employees understand that they are no different than any co-founders. “We are not a monolith, but separate people," Mellon says. “We make clear that anyone can talk to either of us in confidence and that it is okay to tell one of us they disagree with a decision the other has made."