Starting a Business is Like Getting Married

Too many people start a business with the sole focus on making money. Learn why it’s so important to go beyond the initial attraction, formulate a vision and tie your values to the business.
Latest posts by John T. Wood (see all)

Starting a business is a lot like getting married. If you’re married, or have been, you can think back to the time leading up to your marriage and see several key components that are similar between marriage startup and business startup.    


Perhaps the first such key component is attraction. That initial attraction to someone is based on what most of us call “chemistry,” for lack of a better word. Behind that chemistry—among other biological urges—are dreams, emotions and values. Just as we are attracted to one person instead of another, we are attracted to a business (or a career) that appeals to our dreams, moves us in some way and plugs into what we find important in life.

Going Beyond Attraction

In the time we spend getting to know another person, or courtship, we discover whether or not that attraction will stick. We talk about our dreams – the way we want to live, what size family we want, how we’d like to deal with money, what our faith is and other pictures we have of our future.

We also discover whether or not our emotional self is met—how we feel with the other person, what feelings they stir up, or don’t, and if we are able to impact them at an emotional level. And we talk about our values—what do we think is important about a marriage and a family, how vital is religion, what do we want to accomplish, who would we like to help and what matters most to us at the end of the day.    

Some of us also talk about what might happen if things go sour. What if we get into a conflict we cannot resolve alone? Under what conditions would we separate or divorce? What will constitute a deal breaker?

Business-like Characteristics

All of these issues have business-like characteristics too. When we think about starting a business with another person, or persons, it’s vitally important to discuss these issues:

  • What are our dreams (or vision) about the business?
  • Does the work we’re doing move us in some way?
  • Does it have emotional appeal that will last?
  • Is our business rooted in core values that we can continually return to for “sustenance,” that is, motivation and meaning?

Just in It for the Money?

Too many of us begin businesses with only the goal of making money, which is a little like starting a marriage so you can have regular sex. After a while each will become empty of meaning and a broader purpose. In a business, that sense of long-term meaning and purpose is the ground for trust, loyalty and commitment from employees.

Emotional Purpose

“Emotional purpose” is about being moved, in some way, by what you do and what you take part in. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this work have emotional meaning to me?
  • Will it “touch the gut” of the people who work for me?
  • Can we convey that to prospective clients and customers?

Employees and partners want to have the sense that there is a deeper meaning, a cause, if you will, behind what they do day-to-day. Otherwise, their work is hollow.

Real Meaning

What does this mean to those of you beginning a new venture? Pay conscious attention to formulating and reinforcing a strong vision, and ensure the emotional appeal of your work and/or product to your prospective customers and your employees. And make sure that your own set of values is tied to what your work is.

What guides us long term is not just a matter of education and aptitude in our work. It is the connection our work has to the dream we hold, to what makes us happy as a person in the world and what we think is important to our community, our society and—in the best of cases—our world. Make sure you know these things and can articulate them to others, and you will set your venture up for long-term success.

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