Love is the driving force – in a marriage and a startup

I was at a wedding reception on Saturday, third time lucky for the couple following Covid postponements. The groom was from Burnley and the bride from Haugesund, Norway. It was held in a Methodist Church Hall with traditional dark wood tables and chairs, but set alight with a vibrant atmosphere of celebration and noise, born from the warmth and intimacy of belonging and togetherness that humanity creates.

It was a Norwegian wedding, and on each table was a huge basket of fjellbrød – a nutritious Norwegian bread – there are all sorts of seeds in it, made from a mixture of whole-wheat and rye flour and rolled oats – and an even bigger bowl of fresh, huge Norwegian shrimps. I was looking forward to getting stuck into the quivering crustaceous flesh.

The groom and his groomsmen wore Norwegian bunad, a traditional, woollen suit with short pants, a vest, and a topcoat. It was intricate and colourful. The bride wore a white brudekjole (wedding gown) with a bridal crown, a treasured family heirloom made out of silver with small spoon-shaped bangles attached. Whenever the bride moved her head, the spoons made a tinkling sound, which in Norwegian tradition wards-off evil spirits.

Throughout the reception, we had a cavalcade of speeches and toasts as the family and guests took turns to tell stories about the new couple and relate their good wishes. The speeches were spread out over the course of the meal instead of saving them for after everyone has eaten. They were emotional and heartfelt. And what is a wedding without a cake? There was a traditional Norwegian wedding cake – a Kransekake, or a tower cake. It’s an almond-based ring cake stacked in layers to form a pyramid covered with icing and topped with fruit and decorations.

I also know that confetti costs two pounds a bag – it had to be Vintage Rose Pink and White Heart Biodegradable Tissue Paper Wedding Throwing Confetti. A bag of fragrant boil-in-the-bag jasmine rice from Aldi wasn’t approved by my wife.

Back to the shrimps. As a table of six, we got to work on the mountain of seafood, emptying the flimsy shells faster than a skilled fishwife. The cold bits of pink flesh were washed down with Lervig Aktiebryggeri Stout. At 13%, no wonder the Vikings were fierce fighters. Then just before I disappeared completely behind a pile of husks, a hush fell over the room and in strode a large bearded man.

He introduced himself as Toralf, a lubricous man with a hangdog expression, he took to the stage. He was a Norwegian standup comedian. Interesting wedding entertainment! As he was from Norway, half the gathering didn’t get a word he said, the other half were rolling around with ribald laughter, but I was not concerned, as I was busy scoffing and drinking. Shrimps and Lervig. Toralf was going down well, but not half as well as the shrimps. You could have covered me in Thousand Island dressing, laid me on a bed of lettuce and I’d have passed for the starter on any wedding breakfast menu.

I struck upon a conversation with a bloke from Utsire, which I found out was a lump of rock in the North Sea off the west coast of Norway. I don’t think I’d ever spoken to a Norwegian before. After chatting, he said he had to go – and ten minutes later, the curtain opened and he reappeared on stage as a Norwegian folk ensemble struck up. The room was quickly filled with whirling figures, rosy cheeks shining caught in the candlelight, and laughter rising above the music.

The English contingent were noticeably agog, sitting and watching, but a brave Norwegian woman asked me to dance and whisked me from my seat and whirled me around the dance floor. Given that I dance about as well as a squirrel plays the piano, this was a selfless act on her part.  My shrimp ‘n ale fuelled attempts at staying on my feet went well, even if I say so myself. The lady was Wenche (pronounced ‘Venker’), from Stavanger. I thought they had played in the UEFA Cup some years ago but Wenche didn’t know. End of conversation.

Norwegian folk music filled the room, and Wenche gave me a running commentary on the instrumental, vocals and dancing. I learned that as a rule, instrumental folk music is dance music – slåtter – whilst Norwegian folk dances are social dances, such as the halling.  We lurched into traditional wedding dances (bygdedans), then the band moved into Sami music and a particular vocal style called joik, a sound comparable to the traditional chanting of the Native Americans Indian.

Exhausted, the lights came on, the night had to end, the floor awash with folks awash with shrimp. The air was warm with laughter and back-slapping. Brexit? Hey, I prefer the Norwegian model. It was a great night, a traditional, somewhat ‘old fashioned’ evening, filled with people talking and enjoying good company, storytelling, banter. People being people. Twenty years ago I’m sure Toralf and Wenche could become pen pals, but today we’d probably default to a WhatsApp group.

Long-term commitment. In sickness and in health. Through good times and bad. The statements we commonly associate with marriage and for good reason. A marriage needs that kind of emotional investment to survive the many ups and downs life throws our way.  Marriage needs strong pillars to survive the many ups and downs of life.

Those underlying principles of a strong marriage can also be applied to a very different kind of passion project: a startup. In fact, the pillars of a successful marriage can pave the road to taking a startup from its initial all-consuming flurry (the honeymoon period), the continued romance (early customers) to a successful and sustainable business (a healthy long term relationship).

Elon Musk once said that starting a company is like chewing on glass and staring into the abyss, and from what the divorce statistics tell us, marriages can be the same. But I’m here to tell you a little secret: great co-founder relationships – like great marriages – can make even the worst times feel fun and bearable, sitting together at the bottom of the pit on your lowest day and telling each other that it’s going to be okay.

So, let’s look into the eyes of the bride and groom from Saturday, and see what parallels there are between the recipe for a great marriage and a startup.

Love Is the driving force Love and passion are different things, but when combined together, they create a foundation for a long and successful relationship. Passion ignites the flame, consuming your thoughts in the early stages and laying the foundation for a close relationship. But when it comes down to it, love is what makes it possible to persevere and work through difficult times.

A successful startup undergoes a similar process: First, passion sparks an idea, attracts great talent and early customers. Love, from the founder down, infuses confidence, stability and a desire to help products reach market and evolve over time. Without love and passion, it’s difficult to translate those initial discussion stages of a startup’s high burst of energy into a tangible startup venture.

Love recognises no barriers, it jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination, full of hope. I hope you feel the same way about your startup!

Commitment surfs the twists, turns and turmoil Marriage requires commitment through the unexpected, the roller coaster of highs and lows. Building a startup requires hard work, with an eye on both the immediate and big picture. That means sticking through hiccups both small and large.

Without a sense of commitment, it is difficult to achieve success in either a marriage or startup. When everyone is working together for the common goal, we can truly move mountains and tackle just about anything together.

Communication In a marriage, without communication, resentments fester, messages mix, and a minor annoyance can quickly grow into a toxic situation. In a startup, the founder should encourage a culture of open communication, both internally and externally. This allows everyone, from engineers to marketing, to hold the vision, purpose and focus, and move forward executing as a team.

My most important four words early in my marriage were easy to say: I’ll do the dishes. My wife, Sue, and I have been married for thirty-four years, and not once have we had crossed-words serious enough to consider divorce. Murder, yes, but divorce, never.

Healthy habits provide a joint anchor In a marriage, keeping up healthy habits is encouraged, not just so you can enjoy a long life together, but also so you can avoid any relationship issues that might create a preventable burden on your loved one. So finding time for each other amidst a hectic work and family life is a good habit.

You can foster healthy habits at your company by creating a culture of trust, collaboration, and inclusiveness, by having no hierarchy in the organisation structure. Advocating personal development and growth encourages engagement, enabling long-term connectivity.

Rome wasn’t built in a day Successful marriages aren’t built overnight. The same goes for businesses. Without the requisite time needed to truly nurture a startup business model across all its elements it will likely fail. It’s not about speed, it’s about spending your time wisely.

Relationships are nurtured over time with empathy and consideration, both parties investing in understanding and getting to know their partners. You need to carve out and invest dedicated time with your spouse for a healthy marriage. Similarly, successful startups are not built overnight, they require curation and patience.

Nothing is perfect Many founders are overwhelmed by trying to build their perfect version of their startup in six-month, or even better, like yesterday. They quickly realise that was impossible even if they had all the funding in the world. It’s the same for a marriage, it won’t be 100% perfect. And you know what I’ve learned? Hiccups make for good recoveries. Hiccups make moments memorable. Imperfection creates opportunity, to fix something, to rise to the occasion, to save the day or whatever – on both your marriage and startup.

Marriage is a wonderful invention, then again, so is the bicycle repair kit, but it offers us insights and parallels to a successful co-founder relationship. They say don’t marry the person you think you can live with, marry the individual you think you can’t live without. Apply the same to choosing a co-founder.

Marriage has no guarantees. If that’s what you’re looking for, buy a toaster. Some mornings my wife wakes up grumpy, and some mornings she just lets me sleep. We married for better or worse. I couldn’t have done better, and she couldn’t have done worse.

It’s true what the mermaids sing, its love makes us blind. Don’t ever forget we’re living in extraordinary times – either your relationship or your startup. But all joking aside, wherever you are on either your own personal relationship or startup journey, I’d heartily recommend fjellbrød, shrimps and Lervig Aktiebryggeri Stout to bring light, energy and optimism to your heartbeat and mindset.

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