Founding Couples: Architects and Engineers
Courtney and Jeff Sinelli, founders and "parents" of Which Wich.
When we first wrote about how to run a brand or a franchise operation as a couple, the dominant advice was to avoid overlapping duties. The relationship expert and the majority of the married operators agreed.
A few couples have come out since that story to share how they work tougher and maintain the relationship. The big theme among founders is not always distinctly separate duties, but the role of strategy and operations. It’s the same sort of alignment seen in architecture, one person has the pie-in-the-sky ideas and the other half tries to make it work.
Brian and Michelle Mattingly are the founders and leaders of Welcomemat Services. The CEO and VP of operations, respectively, oversee the franchised brand that helps local businesses market via direct mail. The data-forward company especially taps into high-growth markets where new residents don’t yet have routines.
Brian Mattingly said they keep things very separate.
“Her office is on one side of the office, mine is on the complete opposite side, and we don’t carpool to work in the morning. In fact, I don’t see her some days,” said Brian.
Michelle said their teams work closely, but both Brian and Michelle are distinctly in charge of their respective domains.
“We keep things separate. Brian handles a lot of the strategic planning, the sales, and the business development aspect,” said Michelle. “And I am in operations, we have two separate teams essentially within our office.”
She said it’s ideal. But different strengths are key to keeping the peace. If she was all strategy or he wanted to do operations, it would be tough.
“I think we really work well together because we have a lot of different strengths that compliment each other,” said Michelle.
Of course, when they go home the Mattinglys still have difficulty talking about anything but work.
At Which Wich, founders Jeff and Courtney Sinelli have that same mix of strengths. Jeff has the big ideas, Courtney figures out how to execute. And they’ve been doing it a while.
“We call it our first child,” said Jeff, noting that they started the concept while they were still dating.
Which Wich is now 15, and the Sinellis are working on a new prototype, a slew of innovation from cookies and cakes to runny-egg sandwiches. But without her it might have been a radically different business.
“I wanted to do Coney Island hotdogs and Courtney said, 'you probably should do sandwiches instead,'” said Jeff. “So had I not listened to her, we might be sitting here with two hot dog stands.”
Her chief role is breaking down Jeff’s big ideas and seeing if it works.
“He has 1,000 ideas a day,” said Courtney. “And some of those ideas need to be edited.”
She said her background in logical thinking really helps.
“I’m a former lawyer and journalist, so think we think differently,” said Courtney. “We are very similar on big picture values and philosophies but when it comes to our strengths and details that we like to deal with in the business, we’re opposite.”
But they don’t keep things separate. They work close together and work on the brand all the time—even on vacations they’re thinking up new ideas at the beach. And they said it works great for them because the brand is so fun.
“I think it’s a lifestyle, we’re in the brand where around the brand, we take our kids to the brand. It’s not even work; it’s the luxury of a lifestyle where it’s almost playing all day long,” said Jeff.
So here’s to the architects and the big idea generators, and all those engineers making it work.