America’s relentless cynicism toward corporate culture is well-known and deserved. All it takes to remember this is one episode of “The Office.”
Ruskin Kwofie’s famous quote continues to resonate in our time: “Leave your problems at work at work and your problems at home at home. You will have one problem to solve at a time.”
The other side of the coin is the obsession with discussing “work-life balance,” at once a myth and a utopian ideal, like Inbox Zero.
Entrepreneurial success stories abound with ruined marriages, like Elon Musk’s, and, at the same time, spouses like Laurene Jobs that were supportive from home or the removal of a different company and profession.
As such, it is always a surprise to see a husband-and-wife team not just working together on a business, but actively building it through a unified mission.
I sat down with Grant Findlay-Shirras, CEO of Parkbench.com, a platform that empowers real estate professionals to become local leaders through neighborhood-focused websites, to discuss his company and unique approach to building a tech company with his co-founder wife, Amanda.
Q: What’s your backstory? What brought you to building Parkbench?
A: Back in 2012, Amanda and I had a challenge. We needed to build our brand and get more clients in our neighborhood, quickly and easily.
Amanda was a new realtor in Toronto with a big database of friends. She was trying to figure out how to convert those relationships into clients and referrals without being salesy and cheesy.
As for me, I was running a fitness company with dozens of personal trainers, trying to teach them how to build their business close to home. My disadvantage was that I wasn’t from Toronto. I had no spheres of influence, no database, and all the traditional marketing methods and coaching programs were old-school. Furthermore, both of us had built our business on relationships and referrals, so investing in print marketing and online advertising didn’t make sense.
Looking back, we should have invested in relationship- and referral-based marketing systems. The two of us thrive in front of people, so we should have found ways to spend our money on items of value to get us in front of more people. We wanted to create passive income through referrals for ourselves and our network, which meant we needed to find a way to give massive value to people up front. We had to build a massive brand that everyone liked and trusted. And we needed a massive database of people to use us and refer us.
There was no compelling solution to combine these elements out on the market, so Amanda and I had to build it, which is how Parkbench was born.
Q: What is your mission at Parkbench?
A: We help relationship- and referral-based realtors, who specialize in a specific geographic area, build their brand and business, quickly, easily, and in an enjoyable way. Our mission is to give a step-by-step marketing system that guarantees a realtor will become the go-to local real estate expert on the market, if they follow it. We use technology to be more human and leverage the online world to create more face-to-face interactions offline. We’re making realtors relevant again in their neighborhoods by turning them into local leaders.
Q: What are your thoughts on work-life balance?
A: Work life balance doesn’t exist. It’s all about creating a life that has a mix of work, health, and relationships.
I believe that thinking about how to balance work and life is the biggest problem in this discussion! That’s because when you’re thinking about how to balance the two, you’re presupposing that you’re out of balance, which makes you unhappy. All I focus on is what and when I want to start, stop, and keep going, how to have an even better life, and I want to empower everyone around me to do the same.
“Building a Company Culture” is business jargon that helps create “co-workers,” and co-workers too often make up a losing team. Building a lifestyle for the people in your company creates deep friendships, and that really makes everyone part of your family. If you look at every single great championship team that’s won multiple championships, it consisted of people who considered themselves a family, a group of brothers and sisters, not “just teammates.”
We don’t have a “company culture.” We enable a lifestyle that the people working with us can choose to live, and we invite others to join us.
“Don’t mix your professional and personal life” is the worst piece of advice. You communicate better and faster when you have a personal and professional bond with the people you work with. And the speed and quality of the communication inside a company is directly proportional to its success.
Q: Why do you think it’s a great idea for a founder to work with his or her spouse? Also, practically speaking, how do you make it work, day to day?
A: Where some people (e.g. investors) think it’s a weakness to work with your spouse, Amanda and I KNOW it’s our superpower.
Co-founders who are just friends just go home after work and are no longer talking about their business, never developing a sufficient intimacy and fluency of thought and communication with each other. Amanda and I think and talk through problems more quickly and efficiently because we don’t have the same barriers with each other.
The speed at which Amanda and I can talk (and definitely sometimes yell) through issues, then move on, is one of our strengths, and it’s largely due to us (now) being married.
We believe that a married couple working on building the same business has a stronger dimension to their relationship that makes them less likely to get divorced. Couples that have separate lives and careers and hobbies and interests are definitely more likely to get divorced, like so many couples we know.
One of the best things that makes our relationship work while we build a business together is that we’re obsessed with self-development. We read books, watch videos, listen to audiobooks, and attend seminars and conferences together, learn how to become better humans and how to improve our relationship. When things get out of control, we know we still love each other, we still have the same goals and interests, and sometimes we just need a reminder that our business will sort itself out, and we need to focus on our marriage.