Erring on the Side of Happiness

Not everyone knows, but Common Craft is a two-person, home-based business. We're 100% independent, with zero employees or investors. While we work with specialists by contract, everything that Common Craft does comes from us and impacts only us. This has been our goal since 2006 when Sachi and I started working together and today, we're starting to really understand what it means to be a two person "couple company."

It's not all unicorns and rainbows. Along with our important video-making duties, I am one of two people in the customer support department. Sachi is our head bookkeeper. There's no one else to answer the phone, run errands or follow up on a question. We spend valuable time on things that could easily be done by others, which surely impacts our productivity. But, we are connected directly to our customers.

Work is a constant part of our lives. Business happens over dinner, on walks and off-hours. We don't ever really get away. Instead, we've learned ways to streamline our work, even when we're supposed to be traveling or on vacation. 

Perhaps most importantly, our business is difficult to scale with two people. When headcount is a constraint, fewer business models make sense. So we have to find what works for us. 

These are obviously self-imposed limits and I'm sure most business people would say that we're missing opportunities. It's true, being small means passing on many opportunities and focusing on ones that fit for us. But it also means new perspectives, perspectives that don't make as much sense outside of a couple company.  

Think for a minute about how decisions are made in many businesses. Money is obviously the driving force, which is directly connected to investor and shareholder interests. Business leaders make hard decisions every day, ones focused on increasing the health of the business. Of course, this is responsible and rational behavior.

But what if there is another perspective, one that is unique to companies like Common Craft? What if, along with money and business health, a driving force of every decision is happiness among the founders? This is how we've learned to operate - our happiness as a home-based unit is perhaps the most important thing for our business and something directly connected to long-term financial success. When we look at opportunities, we ask ourselves - will this make us happy? If this opportunity comes to fruition, will we still be able to live the life we want to live? 

Of course, it's not just happiness. This is really a strategy to prevent its evil twin, unhappiness, from rearing its head. Unhappiness, in the context of a married couple's work together, is poison. Business success wouldn't matter if we stopped enjoying our life together.

So we've been very deliberate about how we run Common Craft. We don't have employees because we don't want an HR department. Instead, we've found a business model (video licensing) that scales without employees.  We don't have an office because we love being at home and have made it our best possible workspace. We can be very low-overhead, agile and lightweight with two people. We've never required outside investment, and I think we're better for it. Investors aren't likely to enjoy a return based on our happiness. We are happily independent. 

In the end, we're designing a business that fits with our goals as a married couple. By erring on the side of happiness, we can grow in ways that create a successful business, but also ensure that we don't lose control of our day-to-day lives. And with these things in place, we hopefully have a solid formula for sustainable creativity.

Of course, things change and Common Craft may become something different down the road.  But what will always be in the front of our minds is the idea that we have a choice. Every business is different and just because your "supposed-to" do something doesn't mean you have to do it. We all have a choice, and for us the important question is - will this make us happy?

For more posts like this, see our Being Small category.