31. Liz and Ben Bohannon Co-founders of Sseko Designs
Kathy: [00:00:00] hi, I'm Kathy Rushing, host of the podcast committed: the entrepreneur marriage. If your middle name is restless and you identify with words like innovator, dreamer, change maker, creative, independent, or you are married to an entrepreneur or heaven help you, you're both entrepreneurs. This podcast is for you.
The entrepreneurial journey can be a little wild at times, like unchartered territory. Join me as I talk with others who are at various stages of the entrepreneur process. We'll explore the wisdom and insights they have gained while navigating the ups and downs of the entrepreneur journey. You'll discover that there are many couples who have found ways to thrive in both their business and marriage
Today I am so happy to have Ben and Liz Bohannon co-founders of Sseko designs, as my guests. Liz recently released her book Beginner's Pluck: build your life of purpose, passion, and impact now, which gives her version of her trip to Uganda. I loved the audio version of the book, read by Liz so you get to hear her voice and just her delightful, wit and perspective on life.
I highly recommend it. Liz's challenge of wanting to find a way to support Ugandan women eventually led to an untested plan. She designed a sandal that Ugandan women could make. And then she committed to selling enough sandals to fund three young women to go to college. This was the beginning of Sseko designs, a social enterprise that sells beautiful fashion products made by women in Uganda, and now a few other countries, they provide jobs for women so they can earn a fair wage and have the money they need to attend college. We get to hear a little bit about Ben in the book, but today we're going to dive in with Ben and Liz and hear how they manage to do all of life together.
Listen for the way they sort out their roles at home and work, the role of mentors, especially as newlyweds starting this new business, how they create boundaries and how they integrate faith, work and life. It's a great interview. Join me now.
Hey, Liz and Ben, welcome to the show.
Liz: [00:02:55] Thanks so much for having us Kathy!
Ben: [00:02:57] We're excited to be here.
Kathy: [00:02:59] I'm excited to have you. And I've been looking forward to this. Liz, I read your book in preparation for this, and I thought, you know, I'm 62 years old, I kind of have my life purpose figured out, but I want to tell you, I, I thoroughly enjoyed your book.
I really did. It was a fresh departure from the, you know, here's three steps to your miracle life. And I laughed and then I cried and then I laughed some more, so highly, highly recommended. It was really good
Liz: [00:03:33] That right there, the laugh, cry and laugh some more is probably my favorite feedback. So that means a lot. I appreciate that. That was basically my goal.
Kathy: [00:03:41] Well, good, good, good, good. And we learned an awful lot about you in that book, but today I want to explore the relationship between Ben and Liz, as co-founders of sseko designs.
Liz: [00:03:56] That's the next book. You heard it here!.
Kathy: [00:04:01] I love it. I love it. Maybe you'll have your outline, you know, going away.
Liz: [00:04:06] Yeah. There you go.
Kathy: [00:04:07] Yeah, I love it. I am on a mission to change the narrative that says that you have to sacrifice your family in order to have a successful business. So thank you for joining me in this conversation and being an example of the reality that it isn't one or the other.
It's a tight rope that you walk, but, but it is very possible. So first I want to get to know you guys just a little bit, let our audience, if they don't already know about you and they likely don't know anything about you, Ben. So you guys live in Portland and I'd love to hear a little bit about how you ended up in Portland from the middle of the country.
You guys were
in Kansas, kansas city.
Liz: [00:04:53] Yeah. Yeah. Do you want to take that?
Ben: [00:04:54] Yeah. Yeah. So Liz, I, well, we met in university in Missouri and so we ended up as we were getting married, we were living in Kansas city and loved Kansas city. Both of us grew up in Missouri, but at that time, and really at the time that we were starting Sseko,
we had a moment where we said, man, we we need to figure out how to sell sandals. Turns out I had not sold a lot of women's sandals in my life up to that point. Neither of us had ever sold anything really. So our, our best plan, and this has been true for so many things in our business was, well, let's go do it.
Let's try it. And so we kind of came up with this idea to just travel the country. And we were going to spend about six months on the road. And we were going to walk into as many retail stores as possible. We thought, man, we're probably going to fail. So we might as well, like force ourselves. It's like the idea of like, we burned the ships.
It was like, we've sold everything we had. We had this little apartment in Kansas city and I mean, literally everything was gone and we packed our little Honda element.
Liz: [00:05:56] No plan b, really.
Ben: [00:05:58] Yeah, you can't have a plan B. And we started driving West and we, we spent really, it was about six months going from city to city and we would hit the ground.
We would go to a coffee shop. We would find every good retail store we could online and then we would go visit them. And part of that trip one was just literally putting the foundation of our business in place, meeting a ton of retailers, learning how to sell, but a big part of it for Liz and I was, we're going to work together now. And we were completely free. We were free to do whatever we wanted with our family and with our time, and we knew we loved to work and we loved the thing that were building, but we also really wanted to think about what does the community look like? What does our surroundings look like?
What does the city offer and the geography offer. And man, we were just really, we came to Portland and we were here for about three weeks. We lived with a family that we just met when we got here, it was like friend of a friend. They had just had a baby. They had like an eight month old. I had never like, even spend time with kids at that point at all in my life.
And we lived with his family. We slept in their basement. We had such a delightful time while we were here. And when we left, the rest of the trip, we just kept feeling like there was something in that place. We want to go back to it. We want to build a life there. We want to build a business there. We were just really attracted to the energy and the vibrancy of this place.
I don't know if you'd add anything.
Liz: [00:07:26] That's great.
Kathy: [00:07:27] Well, and now we know the rest of the story. How long have you guys been married at this point?
Liz: [00:07:34] 12 years in may.
Ben: [00:07:35] Yeah crazy. How long have we been running a business? 12 years.
Liz: [00:07:42] This season of life that Ben's talking about when we went on the road, we were about a year into marriage at that point. So it's pretty much been love and work for us the whole, the whole time.
Kathy: [00:07:54] Yeah, I love your story. And you have a couple of kids and your family's growing. Tell us briefly about your, your family.
Liz: [00:08:03] Yeah we have a four-year-old named Theo.
We have a two year old named Will and we have another little one on the way that's going to join us in may. So we are growing on the Workfront we are growing on the family front.
Kathy: [00:08:19] Oh my goodness. Yeah. Well, that's, that is a happy time for sure. They're fun. And then. Sseko designs. So give us just a brief interview or overview and we'll get more into that in a minute, but just a brief overview of what is Sseko designs.
Liz: [00:08:38] Yeah. So Sseko is a socially conscious lifestyle fashion brand. We started originally in Uganda. I had moved to Uganda long ago to make friends and to build community and learn more about the issues facing women and girls, living in extreme poverty and conflict and post-conflict zones, and ended up starting a little, at the time, sandal company called Sseko.
We had one product. We employed girls in between high school and university to help them earn an income, to continue onto college and become leaders in their communities and ultimately our world. And today, 12 years later, a lot has changed, but frankly, a lot has stayed the same. We still work with that same community in Uganda.
We have a work study program that enables really high potential female scholars in Uganda, now Ethiopia, probably soon India, to continue their education. We work with fair trade suppliers all across the world. So we're no longer just a sandal company, but we're a full-on women's lifestyle, fashion brand.
And then probably most significantly as it relates to shifts, we shifted a few years ago to be a direct sales social selling brand. So instead of selling our products through all those retail partners that we worked so hard on that road trip to get to say yes, we actually sell the product through a network of primarily women based here in the United States that we call Sseko fellows.
And those women are sharing the Sseko story, they're styling their friends. They're earning an income, they're building a team of other entrepreneurs if that's something that interests them. And that has really been the growth engine and the driver for our company over the last, a few years and is represented a really significant shift in just how we operate, but also our ability to really achieve growth in scale, which has been really exciting.
Kathy: [00:10:23] It has been fabulous to watch and last year, Maybe it was sometime around April, I remember watching one of your lives on Instagram, I think it was or Facebook. And in the beginning of a pandemic, what did you guys do? You launched a new product- coffee! True entrepreneurs. You just are always coming up with something new
Liz: [00:10:49] it's kind of innovate or die, I would say 2020 was, was really that, that it's like we can choose to go into a hole and cry or we can get real creative about how we stay relevant and serve our community.
And it was actually really fun even just on a relational level. I think it's one of the seasons of life that we'll look back on in a marriage level because you know, It was dark for us in March of 2020, like most business owners have just like, what is happening. Our revenue seemed to like stop overnight, asking serious questions about, you know, like, how are we going to survive this?
And our team was already so stretched and there was so much stress on the organization. This question of how do we pivot? How do we evolve? We felt like, kind of, as the leaders, like this is it's back to the two of us, babe, you know, where it was like the two of us back at the coffee date, you know, the kitchen table, thinking about the strategy, thinking about the product, thinking about everything from, you know, the brand and the marketing.
And we really felt like it was kind of this, oddly in hindsight sweet, going back to the, getting when it was just the two of us before we had a team before our jobs honestly were a little bit more like separated in the company and it kind of felt like two college kids and finals week just being like, we got a cramp.
We got to figure something out. And so it was of course, very stressful and tiring at the time, but I think it's actually a season that we'll look back on and be like, Oh, that was fun. We were back to the, just the two of us kind of jamming at the kitchen table.
Ben: [00:12:18] I think last March and April are such a clear example of why it's so, it's so fun to work together as partners that I mean in, you know, again, it's like, there is, there's a risk to it that it's like, Hey, we're all in. Like we're all in, our entire family's all in. But the fact that we, it wasn't like one of us was going to an office across town and dealing with this incredibly stressful, challenging time alone, and then trying to come back and rehash it.
We got to go through it completely together. And for us, what's so awesome about that is the creative element of it, where it's like, okay, I love you. I trust you. I believe in you. Come to the table with magic. And like, she's asking me to do the same thing. And we just got to have these long nights where we said, okay, we built something. It's scary to know that it might,
it might not make it like after 11 years, like this might be the thing that knocks us out. But man, we're, we're not going down without a fight. And it was so fun to go through that season together and create, I think that's honestly what I'll look back and remember is like, Oh, it's just so fun to create with Liz to, to get to go through that.
Kathy: [00:13:31] Yeah. And I don't know about you guys, but in our marriage, like when one is up or if somebody is having a hard day or a rough season, the other one's up and vice versa, very rarely in our marriage have we both been down and that's a pretty hard place to be. Did you ever hit that time during the pandemic and all of these unknown questions?
Ben: [00:13:55] I feel like that was like an every six hour question.
Liz: [00:13:58] Yeah, its kind of hard to remember because it was so up and down for both of us, it would have been a lot mentally to keep track of if we were both down with how quickly the situation was changing. And I think to Ben's point, you know, it does make it scarier, right? We have no built-in like, if I was an entrepreneur or Ben was an entrepreneur and the other person had, you know, a stable full-time job, there is a level of security.
It helps kind of level out some of the wild ups and downs of being an entrepreneur and creates just a base level of more security. And I see the value to that. To me, the emotional value of just having a partner that gets it, even if it's like, listen, I can't offer any security to you in this situation, but I can offer
companionship. And like, I can offer a deep sense of like, I'm literally I'm feeling what you're feeling because we're going through it together. Is it, is it in its own way, a different type of security? It's not financial, it's not going to pay the bills or keep the mortgage payment coming, but I really value that.
And I find a lot of, I think entrepreneurship can be deeply, deeply lonely. And not that we both haven't experienced that to some degree in other parts of our life, or community or friendships, but I think we've really been largely protected from that because I think it's like that our most important relationship, our closest relationship. Again, not perfectly there's things that we experienced differently with being leaders within our company and different pressures or for sure.
So not, not perfectly by any means, but I think neither of us have felt the degree of kind of loneliness and isolation that a lot of entrepreneurs that I think are truly kind of on their own and don't have a partnership that's as close as a marriage would be to kind of support that part of their, their being.
Ben: [00:15:51] So I haven't thought about it this way. Here's a question for you know, it's interesting. One of the things that we talked so often about in our entrepreneurial circles is this challenge of identity. And specifically as an entrepreneur, you're wrapping your identity up in the success of your enterprise and the success of, in being known as the person that has the cool business, the successful business, the business that raised a bunch of funding, whatever it is.
And I do think there's something, or I'm interested to hear your thought on this list, but I, I wonder when you're working with your partner, There's an element of, I wonder if it's, I think there's an element of this , that because Liz and I are in it together and she sees me and she acknowledges me in the hard things and in the good things and the creative things and the fun things and the things that she sees that are good about me.
I wonder because you know that so intimately and I experienced you knowing it. If it actually helps me not be wrapped up in that. So I think about like, again, if I go back to last year and it was this like trying, terrifying time, but I look back on it and I don't feel like I was afraid of losing my identity.
Hmm. And I don't know if that's just because that's something that we've talked about a lot and we've really specifically for myself, easy, so easy for me to wrap up my identity and my success. But I don't know. I think having your partner there alongside you reminds you like she's with me, whether we fail or not, she just, she already said yes.
So there's a sense of like, I'm not failing alone. And then I have to come back and tell my partner. It's like, she knows, I don't know.
Liz: [00:17:33] No that's interesting because you definitely see that play out. Like this is so dramatic and not the same, but I think this is stupid, but in like the death of a salesman, right?
Like when the classic kind of archetype of like the partner loses their job and there's this moment in between this thing happened to me and now I have to go home and tell my family and like, are they going to be ashamed of me? Am I letting them down? Are they going to be disappointed? And that is something I've never thought
about or like thought even being been afraid to experience. Cause it's like, well, if we fail, we're going to together. Like it was probably both our faults, you know, or maybe it was a pandemic, whatever it was, but there is yeah, there, is an interesting like pressure valve that gets released where it's like, we make these decisions together.
We've both knowingly and mutually said yes to this life and to the risks and to the benefits. And we're in it together. So there is not really a sense of like that kind of shame or pressure for our identity, at least as it relates to one another. Yeah. I've never thought about that before. The fact that I referenced the death of a sales man in a podcast interview is something that I love.
Kathy: [00:18:52] I love that. And you know, to your point, ben, Mark, and I have been very much, we talk about everything. When he started his company, our kids were like elementary, junior high and high school. So it was a very busy time I life. And we talked about the business a lot, but probably not nearly to the degree that you two know all the details.
And I know from conversations that we've had, Mark has struggled sometimes when something didn't go quite the way he thought. And there was some shame in that. So I, I think your point is very well taken and I really love that perspective.
Ben: [00:19:34] You know It's interesting. It's interesting too, though, because I think at the same time when you work together, you also have so many opportunities to share your shame.
Liz: [00:19:43] Yeah. I was just thinking the exact same thing when she said that I was like, I don't think we're exempt from that
Ben: [00:19:48] We're not exempt from it. I almost feel like we practice it more. It maybe that's like the element that's different that like, I've seen, or Liz has seen me fall on my face, you know, in micro ways, hopefully micro there's like lots of opportunities to fail.
Like we want to set ourselves up to fail and like learn from it. Right. So there's like elements of that. That, I mean, the goal is not to fail. The goal is to learn from any of your experiences. But I think Liz sees that and again, you can't hide it like. You can't hide that.
Liz: [00:20:17] No, and there are times that I wish we could.
Ben: [00:20:19] Totally.
Liz: [00:20:20] I think because we can't hide it on a micro level, it actually doesn't add up to the macro level. So it's like, you see me fail all the time and I would be lying if I said that there weren't times where I'm like, I just wish I could make a mistake and not have Ben, see it. It's like annoying that it's like other people get to go to work and they get to make mistakes or have something that doesn't go well and they don't have their husband watching and sometimes watching and then calling you to task about it, you know? And it's like, that sucks. And, but I wonder if, because it, it does feel like on a micro level, we have that experience and then it's like, and then we wake up the next day and we still respect each other and we're still married and we're still co-founders that it helps it from
elevating and escalating into this big thing that it's like, because we experience it over and over and over again of like, that's not real, that's not where our relationship is based. That's not where my, my identity is found. And then also having to do the really hard self work of being okay with like, I have to say to myself, like their opinion, isn't your business.
Like, keep doing your thing, like take feedback. But like at the end of the day, you can't live and die by somebody else's approval, and I think that that in the long run for both of us probably adds up to a pretty healthy place to be within, within the context of a relationship.
Kathy: [00:21:39] But there's that fine line where you just Teeter on that tight rope of how much to value your partner's ideas at what they think about you is important, but to also have the self-esteem that says, yeah, I, I messed up, but totally that doesn't make me a failure.
It doesn't. Define who I am.
Liz: [00:22:03] Yep. Yeah. Yeah, because there's a fine line between critiquing or being disappointed with someone's performance and behavior, and then how that translates to your belief about your core value and dignity and worth. Right. And so one is really valuable. I can hear feedback about, I didn't do that well, I missed expectations. I, I could do better in this area. And then the boundary area comes up and like, but I'm not going to allow that to translate into- and therefore I suck. I suck as a wife, I suck as a founder, I suck as an entrepreneur. I suck generally as a human and now I'm spiraling, you know?
And so being able to, to in, and I think that having a partner, a business partner, whether you're married to them or not, when that's a healthy relationship is a really helpful exercise in our, I guess, a really helpful environment to remind you that it's like, Oh, you can hear something hard about yourself and know like, again, at the end of the day, every single day, however many days we've been married for 12 years, Oh, we're still going to wake up the next day and be partners and be married and you love me and you value me. And on a meta level, you respect me, even if you think that thing that I did was pretty dumb.
Kathy: [00:23:17] How have you guys kept boundaries between work and family life, especially during the pandemic when you worked from home?
Ben: [00:23:29] Yeah.
Kathy: [00:23:29] You never left home.
Ben: [00:23:31] Yeah, well, I'll, I'll say this I've been, we think a lot about how we work. Like just how, how do we create work and how to, because just as we've defined this for our team, and honestly this'll be the 2020 will be a year that truly define Liz and I's work style.
And I would say it's been specific to our family and our family culture. So one of the things that the pandemic forced everyone to do was stay home and to slow down and you know, there's elements of that that have been really healthy to just say what would happen if we all just stopped. And we were all a little bit quieter and a little bit slower, so that's good.
I think that's been additive to our life. I would say the really key thing for us, that's actually helped us put pretty significant boundaries around our life is actually working from home. We love, as parents of young children, we have found our life to be 10 X better than when we had,
Liz: [00:24:34] I will say that was post our kids going back into childcare that was outside of our home
Ben: [00:24:39] a hundred percent.
Liz: [00:24:40] That part of the pandemic was so hard, so stressful, so challenging. So we're speaking now from a standpoint of both of our kids are back in childcare. Yeah. And that is a very different ball game than when we were dealing with the juggling of kids being home and there being no boundary. And that is it's too much. It's too much for anybody.
Ben: [00:25:02] I would say we feel, we often think and recognize that we are in a very lucky situation and a privileged situation in many ways, but also lucky because our kids are the age they are, so our kids are both in daycare. They're under, they're not in kindergarten yet. Our ability though, like, you know what I think back to a year ago, or two years ago, us like rushing around in the morning, stressing out to get the kids out the door, get them to daycare, get to the office just so we can get there for a meeting or something, and then rushing through the day and then slowly slogging it through traffic to get to daycare, to pick them up, to get home just in time to like, Try to get some subpar dinner on the table and then maybe hanging out with our kids for like a little bit.
And it was just that wasn't ideal by any means. So that was like a boundary that we had a really hard time with. And I would say actually the pandemic has truly transformed the way that we think about work. And we think about life and it's, it's opened us up to where we get 10 hours more a week with our children, which is amazing.
We really, really loved that. So I think that's a piece of it. I think if you go back to like pre kids, for sure, like as entrepreneurs and as partners, like it's, it is something that if you're an entrepreneur, most entrepreneurs that I know, it's like, they're just, they're ideas people, they're people that like to think about things they like to like mess it within their head and kind of roll it around in their head.
And they want to talk about it because these are fun things. And. So that's a, that's a tricky thing when it's like, I enjoy this. It's not work, it's fun, but it is work. And there's an element of making sure that you've created your life and you've given your space to make sure that you don't let, that's not the only thing that you talk about.
So, you know, we've done simple things where if we're outside of work hours, we give each other the freedom to say, no, if you don't want to talk about work. So even like prompt each other with like, Hey, I have a work idea. And if we're outside of kind of standard working hours, we're on the weekend. If you don't want to engage with that, you can just say no, but if it's that important, we can talk about it tomorrow.
And that can be super frustrating if you're excited about something and you're like, I want to talk about it, but the other person is just like, I'm trying to wind down or I'm trying to you know, whatever it is, I want my mind to be on something else. And I don't want to have to trigger this. I'm having a hard time sleeping, whatever it is giving each other those freedoms to say no is super important.
Now, if you add anything else to that,
Kathy: [00:27:27] Okay. When do you guys were dating, did you know that either of you were entrepreneurs, was that word even in your vocabulary?
Liz: [00:27:37] Literally not even in our vocabulary, like so far, I remember, I mean, I was like pretty much anti-business, I would say, I was a journalism student.
I was like, I cared about human rights and people and social issues and like, I just, I re yes, no, it was, I was on one path. Ben was on another path. That was a lot of words to say, no, it was not in our vocabulary. Neither of us could have seen that coming. I will say I love this story because I think it's a really beautiful example of how in relationship in community,
sometimes people can see things in us that we can't see in ourselves. I have a very distinct memory of early dating. We're in college. I have a book in my room. That's kind of like a magazine book that was like highlighting, I think it was like 30, under 30. And it was these like kind of, it wasn't entrepreneurs, but it was like social change-makers, leaders.
And that I had, and Ben had picked up this book and he was like flipping through it and he looked at me we're 21 22, however old I am probably my junior or senior year of college whenever. This was so, still very firmly in the camp of like I'm in journalism school and I'm going on to get my master's in journalism.
And he just looks at me and he was like, I think you're going to be in a book like this someday. And
Kathy: [00:29:02] Oh, wow.
Liz: [00:29:03] Kathy, I got mad at him. I got angry I was like, no, I'm not. And he was like, I think you are. And I was like, I said the most unselfaware thing ever, because you know, when you're like 21 and you have no idea what you're actually good at.
And I got scared, I was like freaked out by that. And like, that's like, you're putting on pressure on me and you want me to be something that I'm not, you're like, you're projecting your dream girl on me. And like, Listen, I'm not a starter. I don't like to think of new things. I'm someone who just like comes in and help somebody make their idea better, Kathy.
That's not right. Not gifted in like, but I do look back on that of like, I think entrepreneur was not in our vocabulary, but that story does really stick out and that I think Ben at least saw something in me. Then I also had seen in him and was just thinking like he wanted me to be more like him, but
Ben: [00:30:02] to be fair, Liz has been listed in 30, under 30 in Kansas city. And then we moved to Portland. She's been at 40, under 40 in Portland. There's a myriad of other awards we can talk about, but there was one person that was right in that conversation.
Liz: [00:30:18] There was moral of the story, if you want, Ben to just manifest your future. He can just speak it over you. And then there we go. So we're taking appointments for that.
Kathy: [00:30:29] Awesome. Awesome. We'll put the contact information. So Ben, what made you say that?
Ben: [00:30:36] Hmm, man, that's such a good question. So Liz and I were friends all through college and we worked together in an organization, kind of had to spend a lot of time mentoring, high school students. And man, I just, from the time I met Liz, I was just enamored with her in many ways and always a deep respect for, I mean, we were friends for four years before we started dating or three years, her intellect was like something I was really drawn to. We both, we like both run towards conflict and that's like, probably some of my finest memories of our college time was just the ridiculous debates we had about everything.
But they were always. You know, this mutual push towards a better truth. And yeah, there was something- Liz is, she's dynamic in a way, she's compelling in a way, she's magnetic in a way that I don't know, you just don't see in many people I was for sure drawn towards it. And I think too, you know, at something, I don't know, this is what I love about relationships, right?
Like I think all of us should be in a relationship where you see the other and you go, man. I see something in you that I demand comes out. Cause I, I, and I'm going to be like the biggest cheerleader for it. And I think that's crucial. It's crucial that we're in relationships with people that believe so deeply in us.
Even more than we believe in ourselves sometimes. And it's interesting, you know, identity is such a fascinating thing because it's one of the things I think in partnership that we, especially in American context is like, as this individualist society, it's like, I am the only one who can define myself.
And I think there's truth in that, I think there is a truth that you get to speak your truth. You get to be who you are, but I think we miss the mark when we're unwilling to hear. And truly open ourselves in a way to understand that other people actually know us better than ourselves at times. And I, again, there's like a lot of elements of that, that you have to be careful with, but I think that's what I at least hope for in partnership that Liz would believe something so deeply about me that on my darkest days, or even on my good days, that she would believe in a better version of myself, that can point me there.
Like that's. That's my ideal picture of relationship. And I think that's what I, I dunno, I saw that in her from the very beginning. So it's been fun.
Kathy: [00:32:57] So cool. So you got engaged. I know from your book, you, you came back from Uganda, Liz with this grand plan and you, you were getting engaged. How did you guys decide to work together?
Liz: [00:33:14] Yeah, we actually, we went on like a, I mean, we, we took the question pretty seriously. I think we were at least wise enough in our very early spring chicken days of, and we dated long distance and we got engaged pretty quick. We got married pretty fast. We were baby babies. But I think we were actually had enough
foresight to go- this is a big deal. There's some risks that would be involved in wrapping up identity, business, vocation, marriage, especially being newlyweds. We actually set out on a little, I would call it a pretty formal consult wisdom seeking tour, where we identified probably 10 couples. All of them significantly ahead of us in life stage, who had marriages that we really valued and that we really respected because and wanted to aspire to, there are plenty of marriages that were like, we respect your marriage,
and it seems like it's working great for you. That is not what our vision for partnership and marriage is. So these were couples that were like this aligns with something that we could see aspiring to. And then we just went on a little, a little ask tour and we would set up and, you know, go to dinner, go to coffee, go over to their house and just say, Hey, we kind of wanna,
we've got this idea. And here's what we're thinking. Here's the vision. Here's our concern. Here's what we're excited about. Just share wisdom with us and knowing that no one had a crystal ball that we probably wouldn't get a consensus. Like that at the end of the day, this was our decision to make and that we had to make it, you know, in alignment, in integrity with our own, you know, self-knowledge, but we just deeply value community and we deeply value mentorship.
And frankly, we came out of that. There's probably half and half, half the people said sounds a little risky. I probably wouldn't do it. And half the people were like, you should definitely go for it. So it wasn't even like we found consensus. What I think we did find was language for talking about it. What we did find, I think was a little bit of help anticipating what the challenges could be and questions that if we decided to move forward, we should ask one another and consider, and just gave us a little bit of a heads up before we were in the thick of those particular challenges, which is so helpful, right? Like challenges or hard challenges that someone told you, you should be watching out for this. Cause it's a really common challenge, are immediately actually easier because you still have the challenge to deal with what you don't have to deal as much with, is the shame and the embarrassment and the question of like, is something wrong with us?
We're experiencing this challenge. We must've made the wrong decision, right? If you're like, no, this is kind of a thing that most people that choose this path struggle with, you should think about it, then you're like, okay, now we just get to focus on the problem. We don't have to spiral into the like, you know, shame of our, we experience it.
Does anybody else that does this, is anybody else experiencing this? Is this hard for anybody else? So it was a really like sweet season of just like building friendships again, specifically, I would say with folks that were older than us and in a very different life stage than us, that was pretty influential
in us making that decision. But I think for us also, there was a practical element. It just came down to it where it was like, we need more brains behind this business
Ben: [00:36:28] Who will work for free for five years?
Liz: [00:36:30] We can't afford to go hire somebody. And frankly, Ben has like, I mean, not that I married him for this. I, if somebody could accuse me in hindsight of going out and deciding to marry somebody that had the like most perfect, brilliant toolkit and brain to take an idea and to scale it and to think strategically about it and to implement it and to integrate it. And his skill set is very, very different than mine. There's definitely areas of the business where we like overlap, but I think it was a combination of like, it actually. Our skills work pretty well together and are in our deficiencies. And so I think that also played pretty heavily into it. I think if we were more similar in that regard, we probably would have been like, that's. That's probably not right, but
Kathy: [00:37:22] okay. Well, so much wisdom at that point in life to go seek, like you said, talk to people that are farther down the road. I preach that all the time. Are any of those couples continuing to be mentors? Are they people you turn to periodically for catch up or feedback?
Liz: [00:37:40] A handful of them in there that are like, that are still really dear friends of ours that we still look at in all of them that I can think of off the top of my head, which is really encouraging or all families and couples that we would still look at and say like, You're building something, a marriage and a life and a family that, that we really aspire to and that there are at least significant parts of it that we look at and really admire.
Ben: [00:38:03] I mean, I, I would, if you go back to like, why did we move to Portland? You know, we were, the community that we were introduced here was like this intergenerational thing. And that was like really compelling to us that, yes, it was a city that was attracting a lot of young people, but specifically this kind of like community that we entered into there was
college students, but there is like parents of people older than us, you know? And I think that immediately kind of gave us this like anchor point of like, Oh, and I can literally remember early on in us moving to Portland, which we didn't know really anyone, but we immediately entered into these relationships with older people that when we hit hard times, which for sure we did,
we're able to like, go on a walk with this guy who's been married for 35 years. Right. And like, just be like, I don't know what the heck I'm doing here. That, that has been something that is a crucial element to kind of long-term success for us in relationship.
Kathy: [00:38:59] I love that. And that mentorship is not, it doesn't have to be this formal arrangement.
I've talked to other couples our age about, Hey, have you guys consider being mentors? And they immediately freak out like, well, my goodness, what would we tell them? Like, we have to have it all packaged up. But as you said, Ben, it's just sharing the journey they've been on, and this is what we've learned and it might work for you or it might not.
Okay. I have so many things I want to ask you guys. One thing I want to ask about is in your roles, how did you guys figure out who took what role at home and work?
Ben: [00:39:39] Hmm. Yeah, good question. So I'll start at work. And I think to a degree, this bleeds into home, but I mean at work, it really, in many ways, you know, it's like when we started and really for the first, gosh, I don't know, almost a year and a half, two years, was just Liz and I were doing everything right.
And, and it, it took us doing everything, even if we weren't good at it, learning it, figuring it out. And what's been fun over the last, you know, really probably six or seven years is allowing ourselves to kind of like roam within things that we're actually better at. We're more gifted in. We can explore it more kind of hone our craft and we've been able to go
and we frankly have kind of gone in different directions to a degree. Now that's in part, because that's what the business has asked of us. That there's specific things. It's just like, Hey, this has to get done. And that's true in the home too. Right? Like there's elements like. Yeah. If anybody likes to fold laundry I'm out to like solve that problem in the world.
I don't want to ever have to fold laundry again. And we have a third child coming and I just literally can't imagine how much time I'm going to spend folding laundry. But yeah, there's certain elements it's like, no one wants, I don't. I think very few people want to is there's like a meditation to it.
Liz: [00:40:51] Marie Kondo loves folding laundry. I'm sure.
Ben: [00:40:54] But. I think within the, so that's like business side, I think we went towards, we've been able to go towards what we are probably more naturally gifted at again, that's that's to a degree luck that our partnership is we weren't two creatives, we weren't two operators.
Like we were, we have, we have crossover for sure. We're very much like these kind of what does that, not concentric circles, but Venn diagram, we definitely have some good overlap, but we have some pretty distinct skills in the home. You know, I think it's been similar. Like we've had things where like, Hey, I'm more naturally gifted at this, like, I, I like to cook. And, but still Liz cooks a lot, like, but there's just like an element of, we don't have for 12 years now, we haven't said we've gone through seasons where like, Hey. You just need to own this. I need to own this, but I would say we go back and forth with our rules pretty often.
And I think there's an element of that where it's just like, Hey, the home is a place that we want to build together and we want to share in it. And if there's a, there's something that is your craft. Like, I would say like, finances have been that for me, like where it's just like, Hey, I like numbers. It's what I do in our business.
It's just naturally something that I like am interested in. I like talking about it. So it would just make sense for me to do that. If Liz wanted to be engaged with it. Awesome. I would be willing to do that, but it's like, it doesn't make sense to like force someone else to do that. If it's just something that you like doing.
And then there's elements where it's like, We just got to do this to make life happen. And we, but again, our, I think our philosophy on relationship and partnership is it needs to be a dialogue and that should be ongoing. That there's, I would say fairly often, at least every several months, we're probably at a point where we're just like, do we need a level set?
Do we need to redefine, do we need to, in some people don't like that, some people are just like, Hey, give me black and white. I want. I might not be happy with it, but I'd rather have it black and white. And I think for us, we've said, let's understand that that life is fluid and there's busy times and there's quiet times.
And that might mean I need to pick up more Slack in the home at times it might mean Liz needs to pick up more Slack in the home at times it might mean both of us need to depend on our community, that where you live in, that we live in the midst of, or our family, whatever that is, but we've really made it more of a fluid thing, I would say.
Liz: [00:43:19] Yeah. I will say, I think one of my favorite parts of our partnership and our life and our partnership in the home and at work feels really purposeful to me, especially as we think about raising our kids. I think that it is such a gift and it's such a unique experience. Like our, our kids will grow up seeing two, just very equally competent caregivers and homemakers in mom and dad.
And then two parents that also have a real sense of calling and excitement about their vocation outside of the home as well. And I, yeah, I don't, I see that as actually a really big benefit and value to the life that we've built together. And it feels very purposeful and missional, right. That it's like, I want my boys to grow up being like, Oh, that's not a mom thing.
That's not a dad thing. Like that fluidity of just like, it's a, whoever has time for it today thing, or whoever happens to be uniquely gifted in this area thing. I am really, really super grateful for.
Kathy: [00:44:27] Yeah. So what are your roles in the business aspect currently?
Liz: [00:44:33] Currently, I would say there, they're more probably.
I mean, just as our company grows, they it's, it's actually probably becoming more distinct. Ben I would say is the integrator, executer, leader on the, you know, one of there's kind of this language around visionary and integrator. And a lot of times that's really, really bifurcated that it's like, all I do is operate and I can integrate.
Ben I would say is a really unique crossover of being a visionary integrator. And so I think that his role in the business is that it is like kind of high level strategy, really thinking about what's coming down the pipeline, what's kind of the high level plan. And then putting the place, putting, you know, the things in place to actually integrate and execute on that.
My role has developed into being visionary more, probably external and visionary as it relates to our overlap is still in like, Just like high level, where's the company going and what are we doing? And what are the core things that are really going to matter three or five years down the road, but probably overlap a lot more in the creative space.
So kind of with our sales field in the marketing, product development, whereas Ben's visionary aspect ends up playing out a lot more in kind of like systems, operation, team building, et cetera.
Kathy: [00:45:50] Awesome. Thank you. I want to shift to a little different question that came out of- I listened to your book on audible and I loved that you read the book, Liz.
Liz: [00:46:02] It was so fun.
Kathy: [00:46:03] I bet. But you use the word sacred several times. So my ear always perked up when I heard that word. In the Christian Church, there has long been a dichotomy between sacred and secular. And you know, if you really love God, you're going to go off and be a missionary or start a ministry of some sort.
And I know Mark and I have wrestled with this and we still hear it a lot in sometimes people we talk to, you know, Mark started this assisted living business many years ago, and it, it is founded on compassion and taking care of vulnerable elderly. But it's a business at the end of the day. It's not a ministry, a ministry is part of it, perhaps, but I would love to hear your thoughts because I don't sense that you all see this in, in a dichotomy. And so I would love to hear your view about the inner integration of work, marriage and faith, and maybe how that has evolved.
Liz: [00:47:12] Yeah. Yeah.
Ben: [00:47:14] I mean, I, so here's, here's the reality of it. It is messy and it's, that kind of goes back to that, like bifurcated, like black and white dualistic kind of like I'm either at the sacred place or I'm at the secular place.
And they, somehow these worlds don't collide, which just isn't true. I can't be one person here in the sacred space and be a different person in the secular space. I am one. Right. And I think that was man, that hit me so hard. So I was on that path in college, as Liz was talking about, like, I thought I was going to go into full-time ministry.
Like that was my passion for life. And I was going to go to seminary. I was going to do, you know, something like that cause that's all I knew. That's what I, that's what I had seen. That's the model I had seen. And I didn't know what all I thought about for business at that time was like, people are just trying to make money and take advantage of people, you know, or fund ministry.
Like that was like the only options. And, you know, it's been such an interesting and exciting and challenging journey for Liz and I to say, Man, we, we feel called to build something that exists in the world and is very much an outpouring of what we believe about the world that we want to build something that is a business that creates value for everybody that intersects with it, that creates a richness of life, that they feel they feel better.
They feel blessed. They feel taken care of because they've intersected with our business, that they can imagine a better world because they. Intersected with our business in, you know, it's, it's interesting. So we don't have, we're pretty intentional, frankly, about like we're running a business, like that's what we're doing, but we also are two people that have a specific faith background that does impact
everything about our life. It impacts the way that we see one another. It impacts the way that I show up in every space that I enter into. And to believe that that, that isn't true. I think misses the reality of what makes us up as humans. So it's, it's harder though, right? Like there's an element of, I think people like the we're drawn towards simplicity, we're drawn towards easy.
We're drawn towards like, no, if I show up in this space, I'm going to say these things and you know, we want to create a business, both here in the U S but also in Uganda, in India and around the world where everyone that walks into any space that we've created, that we've initiated, it feels welcome. No matter what you believe, no matter what your faith background is, or whether you have one at all.
And I think that challenge like creating that as the thesis for our life has been challenging, but it's been so rewarding. And then there's the other side of it that I think truly we are created in a way that we have a skillset and we have something that we're discovering over time. And I think it's, I don't know that there's one right thing that I have, like this one calling and I'm not going to be happy unless I find it. Right. But I think over time, maybe I've read beginner's pluck. I don't know. But I think
Kathy: [00:50:14] your life of purpose and passion.
Ben: [00:50:17] Well, I think over time, like I've continued to hone that in and said like, Ooh, that feels right. Like this, it feels like I tried that jacket on and it felt a little bit better. Right.
And I'm, I get to express these roles or I get to try this, I get to try to solve that problem. Did I enjoy that? That feel like it was that it kind of like woke me up a little bit or does it feel draining and finding these elements of things that like are really like bringing me alive, I think is me kind of living into what I was created for.
I don't know anything you'd add to that.
Liz: [00:50:49] I don't think so. I think it's all sacred. I think if we, you know, kind of the core founding belief of our lives is the belief of the imago dei, right? That like every human was created in the image and the likeness of the divine. And that part of our role as humans is to create relationships, families, environments, systems, companies, processes, policies that help facilitate that, that mutual dignity and respect and whatever capacity. You're engaging that in whether that's as a, you know, stay at home parent, whether that is as a policymaker, whether that is within a faith community, whether that is in, in business, it's all sacred.
Kathy: [00:51:29] I couldn't agree more. I think there's nothing more dignifying than helping create jobs where people can create a living for themselves. Well, you guys have been amazing guests. I thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedules. Is there anything before we go that you want to wrap up with anything else you want to share?
Liz: [00:51:53] I don't think so.
Ben: [00:51:54] No, this was so fun. Yeah, it's really good. It's fun to get, to do it
Liz: [00:51:58] Yeah its more rare for us to get to do these things together. So the opportunity to get to talk about, it's so important to us, and we spend a lot of time behind the scenes and behind the curtain thinking and dreaming about our marriage and partnership and family and work and how it all goes together. But don't often have the opportunity to, to verbally process that with someone else. So this is fun.
Kathy: [00:52:20] Well, thank you for carving out the time and to wrap up, I want to read something. I think this was from your website. You said,
“These women will not make sandals forever. They will go on to become doctors, lawyers, politicians, writers, and teachers who will bring change to their country and our world. Sseko designs uses fashion to provide employment and scholarship opportunities to women pursuing their dreams and overcoming poverty. Today we've enabled 88 women to continue onto university. We provide employment along with access to a comprehensive social impact program to our team and Uganda. And we do it all through a financially self-sustaining model.”
It almost makes me cry to read those statistics, to see what you all have done. And I know we are watching and cheering you all along the way as you continue to grow this model and inspire others to not change the whole world, but to start with, as you say, in your book, Liz one person.
So, so grateful for you guys. Thank you.
Ben: [00:53:32] Yeah. Thank you, Kathy. All right, take care. Bye-bye
thanks so much for listening and coming along on this journey with us. If you enjoyed this episode I bet, you know, someone else that might also find it helpful sharing an episode is super easy. You can also give a rating or leave a useful comment. And all of these things help the show rankings, which then helps others find the show.
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