Cathryn Lavery a traditionally-trained architect turned product designer and the CEO of BestSelf (creator of the SELF Journal). After runaway success on Kickstarter followed by building a multi-million dollar company on Shopify, Cathryn and her co-founder Allen came to a crossroad and ultimately broke up their partnership in the midst of a trade war and global pandemic (both of which directly hurt BestSelf's supply chain).

In this interview, Cathryn shares what she wishes she knew before starting her business with a co-founder, what she learned along the way, and how she ultimately became the 100% owner of her company after two years of negotiations to buy out her partner.

John Meese 0:24
Cathryn, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you doing?

Cathryn Lavery 0:28
It's great to be here, John.

John Meese 0:30
Well, good. Well, you know, Cathryn and I have been friends for years back since the you know, the I don't remember what year was, but you know, right after the Kickstarter phenomenon.

Cathryn Lavery 0:40
2016 we've known each other since 2015. But yeah,

John Meese 0:43
That's right. That's right. Thanks to Brian Harris, right, because we were side by side case studies. And then, before we actually met, we just heard of each other, but then we didn't met, we get a chance to work together some and then we've been, you know, friends and checked in periodically ever since. So but this isn't just you and me in the room, of course, there are people listening in. So let's give them the benefit of getting to know you a little bit. So, Cathryn, for anyone who's never heard of you, or your company, could you just kind of introduce kind of who you are, what you do, and what gets you out of bed in the morning.

Cathryn Lavery 1:14
My name's Cathryn. I started a company called best self in 2015, based around productivity and goal setting. And really, how do you become your best self. So I have a background of being an architect. So I'm good at, you know, creating products, but also I got into personal development. And I realized how much my life changed and got better, the more I developed myself, and I was thinking, you know, why didn't I learn this at school? Like, there's this whole piece of traditional education that's missing? And so that's kind of what I set out to do is like, how do I bring personal development to the masses and more of a easy to consume, don't have to read 100 books and get out of bed at 5am to be able to change your life.

John Meese 1:57
Well, I love that. And for anybody who may be going wait best self, I've heard of this. So I think your most well known product is still the self journal. Is that correct?

Cathryn Lavery 2:05
Yes. So the first product that we started with was called the Self Journal, which is a it was the first 13 week style journal based on a goal. A lot of people have one now but ours is first, and I'll say the best,

John Meese 2:20
and obviously, obviously, and it was launched on Kickstarter first with great acclaim. Can you recap, just kind of going back in the time capsule for a second, you know, what those early Kickstarter results look like? And how that led to really creating a, you know, full blown high growth company out of out of the Kickstarter project?

Cathryn Lavery 2:36
Yeah. So we launched the Kickstarter in August of 2015. And the goal we had was $15,000, was our, you know, outside funding goal, I had an internal goal of $200,000 which I didn't tell anyone, because the few times I did, they're like, You're insane. But we ended up hitting $323,000, or almost $323,000, at the end of 34 days. So it went really well. And, you know, we've never taken any outside funding, or anything like that. So we've really grown the company through, you know, customers sales and a lot of hard work.

John Meese 3:16
That's awesome. Okay, so you did more than you know, did $324,000 worth of sales in Kickstarter, before you really launched the company. But then you did launch it on Shopify, and got a lot of attention from Shopify themselves, right, because of the success of the platform when they were really just just becoming popular. And so what, what did that make possible for you,

Cathryn Lavery 3:34
So we won the build it big build a business competition in 2016, which is this incredible competition that they did four years where they would just put together this amazing prize that you would never be able to buy. So we got to read the New York Stock Exchange, Val, we got to hang out at the galaxy mansion with Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss and Daymond John, all this amazing stuff. So we won that in 2016. And that's based off brand new businesses launching on their platform. And its sales and it's in different categories. So there was five winners total. And then in 2017, they launched this new contest, which is based on you had to be over a million in less than 25 I believe, to get in and it's how much you scale the business from the start of the contest to the end. And so we scaled like four acts in that time and we ended up winning the build a bigger business competition which hasn't been done before us in so we go through this whole incredible other thing go to Fiji and you know a Tony Robbins again like now we're all friends. But yeah, this is definitely awesome. Big fan of Shopify. Great company. great people. Well, that's the ultimate fine girl. I'm being when they take you to Fiji and get your

John Meese 4:51
they've got your life.

Cathryn Lavery 4:52
Yeah, yeah, for sure.

John Meese 4:54
Yeah. They're CC and all your texts or emails back and forth with Tony Robbins, you know of like, they're like, yeah, this was us. You know,

Cathryn Lavery 5:00
yeah, for sure,

John Meese 5:02
Well, I love that. So thank you for sharing a little of that story. And today just give a snapshot of today's business Best Self Co so has a Self Journal. But you've branched out into other products as well, I can see some of them on the shelves behind you. But for those who are just listening in, could you summarize just a few of the products you're most excited about that you offer?

Cathryn Lavery 5:17
Yeah, so I think the company itself is kind of in the way that we've developed products has been my sort of personal journey, because I we started with the Self Journal, which is very much like, your goals, and, you know, type a breaking down big goals. And so what I realized is that, you know, I just talked about getting all these business goals and, and you hit all these external goals that you think are going to be the thing that makes you happy, finally, and you're like, wait a minute, there's still something missing. And so part of that self has been realizing, you know, we all get brought up with these getting a job, you know, starting a business, whatever it is these like big finance, business goals, or career goals, but we don't often think like, Oh, what is my relationship look like? Or, or what's my health look like? And, and what I realize is that your best self is really not just like hitting your goals. It's about you know, having great relationships, having great people in your life, and just getting depth in different parts of your life. And so that's kind of where best off what to do. And our most popular product right now is called the intimacy deck, which is prompts between you and your partner to improve your communication style. Because if your relationship gets off track, it actually affects the rest of your life. You know, if you ever had an argument, or God forbid, an argument with your wife, or your partner, and then and then it's all you can focus on work, you're like, I have to fix this thing. And so it's like, what if we could make your relationship so much better, so that you, you were not just coming home with the leftovers after after your work? And so that's kind of where the business is gone

John Meese 6:53
Right? Well, you have a few different decks like that, right, that have these like, basically just speaking points or prompts for conversation starters, because we have, I know, in our house, we have the intimacy deck, which has great questions in there. Anyone who's listening to this and is feeling a little uncomfortable with that idea, that word? These questions are things like, you know, what's something that you miss from your childhood? Or like, what's a goal that you are afraid to talk about? Because it's so big and scary. I mean, like, they're really good, just conversation starters to get to the heart of the matter. But you also have one that we have, I forget what it's called, but it's like, for friends, it's sort of like a conversation starter at a party.

Cathryn Lavery 7:25
So we have icebreakers. Which is... it and there's different categories, even an intimacy deck with different categories in the icebreakers there is, so there's easy questions. So like, would you rather down to the wellness, the last time you cried might be a deeper question? And it's funny, because the deep questions and the icebreaker deck actually turned into their own deck was called deeper talk, which is really, you know, at times when we start, we meet someone, we start with surface level conversation, but actually getting to know people is really going deep on things. And these prompts are a good way to get to know people in a way that's not vulnerable, that you're asking these questions, because you can just blame the cards. You know, it's like, oh, this is awkward, but I didn't have I didn't ask you when the last time you cried with this card does. And so it removes some of that social anxiety over you know, the vulnerability and the courage, you would have to have to ask someone that but you can still get to that depth through, you know, this, this card system and we worked with what intimacy deck with relationship coaches on like, what questions and and, you know, there's I'm blanking on, of course, when I go to break them up, there's this idea of love maps. And so the more in depth and and detailed you love map of your partner is the better chance that you have you are going to make it. And so when

John Meese 8:49
Are you talking about Gottman, is that what your tlaking about?

Cathryn Lavery 8:50
Yes, yes, yes.

John Meese 8:52
Yeah. Okay, great. Google. Google. Don't not I didn't know that offhand.

Cathryn Lavery 8:55
Yeah. Gottman talked about this. It's like, what would you do? People don't know that much about each other, you know, if they're just if you don't know, your wife's friends, or what she's up to, it's like, hard to get through the hard stuff, because you don't have that baseline knowledge. And so we sort of face these conversations around different aspects of that idea.

John Meese 9:15
Right. I love that. Okay, so started with productivity, and then you kind of became a more well rounded, best self, you know, the business near your own personal journey. And then it's grown dramatically, you know, from that little, that little tiny Kickstarter campaign of $324,000. You know, I'm joking, obviously, that was very huge, especially at the time, you know, to this, you know, massive growing business. So along the way, you know, one of the things that I really would love to talk about today, Katherine, is that along the way, from the start with that Kickstarter campaign, I'm thinking back to that launch video on the Kickstarter profile of you standing there talking about the journal with someone by your side. I do want to talk about who that is.

Cathryn Lavery 9:54
Well, someone stalking me. No, no, I don't know. My co founder. Alan, he was no longer with the business.

John Meese 10:03
Right? So that's a very recent change, you know that you've gone from having two founders, at least formally to one founder. And so I wanted to unpack that a little bit. And you know, just to set the stage for anyone listening to this, you know, it's it's very, very, very common, I don't know the exact numbers off the top of my head and Cathryn and I spen 90 seconds googling to try to find them, and we didn't. So we're moving on. But a lot of companies start with, with multiple partners, whether it's two or three co founders who are working together to grow a business, some of the most successful businesses of all time, I mean, companies like Apple, for example, there are so many for companies that have started with multiple partners, and grown successfully. So it's very common path. But I've personally known many entrepreneurs and others, a lot of these stories that hit the headlines. But I've also personally known many entrepreneurs in that position, who at some point have had to realize Wait a second, while a business partnership, in some ways is kind of like a marriage. It's also not. And also, even marriage ends, right? So sometimes in a business partnership, you need to part ways. And so Cathryn has generously agreed to share a little bit of kind of that process of that that's behind the scenes story. So that really hopefully, this can help anyone else who's thinking about what you know, whether bringing a co founder or or whether you need to break up with a co founder and how that looks like. So Cathryn, can you just take us back a little bit to the glory days of when you and Alan first created BestSself Co. and kind of what initially inspired you to bring on a co founder into the project?

Cathryn Lavery 11:31
So back in 2015, when I was first kind of getting started with myself, I had another business that, you know, had done well, that I'd done by myself. And I came, you know, I like I said, I was an architect before, I never did a business course in the university. Like I basically just read books. And so I was like, What am I missing? Hmm. And I was also very product focused, instead of marketing focus, like I didn't like sending emails, I thought of setting up a lead page, I'm like, oh, and I was in this entrepreneurship group, and had an accountability partner... Allen, who was into marketing, unlike, you know, talking about, you know, sales and marketing and did that and sort of was a smooth talker. And so it just kind of made sense to have like a product marketing duo where I could focus on what I'm good at, and he could do what he was good at. And so that's, you know, where it started. For me looking back, I was definitely insecure about the things that I didn't know. I didn't know, and the things that I didn't know. And I have different thoughts on it now. I but you know, you live and learn, but at the time, it felt like a good decision.

John Meese 12:42
Yeah. Well, I mean, hindsight, can we say that? So hindsight? 2020. I mean, I'm not sure that has the same meaning now that we been through 2020. But, but of course, you know, of course, hindsight changes things. But at the time, you know, you were really focused on the product, and you love the idea of bringing on a partner to say, look, look, if you focus on marketing, focus on product, we've got a pretty cool company we could build together. Is that fair to say?

Cathryn Lavery 13:03

John Meese 13:04
Okay. So you know, and, and I got to know you and Allen, you know, working with you all, when you first created the company together. So I'm very familiar with all the parties at play here. But for those of us who are listening, so you and Alean work together, you launch the Kickstarter project, you started building the business, you have to hang out with Tony Robbins, it's, you know, like all this stuff. Our goal here is not by any means to you know, focus on any of the negative aspects of that experience. But the reality is, at this point, you've both have moved on, you know, I double checked Allen's LinkedIn profile does officially say that he ended at Best Self in September of 2020. So yeah, but that's a very recent change formally, but I'm sure at some point behind the scenes, you started to have conversations about differing views and perspectives and where to take the company. So do you remember the point where you first, you know, questioned whether or not being co founders was really the best long term choice for Best Self and kind of how you wrestled with that.

Cathryn Lavery 13:57
So I think there's been many moments of wondering what long term that look like, I think, knowing myself now and knowing more of, you know, my core values, I also would caution anyone to start a business with someone that they don't know that well, I've actually heard that people that are, I've heard both, but I've heard that people that are friends for years and start something together often do better because they know each other more they know, like, where they come from, there's like a long background there. And I think, looking back, Allen and I came from completely different backgrounds, like I moved to the US, you know, there was a lot of just polar opposites. And at the beginning, you know, it's kind of like, the beginning of any relationship because everything very surface level, you don't go deep on things and so probably around like 2016/2017 I started to see okay, we have very different ways of looking at things, which not the one was bad or one was good, but when you have two different blueprints of how you see the world is difficult to figure out and in between, because And if you're really focused on and growing a company, it's like, there's just two different visions of where it could possibly go. And one of the things I was very passionate about myself, and I also was, as I was personally developing and going through things in my life, that's kind of where the innovation of the products were, like, okay, it's not just about being successful in this area of life, it's really about how do we look at each part of our lives on make it the best. And so that kind of was where I went with myself and Allen's had other you know, his thing was like, the business side of things like, what else could I do? And so he wanted to work on other projects. So I think around early 2018, he had his first kid. And that's when he sort of stepped away from the business to focus on that and look at other projects. But the thing about it was, you know, when we first started, we didn't have like a breakup clause or right, or some sort of agreement. Yeah. And so there's lots of things that I have, you know, some friends that have gone through something similar, my friend, Chandler Bolt, we've had long discussions, and he runs a self publishing school, and he went through something similar, we didn't even have an operating agreement. We did have one, it was just terribly done. Every lawyer that I spoke to their home or something like that, yeah, maybe. I think it was just, it was just terrible. So I think at the beginning the lazy, an easy way to do things is just split it down the middle, because you don't want to be the jerk who's like, Ah, you know, how should this be, if I was to go back, I would say, you know, you get a little equity upfront, and then it vests over four years, so that you really have to be in the company for, you know, four years. And if I think of things that was, you know, just over two and a bit years when he stepped out, but stepped out with 50% of the company. And so when you're working full time on something and trying to grow it, but then you're kind of hamstrung on big decisions and vision because it's like, well, I'm This is only the 50% of the thing is gone. And so it's almost like, I'm not taking full responsibility, either in this weird way. Because I'm like, well, this person's gone. And I know, like, half responsible and, you

John Meese 17:27
know, yeah, you literally have partial ownership.

Cathryn Lavery 17:31
Exactly. And so that wasn't good for the company, for me, or for Alan, but at the time, like, I didn't know what to do about that.

John Meese 17:43
So, yeah, waiting to move, you're about to go there. But I was gonna ask, so how did you figure out what to do about that? Right, cuz there's a point where you're thinking, like, I don't know about this, you know, and, you know, this is obviously a big decision to go through an expensive one, but also just not just financially, but also emotionally. I mean, so how did you proceed?

Cathryn Lavery 18:02
So in late 2018, Allen came to me and was essentially like, I want to either sell or I want you to buy me out. And up until then, like, things started becoming a little rocky with us. But at that time, I also was like, I don't know what a buyout looks like, I don't have the money for that. Like, I was just like, Oh, my God. And and another thing is like that we're at opposite sides of the negotiating table. Because if we did that so, my whole thing was like, I want to stay with company long term, but maybe we sell or bring on another partner or something like that. And so then we went down this road of like, Okay, well, so we'll basically have someone else come in and buy his membership out, right was, and that was kind of an easy thing for me at the time, because I was like, I don't know. Otherwise, all the responsibility of like, figuring out this buyout was on me, and I didn't know, you don't know what you don't know, like, exactly. And so I took kind of like, okay, let's just like sell, because at the time, I was like, I don't know what else to do. And you can help me figure that out. And so we kind of went on that route for a little bit. And that was interesting, to say the least, I got to the point where I realized Actually, I don't want to get into business with another person that I don't know very well. I realized that that was what was going on. And then it became, we were on completely different sides of the table at that point, because, obviously, I have a partner that's already gone out of the business. And so his whole idea is like, how do I get the most money for my stake as possible? And my idea was, like, how do I find someone that I actually want to work with, and so the two are not the same. And that's kind of where we started parting ways as far as not in agreement with some of the parties that came to the table. And I'm thinking one specific, we were in serious talks with but it was just, it would not be a good situation for for me or the team or the or what I felt like the company, whereas the valuation they gave us was was very good or almost unrealistic. And so then and then I have this person tied to this number, which I don't feel as realistic. And so that's kind of where things started to go, Okay, we're already on different sides of the table here. So that whole idea of not wanting to buy him out, because we'd be on opposite side of the table is now a moot point because that's where we are.

John Meese 20:41
Okay, so you mentioned that along the way, at some point, you realize your operating agreement was missing some key language about either a buyout clause or you know, areas of responsibility and that kind of stuff. So was that at this point? I mean, I guess, somewhere along lines, you got a lawyer to look at your operating agreement and give you an opinion, I assume, right?

Cathryn Lavery 21:37
Yeah. Yeah. So it's just so funny how terrible it was. It's fine. But at the time like to do something. Come on. Yeah,

John Meese 21:46
well, well, and Cathryn, I just want to say like, just this is, this is hard stuff. And I appreciate you being so vulnerable about this. I know everyone listening to this interview right now is thinking oh my gosh, someone successful, like Cathryn, miss something like claws, you know, buyout clause in their operating agreement, because we're all that's part of entrepreneurship is you're always at the edge of your experience. And so you're always pursuing things that you don't know how to do. And so I personally think there's no, yeah,

Cathryn Lavery 22:08
My Achilles heel is paperwork. I hate it. It's not what I'm good at. Now, I don't find anything without having someone look at it. But a time, I'm always I assume positive intent. And sometimes that gets into trouble. Especially when the legal paperwork, which my Fiance, is like, now a crazy person about as much better than me like, we're buying her house. And she's like, you know, I've seen time, like, everything's gonna work out fine. Yeah. So that's kind of the position that I was coming from. And so with the operating agreement, you know, those key things missing of it was basically like, you guys, everything, you have to agree on everything. And if you don't, there's no sort of, Okay, we have to go to arbitration, or this would happen. It's basically like, if you guys can't come to agreement, you should dissolve the company. That's essentially like, what it was. And

John Meese 23:10
Whichj is not great when you got sales coming in the door and products going out the door,

Cathryn Lavery 23:14
and a team and like, these people that are depending on me, and so there was just a lot of, Okay, what, what, what's the next step, and being 50/50? Again, it's just like, your business is not pie, not have to, okay, let's split it down the middle, because at the start one person, almost all the time is worse off. And that only combines over over time, the longer that you're in business. And so now, I don't think any, I don't think you should ever be 50/50 partners up front, I think there should be you take each take some equity at the start and invest over time, but it's tied to roles and responsibilities and your, you know, responsibility to the business. And if one person steps out, and then they that they keep equity that they vested, but they don't get the rest because they didn't stay long enough. And then it also is better for the business because you have someone that has more skin in the game that's actually working on it. And so so that was a big mistake.

John Meese 24:21
So yeah, so that's helpful. So that's helpful. Because once you realize this, of course, you realize you're kind of, you're kind of stuck, right? Cuz your operating agreement is what it is, even though there's some things you now wish were in there, they weren't in there. And so you know, the way it's written, you guys have to agree on everything or just when you don't agree at this point. So where do you go from there?

Cathryn Lavery 24:41
So, I mean, that went on for about a year and I'm just not being able to really do much. And, you know, when we first started, we both got equal distribution. And then when he stepped out, we still got that. And then a year later, it's just like, Hey, I'm actually working full time, and you're not. So I think I should get a salary. And then it came sort of this battle to get a salary, which, you know, there's I read this quote the other day, and it was something like about it's better being underpaid and undervalued because, like payments just about money. So for me, it felt like, Oh, I'm just not valued here. And so that also got in the way of the relationship, too. And then what happened was, the company needed some money for investing in some stuff in January of this year, which is a lot of stuff happening. But that's a whole other story. But we had some stuff happening. And it was like, cashflow issues. And so I said, Okay, well, I will make a capital contribution. And actually, we both have the option to and I said I would he was not going to. And then what happened then was, he didn't realize this, but I knew it in our operating agreement, the terrible one, there was one thing in there that said, if there's a capital contribution made, so that the partners are not equitable anymore than the than the, than the percentage changes. Oh, interesting. And so up until that point, there was just a lot of things going on, that I don't really want to get into. But it was just not, it was not a good space, and I couldn't do anything, I was basically had no power to stop it. So once that was done, I'm done. Yeah. And at that point, then we can negotiate, okay, because at that point, we're trying to negotiate a buyout, but he's still taking distributions and has no incentive really to negotiate. Because we're 50/50. And, you know, when you're making distributions, like, why would I do that?

John Meese 27:01
Right? Cuz he's just getting basically just getting just getting checks on an ongoing basis. Yeah. Okay

Cathryn Lavery 27:05
Even even though like at the time, it's like, we need to be putting that into the company. But at that point, like, again, I'm powerless to do anything about it, which is extremely frustrating. And so, at that point, then we started negotiating a buyout in January of this year, Oh, yeah. I was, he was also at that same time going through a divorce. So it's basically his, the two women in his life, he's divorcing, oh, man, that also added a lot of complications to a bad buyout, especially in a contentious divorce, where the ex-wife has to give permission for the deal to go through. And so

John Meese 27:53
because she's like, she cuz she, I assume she gets something from Yeah,

Cathryn Lavery 27:57
It is seen as an asset. And so sometimes, I guess in in bad divorces, like, one partner will try to get rid of an asset, so that they don't get anything or they'll try to, you know, just hide money and, and that sort of thing. And so that was going on. And so this negotiation that started in January, just went on, and on and on and on. And it finally we came to an agreement at the beginning of August, 1, few days in August. And it took six weeks for the for the ex-wife to approve it. And then another week, so to sign it. And then it just got done like a week ago.

John Meese 28:39
Well, do you know the date up top your head where you became the owner?

Cathryn Lavery 28:43
September 24.

John Meese 28:44
September 24, 2020. So as we're talking right now, you're the 100%, owner of Best Self, right?

Cathryn Lavery 28:50
I am 100%. And it's

John Meese 28:52
Youre 100% your best self

Cathryn Lavery 28:54
Yeah, it feels so it feels so freeing to finally be done with it. Because, you know, I'm working on the business at the same time. In the back of my mind, I've there's two parallel thoughts always going on. It's like, I need to grow the business. And I want to maintain the team. And I want to make sure that I do right by the company. But then at the same time, I'm negotiating this buyout, and the better that we do, technically, the more that I have to pay. So it's, it's like counter intuitive.

John Meese 29:23
Oh, that's a really that's a hard tension. Yeah.

Cathryn Lavery 29:25
Yeah. And it definitely got in the way of a lot of it was an extremely stressful year. And also, I wasn't very creative. And it well, we're not really

John Meese 29:37
Ya know in this conversation. We're not really focusing on the fact that also like, I mean, you have a printing and shipping business during, you know, a trade war with China and a global pandemic. So I am 100% confident that also meant you are getting punched in the face on a regular basis.

Cathryn Lavery 29:54
Oh, yes.

John Meese 29:54
At least from this perspective.

Cathryn Lavery 29:55
March and April was just like every day punch, punch. Didn't get knocked out. But it was definitely a lot of just difficulty this year, especially, you know, there was so much uncertainty. And, you know, some of our products come from China that, you know, Self Journal and things like that. And they closed on in January, you know, they basically didn't come back from Chinese New Year. And so that's another part of trying to negotiate this deal. But the one hand, it was bad, because I'm dealing with all this uncertainty, but at the same time, there's COVID specials when you're dealing with all this uncertainty. And so there was like, in some ways, good things as far as how the deal ended up, because of all the uncertainty in the air. And, and that, you know, helps with like negotiation, but at the same time, my personal stress levels, were just, I mean, I, so many nights this year, where I would just wake up and will night or I wouldn't be on sleep, and I would just get up. And I couldn't really talk about it, the team because of you know, that they couldn't really share publicly about what was going on. So it's kind of this like, I just was writing, I just like this Google Doc. And that's just like pages and pages of those, like, every time I would feel stressed out or something wouls piss me off. I would be like, Okay, what am I learning from this, and then I would write about it. And that was what kept me sane, because it just felt like a never ending. And it was like whack a mole, where it's just like, so many things coming up at one time.

John Meese 31:34
Totally. Well, I don't expect you to read that whole pages and pages pages of document for us. But off the top of your head, can you think of you know, from this experience, specifically, now I'm talking with the co founder experience, you know, but of course, the whole pandemic and trade war with China all fit is like right there with it the same timeframe? You know, could you share a couple of the, I guess, the most important things that you think you've learned that would be worth sharing with other entrepreneurs?

Cathryn Lavery 31:58
Yeah, so I think Firstly, is don't be afraid of having hard conversations when you first start thinking of going into business. So talk about what happens if it doesn't work out talk about, you know, is it what is it split, that makes sense. And also, you know, regroup, just because, you know, you start with a certain equity percentages, like, if your goal is to make the company successful, you want to make sure that the stakeholders and the people working in the business are actually incentivized to grow it as much as possible. And, and then also just working with people that, you know, and share a similar blueprint to how they feel life should be as you because at the beginning, it's easy to kind of like, when you first start dating someone, it's, you know, everything's easy, because you don't have to, you know, pay bills or do anything difficult. And then it's only later on when you're like, Oh, actually, we have completely different views on all of these things. And so, you know, co founder is like, a marriage in some ways, in that you have to see certain things in the same way, in order to be successful long term. So I know it also, one of the things Harley from Shopify, who's the, I think he's the president, I would he was the COO. And he, when we were talking about, okay, in 2016, you know, what should we be focused on for the business to be successful? And Harley said, honestly, your guys's relationship, because if that holds the whole business well, and so we did, we did actually have a coach that we worked with which I would call our co founder marriage counseling. No, it was good. And it definitely, I think helped for a while, actually was helpful. We even had a session with them in March when everything was going on. So we have gotten to know him throughout, but having some sort of structure or person that can help you have difficult conversations, and it could be just like a mutual friend, or someone in your life that could be sort of a mediator or a third person. I also think having a board of advisors would be another helpful thing because again, 50/50 You know, there's no third party tie that can decide anything, it's just like, if you don't agree, we're at a stalemate. We can't do anything and so I don't think that that's a good situation either. So maybe it's a board of advisors or just people that you can go to that will give you advice, and maybe they have the the 1% stake where they can decide okay, this is best or this is best, because I just don't I mean, I don't think 50/50 partnerships are good. Anyway, there should always be a little bit there for the it's just it's never 50/50. It;s not pie, okay?

John Meese 34:55
It's not pie. I like that. Well, that'll be the the takeaway from today. It's not pie well. On the marriage analogy, you know, of like, you know, with a co founder. Yeah, I mean, I know that when you and Alan met and sort of working together, you were living in New York City, which is sort of like, you know, New York City and Silicon Valley are the places where you go to a coffee shop and meet somebody, and you go, Hey, you want to be co founders? But, you know, the reality is, yeah, you wouldn't, I wouldn't do that with a marriage, you know, like, ends, you know, with a with an actual, like, you know, marry, get married and have, you know, it's sort of like, a shotgun wedding or meeting someone at a party and getting married and having kids and then realizing like, Oh, we don't actually have the same worldview, or the same goals. I mean, yeah, that can be really hard. So I appreciate you sharing Cathryn so much of the behind the scenes there, I know, there's gonna be so helpful. So I mean, the focus of this podcast is really interviews to help entrepreneurs survive and thrive in any economy. And that's why I think this topic is so important, because this is something that so many co founders go through usually silently, you know, like, like you did, you know, having to kind of not tell anybody and just, you know, Google write a Google Doc to yourself about it. Is there any other words of encouragement you would give to entrepreneurs listening, just kind of as a final way to let people know, you know, how to think about challenges with people that they with business partners, specifically, because that's a that's a very unique dynamic.

Cathryn Lavery 36:15
I mean, I think the ability to to have hard conversations is, you know, it's easy to talk about the fun stuff and the easy stuff. But and Allenn, actually, and I were good at doing that for a long time. And even, we were even at the end of just, okay, let's just get it out there. But it can be also easy to brush things under the rug for a long time and not talk about them. I also think that having mentors or people that you can talk to about it, because there's, there's also, you know, I have my view of how things went, and he has his view. So there was times where I had a mentor, Jenny, who would was, like, this objective third party where I would show her things, I'm like, Am I being insane? Or is this insane? And so, when you have people that you're like, Okay, I trust their judgment. And I also want to make sure that I'm not becoming, you know, because this is, this is what I'm spending all day and my life working on. So it's easy to become emotional in the decisions. So I think having, you know, someone that you can trust, their their judgment, I mean, only, I'd say, only take people's advice of people you would exchange places with and that you actually trust, that they make good decisions, don't you know, just talk to anyone about this. And then also, because it's, it's private, you can't really talk to people about it. And so it ended up you know, I would talk to other people that went through the same thing. And it's funny how, like Chandler for example, we were talking about it in 20-2018, about just like, Okay, what would, you know a buyout look like, or that sort of thing, he was kind of walking me through his process. And so I feel like, once you understand what this is, then if someone came to me and was like, I need your advice, I'd be like, okay, here's how I did it. And here's how I do it differently. And so I think, knowing what people gone through and going through myself, and I will like, talk to anyone about, okay, how do you do this better. So don't be afraid to reach out to people that are, you know, you know, have gone through something similar, or people that have not talked about it publicly, like, this is literally like, the first time I've ever talked about it publicly. You got the exclusive john.

John Meese 38:37
I said my wife a little animated gift that just said the scoop, you know, cuz you knew I was about to jump on this interview.

Cathryn Lavery 38:44
And so, yeah, just reach out to people and also get advice. Because it is, if I didn't have that, going through this, it would have been 10 times harder and more difficult than, you know, having people I could rely on to give me a third opinion.

John Meese 39:02
That's good. That's good advice. Cathryn. Well, thank you so much for sharing so much of this. And this is going to be really helpful. So for anybody who's listening to this, who wants to learn more, more about you and your company? Where should we go online to connect with you, Cathryn,

Cathryn Lavery 39:15
You can go to Best Self at Or you can go to my personal blog, which is And that's where I am actually working on a in depth blog post about 50/50 partnerships and like, some considerations and questions you should be asking when you first start a business because it's something that actually, if I ever had a business partner again, which at this point, it's not looking good, but if I ever thought there would be like certain things in the operating agreement, like the buyout clause, and then and then also because, you know, I would also have something and I know a friend of mine has this with Gary Keller, and and Jay Papasan the one thing guys. So, Jay is a friend in Austin. And he's also a mentor of mine. And I sort of talked to him through some of this stuff. And he was saying that in their operating agreement, there's a clause in there that says, you know, if, if one of them's to get divorced, it's basically a pre determined buyout based on like EBITDA. And like, this is like, if you divorce, I'm buying out you for this much, because I'm not going to be part of this divorce. Because and now that I see how much of a strain it is, or it has been with, with Allen getting divorce and on the business, I would be like, Yeah, that makes complete sense. Because it literally the amount of money that we've spent on lawyers just dealing with his divorce is out of control,

John Meese 40:56
but was for no other people.

Cathryn Lavery 40:59

John Meese 41:00
Yeah. Thank you, Cathryn. Well, I appreciate your time. This has been great. And I look forward to following up to see what the future holds now that you're Cathryn best self, you know, 100% really interesting now.

Cathryn Lavery 41:12
I'm super excited. I'm like, it's funny. The team was like, I feel like Cathryn's unleashed.

John Meese 41:19
That's awesome. That's great. All right. Well, thank you.

Cathryn Lavery 41:22
Great. Thanks, john.

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John Meese is the author of the #1 bestseller Survive and Thrive: How to Build a Profitable Business in Any Economy (Including This One). An entrepreneur himself, John is on a mission to eradicate generational poverty by equipping entrepreneurs with the tools and training they need to build thriving businesses from scratch. He is the CEO of Cowork.Inc, co-founder of Notable, and host of the Thrive School podcast.

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