Do you and your spouse work together? Do you think you (and your marriage) would survive working with your significant other? Heidi Rasmussen, co-founder and COO of freshbenies, talks with us about being in business with her husband and how they make it work!
4word: How did you and your husband meet? What are your backgrounds?
Heidi: It’s a great story (well, at least Reid and I think so)! I was raised outside of Seattle and was relocated to Dallas with my job in retail at JCPenney. My Seattle friend, Rhonda, was coming for a Dallas visit and mentioned there was “this guy” she always really wanted me to meet. She worked with him in Seattle and it just so happened he would be in Dallas for a health insurance conference the same weekend she was coming to visit me.
I said no. I had sworn off men and a health insurance guy…really?
He said no. He didn’t know her well enough to give her his list of wifely characteristics.
I told her, “You know I’m only looking for a C.H.B.!” (that’s Christian Hottie Boy, for those who aren’t aware). She said, “Oh, he IS a Christian.” I said, “How do you know?” She said, “EVERYONE at work knows.” I said, “No thanks, he sounds like a Bible thumper!”
After much cajoling, I agreed and Reid finally acquiesced with, “FINE! But, I only have one hour on Friday to spare.” The three of us had lunch. I made fun of his Canadian accent (he’s an ex-Canadian – Texan now!), and he made fun of my lack of directional ability in my own city. After that first meeting, his calendar miraculously cleared up for the rest of the week, we met up every night, and he extended his departure flight. He was back in Dallas two weekends later, and I was in Seattle two weekends after that. These weekend visits went on for a year before we were engaged and then married 6 months later. Our honeymoon was the first time we flew on an airplane together!
4word: Did you and your husband ever struggle to find balance between time spent at work and time with each other? Was it ever difficult having to meld your schedules?
Heidi: It was harder to balance and meld our schedules when we each had separate corporate jobs. Since we now work together, we’re constantly with each other. During this season of our life, I know that we ARE NOT balanced, but I also don’t see that as a struggle. It just is what it is. We work a LOT of hours, but we don’t have kids, and we co-run a rapidly growing business, so that’s where we choose to spend our time.
There are seasons of life we all encounter. Sometimes we have extra time to serve at church, charities, as mentors, on boards, etc. Sometimes we don’t have the extra time, or what I call “brain space,” to take on additional responsibilities outside of family and work. The trick is not to “should” on ourselves during seasons when we need to spend more time at work or with our spouse or with our kids, etc. “I should be doing this, I should be doing that.” UGH! Ecclesiastes 3 says there’s a time and season for everything, so just do what you can do when you can do it. God understands and He’ll use you in amazing ways no matter what!
4word: With his background in the healthcare industry in Canada, your husband spotted some potential issues with the Affordable Care Act and devised a plan to combat those issues. Tell us about his plan and what it’s become today.
Heidi: Reid has a Health Administration degree from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. He came to the states and has been working in the U.S. health insurance industry for 25 years. He knows the inner workings of both systems and saw what happened in Canada when the government needed to cut costs – services started getting stripped out of the plans and there was less coverage. In 2009, health care costs continued to skyrocket in the U.S. and the ACA was imminent.
Reid knew the same issues would happen here – there would be new insurance plans with less coverage. As a result, he knew people would need help with the cost of healthcare and navigating “the system.” He’d started researching innovative, non-insurance benefits like doctor consults via phone/video/email, advocacy (experts to research medical pricing and medical bills), and savings networks for dental, vision, prescription needs, etc. We bundled the services into a package at a super low price and wrapped it in a fun and simple brand called freshbenies. Today, we take the headache out of healthcare and help Americans save hundreds to thousands on their family’s healthcare costs. In 2015, we were honored to be #117 on the Inc. 5000 fastest growing businesses in America.
4word: How did you go from being a VP with JCPenney to working with your husband?
Heidi: I was at JCPenney for 27 years. I started working on the floor when I was 15 years old and worked my way through high school and college. I was the only one of my college friends who actually knew what they wanted for a career after graduation. My goal? The JCPenney gold manager badge! I worked in different levels of management in the Seattle area until 2000 when I was transferred to the home office in Plano. There, I spent time in multiple areas: marketing, buying, brand management, training and my last job was Divisional Vice President of Store Environment & Communications for Women’s Accessories (FUN!).
Most people are aware of the executive changes that happened in 2012. I always say that if you had a “V” or a “P” in your title, you were on the way out. It was an amazing career and I can’t imagine trying to run a business without having the experience! Reid convinced me to come on board and help him. He’d been building the base of our business for three years and was just to the point of proving our approach and target customer. As part of our “negotiations,” he let me have one week vacation and then we were off and running!
4word: What is it like working with your spouse? Have there been any “issues” that popped up while working together? What practices have helped the two of you succeed?
Heidi: When Reid and I mention we work together, 99% of people tell us they could NEVER work with their spouse, but we love it! We could probably do an entire article on the practices that make it work, but I’ll keep it to our top 3. Before I do, let me start by saying that we are both 100% committed to Christ and His leading in our life. This foundation means that we trust each other implicitly and know that we each have the other’s best interest as a priority.
- Constant, clear communication – I’d say we’re both expert-level communicators. Reid is more of a verbal processor and I process internally. I’ve gotten good at pretending like I’m listening (while I check tasks off my list) until he’s talked all around the topic at hand and gets to the key point(s). Steve Jobs used to take long walks with his team when he needed to talk through a topic. We do the same and have found it’s a great way dig in to a subject which is usually solved by the time we’re home. Occasionally, we have what we call “robust dialog,” but this is short-term, because we get it out there, address it, and keep short accounts.
- Humor – I can’t say enough about the use of humor in marriage and the workplace. When tensions rise, one of us will pop off a comment to make the other laugh. It’s good to remember that most topics of tension are not really that important. As one of my favorite managers used to say, “We’re not savin’ babies, so everybody calm down.”
- Clear roles – We both have our areas of expertise and are very clear about who does what. Reid is in charge of sales and anything health insurance related. He gets my input, but has the final say on any decision relating to those functions. I’m in charge of operations and marketing – I get his input, but have the final say on any decision relating to those functions. This clarity helps us to run our business without constant check-ins or stepping on toes.
4word: What advice would you share with an entrepreneur itching to start her own company?
Heidi: We were recently interviewed by Merrill Lynch, and they asked us the same question! Here’s a 3 minute video where we share 5 important lessons we learned as we launched our startup.
Do you see yourself working with your spouse in the future? Do you already have a shared career? Whether you currently call your spouse your co-worker or it’s in the cards down the line, learn from Heidi and Reid and build a clear plan for success, both in business and marriage!
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After 27 years in the retail industry, Heidi Rasmussen took on a new challenge. From corporate life to entrepreneurship. From fashion retail to the benefits industry. At JCPenney, she went from floor associate to Divisional Vice President and led the largest brand launch in JCPenney history. In her current role as a co-founder and COO, she launched freshbenies to help busy families save time, money and frustration and take the headache out of their healthcare. In 2015, freshbenies was named #117 to the Inc. 5000 fastest growing companies in America.