Lallenia and Brad Birge are EO members in Nebraska and the co-owners of Big Birge Plumbing. As EO Accelerator graduates and business partners, they have unique insights on growing their revenue while maintaining a partnership.
Octane: EO Accelerator is EO’s program for first-stage entrepreneurs. It gives founders the tools and accountability to take their business to the next level. How did you hear about EO Accelerator?
Lallenia: My husband, Brad, and I started Big Birge Plumbing in 2012. Neither of us had much experience running a business. I was referred to EO Accelerator by a former EO member and applied to the program in 2015. After about a year, I finally convinced Brad to join me in the meetings, as I was getting a lot out of it. As you can imagine, being married and in business together, sometimes information coming from your spouse’s mouth isn’t the same as hearing it from the source!
After attending a few meetings, Brad understood why I loved it so much, and he quickly realized the value. When we became eligible for EO membership, Brad joined immediately. I had paid for a full year of Accelerator, so I stayed in the program because I found it extremely valuable. I am very much the competitive, aggressive, entrepreneurial spirit of the two of us and my goal was to be in a Forum, so I was excited when I joined EO as a full member.
Brad: EO Accelerator set my mind in motion to visualize a big goal for our company and reach US$1 million in sales. Though we had big dreams and goals before the program, they weren’t refined. In EO Accelerator, we learned basic principles about the critical aspects of running a business and put strategies into place that enabled us to grow at a rapid but sustainable pace―which helped cement our way of thinking and get a framework for planning goals.
Meet another husband-and-wife business partnership in the Octane article about EO Atlanta member Kelvin Slater.
Once you graduated from EO Accelerator, you both joined EO as full members. How did you make that decision?
Lallenia: Many people asked why I didn’t take advantage of the spousal benefits instead of joining as a member. While it would have saved us money, that route didn’t appeal to me. We’re equal partners in our company, and I run the business side. Since we’re both EO members, we’re both in our own Forums. This provides us each with a confidential space to share business issues, which was the right decision for our circumstance.
It’s not always easy being married to your business partner, because when you have a difference of opinion, it’s hard to separate being at odds with your business partner from being at odds with your spouse. By being in two separate Forums, we both benefit from the perspective of seven or eight other experienced entrepreneurs. It’s helped us tremendously, both professionally and personally. Forum is a confidential place to talk to other business owners about all the issues every entrepreneur faces, and that’s incredibly valuable for us both.
Brad: We knew we both wanted to join EO for the personal and business growth it provides. I joined first and immediately found value. We discussed it at length and decided that the many benefits would be well worth the cost of two memberships. Now that we are both members in separate Forums, it helps us communicate with one another better. And because we’re both learning on an equal footing, we both bring new ideas to the table. We grow stronger together.
Click here to read more about Brad and Lallenia, in the Inc. article, “Do Life Partners Make Good Business Partners? A Closer Look.”
What’s the most valuable aspect of being in EO for you?
Lallenia: The fact that you’re surrounded by other people who genuinely get you—and they let you know they understand what you’re going through by experience sharing. I love that we don’t give each other advice in Forum. We use the gestalt method of communication, and only discuss experiences rather than framing experiences in the form of advice. That’s nice because if you don’t take someone’s advice, they can be offended, but in Forum we experience share―so we can be selfish and take exactly what we want and need from another person’s experience without worrying about each other’s feelings. Networking groups have a totally different vibe. Forum is built this way to help us grow as individuals.
Brad: I am a loner by nature. I have two good friends and then my best friend: my wife. I don’t usually allow people into my bubble. For me, the most valuable aspect is that I’ve gained new friends and stepped outside of my comfort zone. I can discuss topics with my Forum friends on a personal level and trust them to help me find my own answers. On a business level, I get so many different perspectives that enable me to bring new ideas to our leadership team.
Does being married to your business partner douse the romance?
Lallenia: Not at all. It gives me a new perspective on my husband and his capabilities. It’s sexy to see him with his business hat on and know that we’ve grown this company together—and that we’re still learning and growing together. I love seeing him in the office―we work exceptionally well together. I’ve even occasionally stolen a kiss from him while we’re at work!
Brad: I love sharing this journey with my soul mate. We get to raise babies together and we’ve built our team and company together. She’s the mother of my children and the leader of our team. I couldn’t do it without her. I owe a lot of who I am to her motivation and positive outlook on life.
EO has had an amazing impact on us as a couple and as business partners. And we’re combining the two on 14 February by attending Dandapani’s EO Couples Retreat for our Valentine’s Day celebration!
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