I cofounded a tech startup with my husband. Here are 4 ways we balance being a couple and business partners.

I cofounded a tech startup with my husband. Here are 4 ways we balance being a couple and business partners.
Josh and Shanea Leven are the cofounders of tech startup CodeSee.Courtesy photo
  • Shanea Leven is the CEO of CodeSee, a developer startup that she cofounded with her husband Josh.
  • Going into business with your partner can be great if you set the right boundaries, says Leven.

It always makes me smile to see people's surprised reactions to learning that my husband Josh and I are also business partners. We married in May 2018 and cofounded our developer tool company, CodeSee, in 2019.

I'm the CEO and Josh is the CTO. Together, we run the company and its global team from our San Francisco apartment.

While our situation often inspires intrigue in others, it's not entirely unique. In fact, several notable tech entities have been formed by founders like us. There's Diane Greene and Mendel Rosenblum who cofounded IT company VMware and led the company together for over a decade, Rashmi Sinha and Jon Boutelle who launched SlideShare and later sold it to LinkedIn, and many others.

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Whether in marriage or business, every partnership requires balance. Spouses and startups can successfully coexist as long as each partner takes steps to minimize complications, set boundaries, and maximize the health of their personal and professional relationship.

This is something Josh and I realized from the start and take care to remember often, especially as our business has grown. Here are four things we do to balance being both a couple and business partners.


1. Define your roles and responsibilities

Setting clear expectations for individual roles and responsibilities between you and your cofounder should be a topmost objective and something you ideally address at the outset. This will help you avoid role confusion and disputes and allow you to move through business decisions with minimal friction.

In our case, I oversee how we build the business and product and Josh manages all software engineering matters. We both voice our opinions, but when a line is drawn in our respective areas of focus, it's drawn clearly and decisively.

2. Talk about how you're going to talk about work

It can be challenging to maintain boundaries in conversations with your cofounding partner. Josh and I sometimes struggle to delineate between husband-wife and CEO-CTO topics, and a heated business discussion can start to feel personal — particularly when it occurs during off hours.

It's helpful to preemptively set expectations for topics of discussion and schedule time to connect outside of work. When you're married to your cofounder, taking time to simply be human together in conversation is an important part of seeing and understanding one another.

In our case, the company is an ever-present, meaningful part of the life we're building together, so we're fine allowing CodeSee topics to enter our normal conversations. But depending on your relationship, setting limits for business discussions like "No shop talk after 6 p.m." can be a good way to establish balance.


3. Prioritize downtime

Starting a company can be all consuming, so it's important to protect your off-work hours. We love CodeSee, but also realize the risks associated with failing to find time for each other and our individual hobbies.

This has taken shape in a few ways throughout our relationship. When we're able, we enjoy taking time off to travel. Day to day, downtime can look much simpler — lately, we've refocused on our fitness and now go on a morning run together to connect before the workday begins.

4. Communicate with intention

Josh and I communicate well, but going into business together required a more intentional approach. We've sought guidance on communication from other cofounding duos along the way and discovered a range of helpful resources, including the book, "Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High," which has definitely improved our ability to recognize and address each other's needs.

One of our favorite tips from the book is to seek a "mutual purpose." For us, this can be as simple as beginning conversations with "My intention is …" to remind each other that we're invested in finding mutual goals. This has been a helpful best practice for us.

When you launch a company with your partner and collaborate to see it thrive, you're building so much more than a business. You're also building a bond — one that has the potential to expand and thrive along with your venture if you're committed to nurturing its resilience.


Shanea Leven is the CEO of CodeSee, a developer platform that helps developers and development teams better understand codebases. She cofounded the platform with her husband, CTO Josh Leven.