In last week's edition of SO YOU WANT TO START A TRAVEL COMPANY, CEO Katalina Mayorga shared her tips and lessons spurred by the journey of El Camino. As mentioned, start up life is not always glamorous, but it is indeed rewarding. This week, Marianna Jamadi, cofounder and Creative Director of El Camino talks about what it means to be a cofounder and how business can get really intimate even when living on opposite coasts.
"I don't know how you take your coffee yet," Katalina said the first time I met her.
We met at the ACE Hotel in NYC August of 2014 and it felt a little first date awkward. Why? Because Katalina and I had met through email May of 2014, had our first google hangout in June of 2014, fell in cofounder love and launched El Camino in July 2014 without ever meeting. Katalina is based in DC and I am based in LA and we finally brought our digital cofounder relationship to real life in August in the lobby of the ACE. Was the chemistry still going to be there? Was I going be to catfished? All the online relationship woes went through my mind on the subway ride there. Are we completely insane? Launching a company without ever sharing physical space?! Maybe. Probably. #bigriskbigreward.
When we found each other in the lobby, in nearly identical outfits with nearly identical tattoos, I knew the cofounder gods were on our side. Little did I know when she said she didn't know how I took my coffee that we were about to learn a lot more about each other than how we took our coffee. (Though this is also very important!)
So how did we even get to this point?
Katalina had reached out to me via email in regards to my photography. She had been following my travel blog and was familiar with my style. "What are your rates? I have a travel company idea." Having just come off a year long trip around the world, I replied with, "What is your travel company idea?" We quickly realized that we shared a deep love for experiential and socially responsible travel and of course a love for aesthetics and photography. SIGN ME UP! What we also quickly realized is we both are hustlers. Hardcore-work-hard-stay-up-late-do-whatever-it-takes-on-top-of-our-sh*t- hustlers. Though both of us have started our own businesses in the past, neither of us had had a cofounder in these past endeavors. We didn't know what a good cofounder meant, only that it felt right. #Cofoundersoulmates. Our guts said GO! YES! So we did. Did you see our Valentine's Day video where we wrote each other cofounder love letters? If you missed it, check it out here.
What neither of us realized that being a cofounder is like having another relationship. For real. Like legitimate, work wife status. El Camino being our baby. That baby is going to cry and get fussy and we are going to disagree on how to raise it, and we wonder if and how we are going to able to afford it. We will bicker and argue, but at the end of the day, we will do anything for that baby.
So what are the challenges?
Just like ANY relationship, communication is key. Not only just keeping communication lines open, but also understanding differing communication styles. Since we run El Camino from opposite coasts this has been vital. Whether in email, text, phone, skype, etc, our words and tones can be misconstrued, things can get miscommunicated, and feelings can get hurt. As much as you think a cofounder relationship is solely a business one, working so intimately on a shared dream inextricably creates a bond that can be both strong and tender at times.
So how do you get through this? Be open to feedback. Respect each other. Remember at the end of the day, you have a shared goal.
Work styles. Katalina and I have different work styles. She's a get up early kind productive worker and I'm a stay up late night owl. We keep things organized in different manners, prefer different ways to stay on task and whether we are working from our home bases or on the road, we've had to find a ways to me amenable to how the other works. It's all give and take.
Travel styles. Travel with someone to a foreign land and you will find out a lot about that person in a short amount of time. For our jobs, this is key and luckily for us we travel together so seamlessly it's almost comical. Actually, a lot of times it is comical. In the last year, we have shared a ton of beds, almost got stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere while road tripping through Nicaragua alone, gotten eaten by ants in said shared bed, relaxed on a private island, gotten ill when all we had was a compost outhouse, sat on each other's laps in "taxi's," squealed at a bat in our room, gotten lost in a pitch black forest on a volcano at night, danced our bums off in multiple cities, ended up a diner in NYC at 1am in a snowstorm, and have developed a cofounder handshake.
What are the rewards?
Support. No one understands the stress, ambivalence, and sheer highs and lows of starting a business except your cofounder. You are there to help each other out of those what-the-heck-am-I-doing-with-my-life moments? Or sharing in those black hole moments. Maybe one of us is banging our head against the table, or maybe it's both, but either way, we are both at that table.
Growth. Being able to bounce ideas off another person is crucial. Innovation thrives in such a setting and feeding off each other is the best high there is. The saying is true: "Two heads are better than one."
We have been extremely luckily that beyond business, we genuinely enjoy each other's company and we genuinely love what we do. We have become business partners, work wives, besties, adoptive sisters, partners in crime, etc. We share a business along with a slew of really inappropriate text messages full of hashtags that make me seriously lol.
AND she knows how I take my iced coffee. #Winning!