Since 2014, Erika Mozes and Josh Karam have been navigating life and business together. In the six years since meeting, the pair have taken on the challenges associated with running a successful business, raising a family, and cultivating their own relationship.
The secret, Mozes says, is that they genuinely enjoy each other’s company and insights. Sharing a life and a company can leave little room for personal time or work-life balance.
In the latest edition of our Power Couple series, the Hyr co-founders discuss the importance of feeding your passions outside of work and making sure the core of a relationship is as healthy as the business behind it.
How did you both meet? Where were you in your career paths?
Josh and I initially met by way of an introduction from a mutual friend in the summer of 2014. At this time, we were each focused on our own professional career paths. I was building the 2014 Toronto Mayoral election campaign for John Tory. Josh, already exploring entrepreneurship at the time, was operating a full-service HR consultancy firm. By early 2015, our relationship had become more serious and it was during this same year we created Hyr together.
Why did you decide to build a company together?
Our unique experiences complemented each other and enabled us to identify a need for Hyr’s service in the market. My experience working in public affairs for McDonald’s, combined with Josh’s HR background supporting hospitality and retail businesses allowed us to identify a widespread problem: every day franchisees were struggling to access skilled labour and cope with the rising labour costs.
As a solution, together we formulated the idea for Hyr, based on the belief that hospitality and retail businesses would embrace a mobile app-based platform that would fill hourly paid shifts with gig workers. Simultaneously, the app would also decrease operating costs and elevate their customer experience. We understood both sides of the equation all too well. As once hourly-paid hospitality workers ourselves, there were many times we experienced “too much month at the end of the money”. Later in our careers, when we worked on the business side, we saw the real struggle to find great hourly-paid workers given today’s ever-shallowing labour pool. To help close this gap, we came together to build Hyr. Choosing to build Hyr was an easy decision. Ultimately, Josh’s entrepreneurial experience was a draw for me. We knew we were going to be together for the rest of our lives and our skills just complimented each other. We didn’t start the company together because it was convenient, we did it together because we were the ideal founding team members.
Many believe that you should never go into a business with family or a partner. What is your case against this line of thinking? How has it worked in your favour?
We were once told by a venture capitalist that in couples “one should be [the] balloon and the other, the basket.” Josh and I couldn’t disagree more. Start-ups with coupled co-founders at the helm can find great success. Look no further than Julia and Kevin Hartz, co-founders of Eventbrite, which went public in 2018, or NEXT Trucking co-founders Lidia Yan and Elton Chung, who have raised over $125 million for their start-up. And there’s Clearbanc, which was founded by partners Andrew D’Souza and Michele Romanow. When we started Hyr, we were unsure of how much to share about our personal relationship with potential investors and employees. We’ve since discovered that being a co-founder couple has strengthened our bond, which is also our secret weapon in building the company. We trust each other inherently, our passions are aligned, we share the same workday cycle, and we have equal motivation.
We didn’t start the company together because it was convenient, we did it together because we were the ideal founding team members.
What have been the major challenges of working with your significant other?
Hyr has become a presence that’s built into our lives and our relationship at all times, so it doesn’t come without its challenges. We’ve had to set unique boundaries, make sacrifices, recognize that free time is nearly non-existent, and be okay with putting major life decisions on hold, like travel and purchasing a home.
Managing a work-life balance is hard enough as an entrepreneur or leader of a business. When your home life and work life intersect so thoroughly how do you manage? Do you have a set routine where you define how your energy and time is allocated?
Throughout this experience, we’ve discovered the importance of building healthy routines that keep us on the right track, fit, and focused on our personal lives when it matters most. We’re both fanatic gym-goers and find it important to carve out at least an hour a day to earn our endorphins. Together we also share a deep passion for sports. Quite often we use that time when our favourite teams like the Raptors, TFC, or Cowboys are playing to block out Hyr for a few hours.
How do you cultivate and nourish your relationship apart from working together?
We really love spending time together! We’re both very adventurous souls and often we have that next adventure booked as something to look forward to. Perhaps it’s a ski trip or a surfing getaway. Whatever it is, when we’re on those adventures we find it an ideal time to strengthen our relationship. Our travel experiences serve as a great reminder of why we’re working so damn hard.
How do you support each other as colleagues?
Josh is a creative thinker who is introverted and detail-oriented. I’m an ambitious driver who’s more extroverted. So together our styles play very well off each other, both personally and professionally. Josh’s experience as an HR executive enables him to be very measured and thoughtful in his approach to leadership. My background as a public affairs and communications executive helps to drive ideas forward, fast. He helps me slow down, while I help him move forward.
Describe a moment when the business was going through a difficult time and how you worked together to pull through.
Hyr has not been shielded from the harsh economic impacts caused by today’s crisis. Much of our business comes from the hospitality and retail industries, some of the most severely impacted sectors. When the pandemic hit, the immediate impact on our revenue cannot be understated. Josh and I had to quickly adjust to a new reality to ensure the health of the business and emerge ready to own the upswing on the other side. After all, it’s human instinct to be optimistic: we were hoping for the best, but simultaneously we had to prepare for the worst. Together in isolation we quickly retooled budgets and adapted our platform to the new reality. We identified the quickly emerging needs of essential businesses and non-profits, formulated go-forward plans, and launched a number of new platform offerings in a matter of days – not weeks or months. These are the times for great and innovative teams to step up. Hyr’s readiness to adapt and speed of execution wouldn’t have been possible if we were not a co-founder couple.
How do you navigate disagreements?
With any business partnership, as with any close relationship, disagreements will arise. When you’re working as a co-founder couple, it’s easy to get emotional and lose sight of the bigger picture. We’ve learned to handle disagreements by not rushing to judgment, making sure each of us feels heard, and always keeping in mind that our passions are aligned. We find this helps us to find resolutions that leave our relationship and our business intact.
What are your best practices for maintaining a healthy partnership in and outside the office?
1. Identify what you’re working towards – short term (a walk later in the day), medium-term (a ski or surf getaway), and long-term (buying the forever home together).
2. Have projects that you do together, but also have solo projects and encourage each other to stick to them. For example, my isolation project has become putting together puzzles – something I never did before. Josh has a personal training goal that’s kept him focused. And together we’ve got a Hyr-related project that’s in the works.
3. You’re only on this planet for so long. Go for it now.
4. Most of all, have fun and make time for each other.
What is the most exciting memory you have as a couple that works together?
When we developed the idea for Hyr, we had no clue how to build a start-up technology company. We often said we’re just two kids from Ottawa with an idea and a drive to solve a massive problem. Fast forward a few years, we’ve now been through so many highs and lows with the business, but I think one of the most exciting memories was when we closed our Series Seed investment in January 2018. I remember we had just returned to NYC from my brother’s home in the UK where we’d been visiting for the Christmas holiday. The day before, a massive snowstorm diverted our flight to Washington, DC, where the flight landed at 2 am. Our luggage was lost, and we were all but abandoned at Dulles International Airport. With little other choices, we secured two of the last tickets on an overnight train to Penn Station. At the time, we had just over a hundred dollars left in our personal accounts, so not much cash to buy the basic toiletries and other supplies we needed (since the airline had lost our luggage). As I was in the CVS deciding which items to spend our last few dollars on, Josh decided to check our business bank account balance. To our surprise, the $1.3 million USD dollars in Seed capital had arrived days earlier than expected. Needless to say, that was one of the most exciting moments – not only did we have the capital to build our business, but we now had the money to pay for our toiletries!
What do you admire most about your partner as a colleague and a partner?
I admire Josh’s ambition, his creativity, and his passion for executing as flawlessly as possible. Josh says he loves my motivation and my drive and often says that I’m a natural leader. As partners, we are blessed to both be supportive and patient, and both show unconditional love for our daughter Olivia.