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These Couples Power Atlanta’s Tech Scene

by Holly Beilin

“Love what you do,” may be the most commonly-offered piece of career advice the world over — and it’s particularly critical in the startup or tech scene where long nights, weekend hours, and multiple rejections are the norm. But there’s an added element when not only must you love your job, but the one you love is who you do it with.

While some might assume the love/work combo might be more of a challenge than it’s worth, these couples have found that working with a shared professional passion actually helps keep the flame of both their relationship and their careers kindled. Whether it’s helping each other with photography for their respective startups, or going all in as co-founders together, Hype sought out the best advice from couples leaning in on the tech scene — together. Here are their stories.

Nikki and Chad Strickland

Nikki and Chad are co-founders of ZELO and Tifosi Workforce Design Studio.


How did you and your significant other meet?

Chad and I met at a restaurant in our neighborhood almost five years ago. We were on a triple date (not with each other), had a fun night, listened to some music, but didn’t actually see each other again for a while. It wasn’t until about four months later, after a couple of breakups, that we started talking and realized that we had a unique connection, and we’ve been together ever since.  I guess it was fate.

When did you decide to go into the startup world together?

Chad and I both left our jobs about eight months ago to start what we call our side “passion project” business together (ZELO — it’s a fitness marketing and media platform). Chad left a $3+ billion company in Buckhead and I left my role at a large tech startup.

Organizational design and culture are passions for us and immersing ourselves into the startup world became a great research project. We know that large organizations are struggling to attract and retain innovative talent. And we also saw that high-growth startups were having trouble scaling their culture and people functions as they grew. In short, this is why we created our agency, Tifosi Workforce Design Studio.

How does your professional and personal life weave together?

Chad and I live very “Type A” structured lives. We are both athletes, avid cyclists, work-a-holies, and workout-a-holics, so we pretty much spend 24/7 together — and it works!  We wake up every morning around 5:00AM with the same routine: workout, have an espresso, walk the dogs and go to work (and then maybe workout at lunch again). Every weekend we wake up early and ride our bikes for 3-4 hours on Saturday and 3-4 hours on Sunday.  Then we prepare for the week ahead and do it all over again. We aren’t big fans of “downtime”, so this lifestyle works for us — we often joke that we share a brain because we enjoy so many of the same things.

What lessons can be applied to both relationships and startups? 

Startups and relationships are very similar.  Without trust and communication, your marriage will fail, and so will your business.  We always tell people that you have to treat your business partner or employees with as much respect as your family, because you actually spend more time with these people. You can get as much funding as you want, but if you don’t have core values based around trust, communication and respect, you will 100% fail (and lose a lot of money along the way).

Lauren and Kevin Patrick

Kevin Patrick is the founder and president at Exomotive, manufacturers of the Mazda Miata-based Exocet. Lauren is Storyteller at Terminus: Account-Based Marketing and Editor of Pretty Southern.

How did you and your significant other meet?

We had a “meet cute!” I was working at Jezebel magazine and needed extra cash to make ends meet so I started working as a dog walker. Kevin — well, Marley, now “our” dog — was one of my first clients. Kevin was going out of town and needed someone to watch Marley. I thought Kevin was cute, and when he came back to see his pup running around with my dog, I said we should have a puppy play date. Kevin asked me to dinner.

How does your professional and personal life weave together?

One of our strengths as a couple is that we’re both ridiculously ambitious. We got married on Oct. 10, 2010 (yes, that’s 10.10.10). In May of 2011, Kevin is the one who came home with a new Mac for me, bought the domain PrettySouthern.com, and told me it was time to go for my dream of becoming a blogger. He taught me how to use WordPress and the basics of HTML. Two months later, Kevin quit his full-time job to go for his dream of building cars!

Fast-forward five years later —  Exomotive is taking off. I’m having a blast working for Terminus. For Exomotive and Pretty Southern, we trade off being each other’s photographers: I’ll shoot Kevin’s Exocets on the racetrack, and he’ll take foodie pictures for me at events. There are a lot of late nights on the couch with our laptops but we both love what we do. Marley and Jones (my dog) are both happy pups, too.

What lessons can be applied to both relationships and startups? 

Work hard, play hard is definitely our mantra. We’re always on the go so we have to be diligent about “just us” time together. Every Friday night is date night, so whether we go out or stay in, that’s our dedicated time each week just for us. We’ve also started thinking about our long-term goals, like where we want to be on Oct. 10, 2020 when we celebrate our 10th anniversary.

Jenn Green and Cori Allen

Jenn is Director of Project Operations at stable|kernel
Cori is Director of Ecommerce and Digital Product at Cobbler Union.
How did you and your significant other meet?

Funnily enough, we met at a conference called Lesbians Who Tech! Cori was volunteering and Jenn was attending.

How do your professional and personal life weave together?

Cori: It’s heaven to be able to talk through product decisions with someone who has so much experience across industries and projects. Jenn is my sounding board, my alternative point of view, my moderator and hype woman. We love Atlanta’s restaurants, so we go to our favorite spots and hash ideas out all night. When I need to be pumped up, when I need my ego checked, I can always bring my fears and gripes and inspirations to her.

What lessons can be applied to both relationships and startups? 

Jenn: Both take a huge amount of commitment. You’re building something from the ground up on the hope that it succeeds unlike any other thing you’ve done previously. In a relationship, there really shouldn’t be any division of roles or work that goes into making it successful. Similarly, at the early development of a startup, be prepared to own the work of 3-4 different jobs.

With a startup and a new relationship, you’re making a gamble and nothing is certain. But optimism and hard work is key. If you want your relationship or startup to succeed, you have to do the work. It’s worth the return that you’ll see years down the road. Finally, if you’ve ever talked to a successful startup founder or a strong couple, you’ll find that passion is a central characteristic for both. As Hunter S. Thompson once said, “Anything that gets your blood racing is probably worth doing.”

Cori: In a relationship and a startup, you can’t coast; it takes focus, energy, and near obsession to create the magic that sustains a successful partnership. Jenn and I have a saying that has become something like a creed for us: first, last, and always. She’s the first thing on my mind when I wake up, she’s the last person I talk to at night, and I am always thinking of her and our goals during the day.

A startup requires that same relentless focus; you have to channel all your creativity, inspiration, and problem solving into building a brand and a team that can go the distance. But the most amazing thing is that the rewards of entrepreneurship and the joy of building a relationship both are exponentially greater than the difficulty of the work you put in. The experience transforms you. There’s no one else I’d rather do the work with.

Kleveland Bishop and Djayla Smith

Kleveland is the CEO and founder of MotivFX and Djayla is the company’s Brand Manager.

How did you meet?

We actually met in Kleveland’s online community! At the time there were around 400 members subscribed and working with him, and Djayala happened to be one of them. It was love at first sight.

How do your professional and personal life weave together?

Djayla: We are together 24/7. I’m not sure how healthy that is, but we love it so far. Kleveland is trading in his community from 5 till 11:30AM, so I have my mornings. But after that we are together till the evening, usually working until midnight, then off to bed. There is never a dull moment with him — everyday is so fresh.

Kleveland: We just see the opportunity that we have and are really passionate about it. It’s hard to not love to do that with your significant other. Who gets tired of their passion?

What lessons can be applied to both relationships and startups? 

Kleveland: I think the most important lesson is the mission. The thing about a startup is that if you know why you’re doing something and put in the time to know what you’re doing, things can grow quick and you reap the benefits, but the contrary is also true. Doing something that at its core doesn’t motivate you will immediately hurt the passion needed to scale it. I’d say the same thing applies in relationships. I understand Djayla’s mission in life and it aligns with mine. I’m wealthier in many more aspects in life then I was without her.

Djayla: Being realistic is also necessary. Cleveland will draw up the big picture for where the company can be, and I’m the one usually pulling us back into an actionable reality. If we have a slow week, I’m drawing up strategies for the next day to improve. I do the same in our relationship. I want to make sure we are doing what we need to do everyday to keep our relationship on track, to being the best it can be.

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