In this episode Kirstie and Luke reminisce about the past 10 years of working together whilst teasing out the good and the bad of spending so much time together. Ultimately the question they try to answer is would they recommend it to anyone else and has it been the right decision for them #workingwithyourhusband #workingwithyourwife #notforeveryone
KA Kirstie Allen
LS Luke Sherriff
KA Episode 12, celebrating ten years of working together. Today it’s myself and Luke my husband and co-founder of Pinks Boutique and we are going to talk about the fact that it is our ten-year anniversary of actually working together and running our businesses together. We want to discuss the highs and the lows. Was it a good idea? If you’re thinking about it yourself working with your loved one or partner should you do it or is it just a complete disaster? Does it motivate, does it undermine? How does it actually work and is there any way of ever not taking it all home and bringing it into your family life? Today that is the discussion.
LS So, yes, it’s ten years since we left London or since I left Harlequins and came up to play for Nottingham and started working together almost to the day. I think it was after the Rosslyn Park Sevens that it officially started and that ended on a winning note, so, my Rugby career ended on a winning note. And then I stepped in to working with Kirstie.
KA Just as a little help so you understand what was happening before then. So, I had my beauty schools so I had the schools in Derby and the one in Tamworth. But I technically lived in Richmond so I lived near Twickenham on the Stoop [?] with Luke’s playing but I used to go up and down like a yoyo. So, I used to drive up to Derby on a Monday morning very early five a.m. and then I used to drive back down on a Thursday or Friday.
And when I was back in London, if there were elements of work that needed help with then Luke was known to, like, print a certificate or hang it out to dry. We used to hang our Pinks Academy certificates all over our lounge like a washing line. However, to that point that was pretty much as involved, like, you had another job, you had another income stream and you were always there to talk about it and support but it was mine to that point.
LS Some might argue she still treats it like hers. Well, we’ll come back to the downside of the workings later. So, yes, obviously Kirstie quite rightly had had enough of, sort of, doing it on her own and all that travelling. So, I decided to move and come and join in the game.
KA It was that or find a real job.
LS Yes, so, it really wasn’t much of a decision for me but for most people the first question they ask when they meet us is almost rhetorically is it a good idea to work together.
And I think most people, certainly couples, the thought of spending pretty much every waking hour, I mean, apart from days when I’m working away we spend a large proportion of our time together. And interestingly Kirstie’s mum and dad did exactly the same thing when they built up their hair and beauty industry whereas my mum and dad had the complete opposite. Although to be fair Dad had a job where he was around a lot but he certainly wouldn’t class that as working together, they spent a lot of time together. Kirstie’s mum and dad on the other hand did it successfully for 35 years and have recently sold a business and exited it and are living happy ever after so.
KA About to prove whether retiring together is a good idea or not.
LS That may be even more challenging.
KA Maybe, fast forward 30 years we’ll have that Podcast for you, how to retire together and stay together.
LS Because as they joke the thing that kept them together, you know, through thick and thin was, you know, that they had something in common and it was work. You know, they never lacked for a conversation and they never lacked...
KA You know you have sentences from your childhood that you just remember but you never forget and someone repeated them frequently. I just... one of my dad’s favourite sentences was, I couldn’t even start to think about leaving your mother this would just be way too complicated it doesn’t matter how difficult she is we’re stuck. Because it’s a case of not dividing up a family, a house, a mortgage, you’re then dividing up a business, the debt, the profit, how do you still run it, does it still run, does it get sold. I mean, that’s complicated.
LS To be fair your dad’s exit strategy was to sell it so, you know, he’s at least removed one complication although they’ve replaced it with tennis but enough about them.
KA So, as Luke said, I mean, literally I wish I had a £10 note for the number of people, it is the opening question when we explain what we do. And you know that people cannot believe that it’s possibly a good idea. And I suppose I’m always slightly shocked by that because that’s what I grew up with. I’m surprised that people kiss each other goodbye at 7.30 in the morning, go in a completely opposite direction, get on a different tube line or a bus or a car and don’t see each other until that night. I find that weird.
LS Well, I know, and I think most people that ask that question do it from a personal experience perspective of, you know, their relationship and whether they think they could spend all that time together. But there is a serious point to this which is when we very first looked at crowdfunding investment and stood in front of people, you know, one of the things that came up was that a lot of investors see it as a negative purely from a security point of view.
So, whereas our friends may joke about how hard it is to stay together and, you know, work together actually from a serious business point of view there are investors that look at it and go, I’m not so sure about that, you know, you’re adding an extra layer of complexity to, you know, that business, you know, if you fall out that’s going to affect the business. I have to say, in our defence, and as Kirstie’s dad pointed out I think it can be spun the other way which is we are way more committed to each other and way more wed to this idea than maybe two friends or two business partners that come together.
And there are countless cases of business partners falling out and actually they have nothing other than the business. So, you know, it’s easier... in a way it’s easier for them to fall out. Arguably I see their point that we bring an emotional level to the business which can be challenging. And we would both say that’s probably the one downside is that our emotions get involved probably more often than they should.
KA Yes, we’ll save that point we’re coming back to that one. But, yes, I mean, I can remember we stood in front of an investment board and these were people advising we weren’t asking them for the money they were advising us on helping us get money. And they categorically said, it is a massive black mark against you. And like we said we argued that back and they were like, no, still it’s a black mark.
So, that is one thing to consider if you were thinking about doing this. You might want to consider that if you are going down an angel investment route with your business or think that you might do at some point that to be ready for that. And then their second question thereafter logically is, okay, if we can get past the fact that you’re Mr and Mrs we believe that companies are only truly successful if there is a very clear leader and MD, so, who is it? Which one of you is really in charge? And you can imagine we both, kind of, looked at each other and giggled slightly.
But that’s what they will want to know next, like, they genuinely believe that you can’t be half an MD each. That in every layer of business, legality, finance there needs to be an MD and that one of you has got to named as that which is quite difficult because in a marriage it’s just the, like, rule that you would never do you’re never... Everyone always jokes that the women are bossy and in charge but at truth it’s meant to be equal whereas somehow when you then put it in a business they’re saying actually, no, you’ve got to choose.
LS Yes, very true, I mean, let’s start with a positive which is Kirstie and I have done this for ten years and...
KA We’re still alive.
LS And I would dream of doing it for the next ten years. So, for us there’s, you know, not to give the game away, for us, there’s no doubt.
KA Okay, let’s do the good bits then.
LS Yes, there’s no doubt that for us it’s the right decision and that we enjoy more often than not spending time together and experiencing it together. And I have to say on this note there are people that are entrepreneurs and whatever you want to take that, you know, to mean but people that start up their own business is where one person in a couple has started, you know, their own business and the other person hasn’t. And I think that can cause problems as well because it’s quite all encompassing.
And while there are points where we will wonder if we could ever separate either to work or life there certainly is the benefit of, you know, that there is someone there that knows everything and, you know, essentially for one of a better phrase has your back. You know, they’re never not going to want to talk about a bad day at work because it’s their bad day at work and they’re never not going to want to celebrate their successes because it’s their successes. So, there at least isn’t in some ways, you know, every strength is a weakness but...
KA And if one of you has to go above and beyond and is pulling 16, 18-hour days or has to work straight through a weekend you... the other one is never going to stamp their feet and say, what about our family, what about our life, what about this because you’re doing it for the same reason. Like, actually you look at the other one and go, I am so grateful it’s not me going. I’m going to stay here you enjoy your Saturday and Sunday in the office.
LS Yes, or if you could, you know, if you could do it for the other person you would. So, that’s another benefit there’s not much in our business which isn’t transferrable. So, if somebody’s had a hard day the other person can go and do it for them.
KA I think having full understanding of the other person’s journey is the huge thing. Like, we watch countless friends where one of them or both of them have very, very successful careers but they are very different lives. And actually there’s no way someone can fully understand what you go through every day at work. So, there is always a bit of you that is separate which you could pretty much put on the either side and say that’s what’s required as a human being. Any other positives we can see?
LS For us there’s been a massive positive in terms of work life balance in the early years of our children. That is a personal thing plenty of people with jobs manage that as well so it’s not exclusive. But certainly from our point of view I think given that I’ve been able to do, you know, a huge amount with the children and Kirstie’s been able to keep focused on work which is something she’s passionate about. I think that’s worked well for us.
KA Yes, I hope you wouldn’t mind me saying, and I joke about this frequently, but I do think that it has been a huge bonus for the boy side in the relationship in that I don’t know many dads of our range mid thirties that have 50/50 shared the upbringing of their children and that can be there at five o’clock and don’t miss bath time. Granted at 7.30 he starts working again until midnight or gets up at five a.m. to work. But he still gets to do the bath bit and as you said it’s so easy to see it from your own perspective and so there has been quite a lot of time where I’ve felt that you’ve bonused hugely from that. But at the same point I’ve never had to give up who I am.
LS Yes, so, I think again it’s a challenge to maintain your individuality but I think for us certainly this has been the right route and that has allowed us to do it.
KA Yes, and we wanted to, kind of, well, we were talking about this to really give some advice if you are thinking about it the things to think about or whether it’s right. And in short it is a case by case basis, like, it will come down hugely to your personalities. Talking of personalities do you think that our personalities are different at work to home?
LS No, not really, I mean, one of the pieces of advice that we were given is the basis of our, you know, our current skincare brand and our up and coming men’s skincare brand is honesty. And whether that will, you know, whether everyone will agree I certainly think that we have benefitted from having a sometimes brutally honest relationship. And that has actually started at home; we had that relationship before we started working together.
And if anything, that has at least allowed us to have discussions that, you know, possibly could have been skipped or, you know, might have been easier not to have. And actually, it’s come more the other way that we’re more like ourselves. The bigger risk for us is we’re more like ourselves at work than we maybe should be. As in at home I don’t think we bring a lot home that wasn’t there already. We were very equal and we were very honest, we were very driven to achieve things. You know, we’d have the odd disagreement but solve it pretty, you know, quickly.
KA Yes, as a couple we were never one of those couples that, like, then wouldn’t speak for 24 hours if they’d had an argument. It would have been ten minutes at the tops and then it’d be fixed.
LS Yes, and so that, you know, that’s good. The only downside of that at work is we sometimes being honest bring stuff to work more often than not, so, actually for us it works the other way.
KA Yes, and this is the irony I actually think our weakness is exactly that it’s the wrong way round. We don’t take it home we sometimes behave badly at work in essence.
LS Yes, because it’s hard to delineate the difference between being at home and work.
KA So, shall we go to the bad bits then?
LS Yes, that is definitely... Jules [?] in the office who’s editing this would definitely agree with that and we put our hands up. The guys in the office next door are thoroughly amused by us at times.
KA We do literally have little pep talks to ourselves at points where we’re, like, right, we may really need to behave.
LS May not be for public consumption.
KA And I do think that currently it’s possibly to do with the site of our business currently as well. We are in an open plan office; there are literally no more than four people at one point ever sitting here. So, it is very relaxed and that’s part of what’s lovely but it does mean that then we behave like husband and wife more than we probably truly should. My hope is to fast forward to a bigger office with a glass box we can possibly just lock ourselves in. And then they can just see us shouting at each other. They can just lip synch what’s going on, that would be preferable.
LS Yes, I mean, I’m sure there’ll be... well, I’m hoping there’ll be people that have worked with us outside the office that would argue that we deliver professionalism and are very good at adapting to the environment. And as we said, largely, our office feels a bit probably too much like home. So, it’s great because we’ll have lunch together and we’ll get on and I think it does breed good, you know, honesty. However, we’re pretty good when we step out of the door of representing the business and, you know, switching on to the face of the brand.
So, I think that’s a challenge I think finding the right places, you know, to behave because, you know, for someone, you know, for our lawyer friends or barrister friends there’s only ever one image. Whereas as a business owner anyway, you know, whether that be on your own or as a couple that’s the one of the challenges is to be able to adapt because you can be at one point the face of the brand and then the next point helping someone, you know, unload a container because someone’s been ill. And you’re, you know, you’re doing something practical and you just want to pitch in and be one of the team.
KA I think and I think our... if I had to pick the worst thing about it I think it’s different to Luke’s, I think we’ll come to Luke’s next. I think that would be my biggest problem and it’s just the fact that it is so difficult to maintain your corporate work version of yourself. And I know that I will speak to Luke or say things to Luke and he will do so back to me that I would never dream of doing to anyone in the team that I work with. And I think what’s...
LS I don’t think they’d be around very long.
KA I think what’s really annoying is that I think... I think that actually man management is something I really like and fostering the right relationship and elements in people. And it just doesn’t seem possible between the two of us. And, so, sometimes you, instead of being continually constructive, you are literally like it’s the complete opposite way round. There was an example last week which was just one of the most mesmerising experiences in my life where I was trying to understand what Luke had put in his spreadsheet. And because I wasn’t saying the right word he wanted me to say he just continually ripped me apart whereas I obviously had full understanding of it.
LS Which is the point I made earlier about stuff from home coming to work because if you live with someone that never says the right word and in fact normally adds three other words in front of it, that’s okay.
KA I like an adjective.
LS That’s okay in terms of you’re trying to be clear about whether they understand the point. So, yes, that is challenge.
KA Yes, so, that for me would be my top one. And I think second in line, and if you are considering working with your partner or loved one is the other major challenge I think is decision making. It goes back to what the investment board were saying about who is the MD, who is the power of veto where is the power of veto because there’s two of you. Two is not a good number.
LS No, it’s the prisoner’s dilemma when it comes to voting, you know, you oddly and we have had many discussions over the ten years about this. And I think, dare I say it, we have come to a solution because we did struggle for a very long time with us because we all believed that or I believed that, and this is my biggest bug bear, decision making has been my biggest bug bear. The time it takes to make decisions, the amount of committees, the length of conversations, the fact that you largely know what decision is going to be made but you still have to have the conversation.
KA Typically Luke is an alpha male and he likes to just go, yes, it’s that one. I am the complete opposite, I am creative, eclectic collector of information and don’t want to make any decision until I have drawn it in ten different colours and have decided.
LS Kirstie once asked me if she could have a snow globe that would tell her the answer and then she’d be able to make a decision. So, that’s the sort of...
KA Yes, I would like to know the answer and then I’ll do it.
LS Yes, however, that being said we have worked at it over the years.
KA But we actually have to work at it and this is the key thing.
We have to analyse ourselves and so that’s quite a frequent occurrence you’ll see within our relationship is. And this isn’t happening as Mr and Mrs, like, it is happening about work.
LS And we would just fine before we started working together.
KA Yes, Mr and Mrs we’re awesome.
LS No, so, one of the...that first appeared for me was that we thought that we had this massive issue of not being able to make decisions. We thought we never made decisions and I felt that and I think that was definitely my prejudice. But we felt that we never made decisions.
KA And that you weren’t getting anywhere.
LS We weren’t getting there but actually what you don’t realise is when you both agree and one’s in [unclear] when you both agree there’s no discussion or at least it’s very brief and therefore you don’t see a decision being made. It feels like there was a decision because you both agree and you move on.
KA And it happened so quickly it was done.
LS And if you’re both disagreeing that will result in the same thing. And actually that was happening and obviously must have happened a lot for us to get where we are, yes, and we do agree, agree on a huge amount. So, what was happening was that a small disagreement was being blown out of all proportion purely based on the numbers which is when one person went one way and the other person went the other way you are at deadlock.
KA You are stalemate.
LS It is X Factor deadlock without Simon Cowell to break deadlock.
KA And because in truth we don’t run it as the investor board suggests and we didn’t have an MD then what would happen to that decision is that it would just get left.
LS Well, so, there’s another point to come back to in terms of advising people that might try this which is dividing up mere roles. And that’s not necessarily the MD element of it but that is just picking roles that you’re responsible for.
KA A true job description.
LS Yes and that’s what we’ll back to. But actually we did try the MD element of it because obviously we’ve got the men’s skincare launching and Pinks Boutique. So, we did try that but it still is quite difficult to achieve because you have to hand over complete control and somebody...
KA If you could see my face.
LS Somebody is not as good as that. I’m not brilliant at it but I can do it. Kirstie would I think admit that.
KA I am, as I frequently say, brutally honest I have the most horrific personality trait in that I tend to be indecisive but I am utterly controlling.
LS It is like the complete, like, it’s like a rock and a hard place. It’s like I can’t make a decision because I don’t know what the answer is because I don’t... can’t read the future. But I’m very unlikely to agree with anyone else’s decision or let someone else make it so...
KA So, we tried MD of girls and MD of boys that didn’t go that well.
LS No, which kind of surprised me but again I see why. And so what we have come to now which...
KA Bear in mind this has taken ten years of different reiterations and different versions of who is in charge of what and who is not in charge of what.
LS And I certainly am not suggesting that in the first attempt this will work for everyone. But I think if you know the person and in this case obviously you would because you’re married to them. You might be able to understand this before you go into it which is and what we found is, is there someone that’s more decisive than the other person, you know, and is that other person that’s maybe less decisive still got a strong opinion. And what we’ve found is that or what we developed is the power of veto.
So, we basically have come up with the concept that for decisions where we both don’t clearly agree or disagree and we know that a decision has to be made, a strong decision ultimately I get to make the decision. So, I like to make decisions, I’m willing to live with the consequences and so at any point where we know we’ve reached stalemate I will put a case forward for the decision that I’ve made and basically that’s it unless Kirstie is 100% sure that it’s wrong.
And I know that sounds odd because she’s not that decisive but actually that’s... it’s very true if you’re ever trying to make a decision and you can’t really decide we always find when we’ve... we’ve always tried this before actually toss a coin. So, heads or tails you say right we’ll let the coin decide. There’s a great book called The Dice Man which I suggest everyone reads based on the same theory. You take a coin and you say right heads this, heads is A, tails is B and you toss it. And when it lands you will get a gut reaction as to whether it’s the decision you wanted or not.
And so there is a gut decision in there and basically if Kirstie feels that gut decision is so strong that she just cannot agree with my decision then we go with hers. And then that way someone’s made a strong decision which is what the business needs. And if it wasn’t my strong decision originally who was willing to take responsibility Kirstie’s power of veto means that she thinks it’s important enough that she then takes responsibility of that decision. And I know that she believes in it enough that then I trust the decision as well. I think that’s pretty good.
KA Yes, and I mean we’ve had to work on that in terms of our personalities. We’ve worked alongside other people where for instance we know a couple Dan whose done lots of work, social media work. He and his wife worked together and say they’ll never, ever, ever do it again. Whereas I think he would say he is very strongly opinionated and very decisive and she was possibly more placid. And so actually all they got is they got, like, him doing all the deciding side and it was causing a real unbalance in them.
So, it does... basically you need to sit down with a piece of paper and, this would be the same even if you weren’t married if you were just partners or to be fair even if you’re friends going to do this. You need to be really brutal about your personalities and have two lists, one which jobs and elements you are going to be responsible for, which bits are yours to control on a daily basis and bring to your weekly or monthly meetings however frequently you have those.
But also really, really analyse your personas and work out what you think is going to be good about those, what you think isn’t going to be so good about those. Because actually that’s the bit as we’ve found that, kind of, gets you on a frequent or day to day basis. And it’s no different to having people that work with you in a team. At the end of the day it’s all about personalities.
LS Yes, it’s all about team.
KA So, would you recommend it to people?
LS Kirstie asked me this question earlier off tape and in an absolute instant I said, no.
KA It was really categoric.
LS I was, like, no, and Kirstie looked at me and this comes back to using the right phraseology. And Kirstie looked at me as if to say are you suggesting that we’ve made a mistake. And what I reminded her of was the question she asked was would I recommend it to someone else. I 100% know that we have made the right decision of that I have no doubt. Would I recommend it to someone else I think Kirstie has just [unclear] to it I really wouldn’t recommend it to someone else without knowing a huge amount about the situation and what their goals and aspirations were. And my instinct would be to say that for most couples it’s probably not the right thing, that’s my instinct. So, I would say no to recommending it.
KA However, particularly in the beauty world but actually you could argue this in lots of business. In the beauty industry, there is an uncanny amount of husband and wife teams. Like, it’s, I mean, you walk down the front row of a show stand at ExCeL beauty show you’ve got the Suites [?], CND, Suites wed, Mr and Mrs Sam [?], you’ve got... you then go to Jessica and you’ve got team Gerrards [?] entire family, yes, you look with inside Organic, Pai [?] they are Mr and Mrs, Voyeur [?] are a Mr and Mrs pair, like, it is really, really common in beauty.
LS And that... and not just to generalise but that may have something to do with obviously in terms of, sort of, history, cosmetics has been largely female dominated. But I think from what we’ve described as well people have different skillsets which comes back to the point we’re making and it’s really helpful to have people that are passionate about different things. So, you know, I like numbers and I like plans and I like strategies and I like logistics and Kirstie likes...
KA I like design, I like the customer front facing, I like...
LS She’s fantastic at sales.
KA Training and I like selling stuff.
LS And when you put the two together you have a pretty good team. So, I think that again is just our experience but I think if you looked across the board at those other brands doing it that’s a similar balance. So, that would be one of the other pieces of advice we discussed earlier which would be very clearly defining roles. And that we found relatively quickly probably two or three years in. Obviously I was playing rugby still to start with so I had, you know, a less full on role.
But once we became full on that was one thing that we did, you know, for two reasons, one to stop conflict to stop having to, sort of, second guess and give up some control. And two because you’re just more efficient, you know, sometimes two heads aren’t better than one. And if, you know, if somebody’s doing a sales meeting or if somebody’s ordering stock or doing the maths actually it’s probably best if they take the lead on that and obviously they inform the other person and keep them involved.
And that has definitely been, if you look at our business now definitely been a strength in the last, you know, four or five years but certainly in the last couple of years. So, yes, that would be something I would do quite early on. It’s a very hard thing to do because you want to and most times you always end up doing a little bit of everything. But one of the benefits of having someone else in the business that you trust is that, you know, you can give them some of the jobs, you can delegate, you know, and that’s early on that’s quite helpful.
KA And so that’s it, kind of, from us. I think we’ve looked at the good bits, we’ve looked at the bad bits. We know which bit I dislike the most, which bit Luke dislikes the most.
LS But Kirstie avoided the question of whether she’d recommend it or not.
KA Would I recommend it, yes as long as you really... and this goes for married or unmarried or partners. As long as it is logical for that business to have those two people.
Like, that’s the other way just turn it round, think of it from a business perspective. And despite the fracas Luke and I may find ourselves in occasionally if you just blanked out our names and put us in a line up and didn’t know who we were and listed out our skillsets I would pick us for the set of leading people that is needed in this business. Hence we’re probably both still here.
LS I think that’s as close to a compliment on the record that I’ve ever had so we’re going to leave it on a high note, yay! I basically just got hired, that’s awesome. That’s my first ever job interview.
KA And if you were in any doubt and pondering that decision of who technically has the MD badge, yay, it’s me.
LS Well, it’s true because I have only ever had one job interview so that’s the other reason why this is such a great decision because I avoided having anymore job interviews.
KA Yes, and I was, like, yes, it was mine in the beginning.
LS Bring it on then skincare.
KA So, we hope we’ve given you a bit of an insight into a bit more truthful Kirstie and Luke life and world. So, you now know that we’re completely happy and safe at home and that occasionally we can be a bit of a pain in the arse in the office. And that we need a bigger office and more frequent pep talks with ourselves. But fundamentally we’re never going to change it to the point that even on bad days where we discuss whether one of us should have ever not done this and gone and got a job. Honestly the major reason that has never occurred and will never occur is because we both look at each other and go, oh, but then we’d have to go in different directions at eight o’clock in the morning. And that’s not going to happen.
LS That would be rubbish.
KA Yes, and so that is it, so, thank you so much and we look forward to you joining us next time.