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Home Is Where the Startup Is

By Joseph and Judy Roetheli

Sans traffic and frayed nerves, we found that we nonetheless needed to confront the disadvantages of working at home, foremost among them the fact that we were together all of the time, and in ultraclose proximity. Some couples we know wouldn't have made it. In our case, we found the need for antidotes such as steering clear of each other when times were really rough.

MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY. When each of two exclusive marketers failed to provide the sales that we had expected -- and Joe was about ready to pound his fists on the desk -- Judy and the boys would get out of the house and go to the mall to shop. (They surely weren't shopping to buy, for we received no salary until 2000, and hence we had no disposable income.)

At the core of the matter is, of course, that home is supposed to be where the heart is -- a place to be comforted and supported -- and certainly not where the tension accumulates. Reducing the tension often meant getting out of the house. One solution was to face up to the role that money -- or the lack thereof -- was playing in generating tension. We learned to make no apologies for having to manage money extremely carefully: Board games rather than bowling. TV rather than the movies. Tea and lemonade at our house with friends rather than dinner out. All of the above became part of the fabric of our daily lives.

Another solution was to make time for our sons, and for one of our company's co-founders, namely Judy, to take the lead in that endeavor. It was she who worked 50 hours a week and would greet the boys when they came in from school, whereas Joe, with his 80- or 90-hour-a-week schedule, would remain in the cave and see them later.

Still another antidote was simply quality over quantity. With so little time and no money available for activities other than work, it became important that we elect what the other party wanted to do when there was time off. Joe, for example, has accompanied Judy on the shopping trips he doesn't particularly enjoy. With our younger son, no company-building demands could interfere with Joe's five-minute "time outs" for talking baseball.

HOME OFFICE. Funny thing about imbedding the business in the family home: Family becomes imbedded in the business. In our case, we always wanted to build a "family-oriented" culture in our company, so it's even more of a good thing that we started at home.

Today, S&M NuTec has 33 employees, and we expect to sell a robust 100 million Greenies this year. One of our sons, Michael, works for S&M NuTec part-time while he completes his college degree in aerospace engineering. Yes, it does help to have a rocket scientist in the company! (Our other son, Steffan, has completed his business degree.) We also employ a husband-and-wife team, encourage workers to take spouses on business trips, and we offer family-necessary benefits such as health insurance and a 401(k) retirement plan. Finally, we involve spouses in employee-recognition events.

To celebrate our biggest month ever, we recently took our entire staff to an upscale restaurant for dinner, followed by a romantic carriage ride, and a night at a posh hotel with breakfast the following morning.

In sum, we've learned how to play as much as we've learned how to work. Family does that. Home-based launches make the point abundantly clear. For entrepreneurs, home may be where the start up is -- but it's also so much more.

Joseph C. Roetheli, 55, and his wife, Judy E. Roetheli, 54, co-founded S&M NuTec, LLC. in 1996 from their home, naming the company after their two sons, Steffan and Michael.

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