Contributed by Lionel Felix, founder of Felix Media Solutions and a member of EO Austin.
My wife and I both work full-time in our commercial audio-video (AV) company and it’s been very rewarding for our relationship as well as a strategic benefit. Our company, Felix Media Solutions, landed a spot on the 2019 Inc. 5000 list, but getting there came with many, many landmines that could have blown up the business—as well as our relationship.
I started the company in 2015 as a side-hustle with my old friend Mike Watts. We both had full-time IT jobs which paid well, but I wanted to save for a house and he wanted to bring home more for his family. When we found ourselves working through many of our weekends, our vacation days and (ahem) sick days from our main jobs, we both jumped in completely and cut the tethers. Our IT contacts helped us drive sales of video conferencing systems to our IT friends.
About the same time, I started dating Lindsey Rima (pictured at left). She managed the co-working space I was working in. She found what we did interesting and liked the idea of working with technology and making things work. She has BS in Biomedical Photography from Rochester Institute of Technology and she had worked as a product expert at the technology firm Zeiss. She soon donned a hard hat, filled a Husky bag with cable termination tools and started moonlighting on the field team terminating CAT5/6 cables, balanced audio cables and showing the guys how wire-management was supposed to look.
While the business grew quickly, she learned quickly and went into systems programming where she learned how to design and program complex automation systems from Extron, Biamp and RTI. We worked side-by-side and she moved full-time into system bidding, design, and programming. Within a year she had made herself integral to the field team as well as the sales team where she was bidding $250K whole courthouses, 100,000 square feet offices and getting us projects that were bid exactingly and profitably. I was relieved by not having to do all the bidding and programming. I was able to focus on business growth, business development, hiring and sales.
By late 2017 it was clear there was a problem with our bookkeeping and accounts receivable (AR) was so backlogged we nearly ran out of cash, just in time for our bookkeeper to quit without notice. We had payroll in a few days, hundreds of thousands of dollars in AR getting moldy and not enough in the bank. I’m lucky to know people who can float me an entire payroll run while I get my house in order. Lindsey—who, at the time, was my girlfriend, programmer and designer—said, “I will take over the finance piece, you go sell and run the shop. I’ll handle this side of things.” And she just ran with it. She said, “I got this.”
With us working on different parts of the business and having ownership of our pieces, we didn’t step on each other’s toes. While I am CEO, I knew that she had total ownership of what she had on her plate so I never needed to “manage” her. That autonomy, respect and trust let us work on the things we knew we needed to get done. Our goals were aligned which meant we knew what needed to get done.
Instead of all of this coming from an employee, it was from the woman who I also went out to dinner with and was involved with. Our conversations often moved from things we cared about in our personal life to business strategy and hiring and finances. While work romances create many conversations about work and a relationship between two working people features work as a common topic, being at the helm together created a very strong bond between us.
Within three months of Lindsey taking on the organization’s finances, our AR went from an average age of 71 days to 21 days, our line of credit was at zero, our credit cards were at zero and we had two months of payroll in the bank. Lindsey had recently attended the EO Accelerator Cash Day where she learned about profit first. She worked with our new outside-finance person, Chelle Martinez of Tax Trailer, and we implemented the profit-first model—taking every dollar that comes in and putting it into discrete accounts, starting with profit, then taxes, operational expenditures, work in progress, and a vault account which became our internal line of credit to smooth out the bumps. (We are a project-based company and money comes in unevenly.)
Solutions Without Conflict
Over time we have been able to keep work discussions at home to a dull roar, but we love what we do. Working together taught us to have hard conversations because we were focused on the outcome and the future. That alone helped us a great deal.
Learning how to have hard conversations without conflict, just problem solving, was the most important thing we were able to solidify between us. We were more focused on positive, aligned outcomes than anything else. We learned to take nothing personally, which helped us move quickly to solve issues. We learned to grow and thrive without friction. Our partnership also manifested in a united voice within the larger team. There was no “go-ask-dad-if-mom-says-no” mentality, which often happens in family businesses.
How to Make it Work
For spouses and partners who wish to work together, I believe it’s critical that they work on different parts of the business and do so with autonomy. Hovering, correcting, holding them to different standards can cause problems—particularly in the optics within the company.
Lindsey and I are lucky to be able to do our best work in different parts of the business. That’s the tricky part. Can you both do your work and not have too many opinions about how the other is executing? Is the work style between the two people compatible? Are your vision, values and goals aligned? If yes, then give it a go. If you’re both wanting to be the chef, on the other hand, well, two-business households are great, too!
As a lifelong techie with 20 years of IT and AV experience, Lionel Felix (pictured at left) is committed to building great solutions that are easy to use. Both he and his wife, Lindsey Rima, are members of EO’s Austin, Texas, chapter.