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The company I founded with my life partner was launching – but our relationship was falling apart

In May, 2016, I officially launched my company, Oneiric Hockey, a hockey tech startup that had initially begun as a passion project. We develop and sell an innovative type of protective pants for youth hockey players.

The company launch was the culmination of some very hard work by my co-founder Kayla Nezon and I – we worked for four years to get our product to market; moving our concept from ideation, to prototyping, to finally placing our first order of inventory in December, 2015.

Over the last six months, we've won multiple pitch competitions, signed up some retailers as distributors, filmed a segment on Dragons' Den, and have generally received a great response from the Canadian hockey community. We're even seeing orders coming in online from the United States. Exciting times for any young company and, from an outsider's perspective, you'd think we were on top of the world.

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But Kayla and I were also going through one of the most challenging parts of our lives – a breakup of our four-year relationship.

I met Kayla while working at a Toronto-based digital media publisher in 2011. She was in ad operations, but had a real talent for graphic design. It was my first job after graduating from university. We had an instant connection that soon turned into more than a friendship.

I remember showing Kayla my business plan early in our relationship. She loved my idea and wanted to be involved in helping me out when I needed it.

After we both left the company where we first met, I continued working full-time at different companies while advancing my passion project during the evening and on weekends. Initially, Kayla just wanted to support me because she was my partner, but that involvement turned into much more as the project started to take form.

We worked on most aspects of the business together, but she really took over the creative side of things, spearheading the company branding, messaging and creative campaign concepts. I realized that I needed her – not only as a life partner – but as an integral part of Oneiric.

Fast forward three and a half years: Just as our company was poised to launch, we began to hit a lot of bumps with our relationship. We both realized that it just wasn't working anymore.

However, I did the opposite of what most people would do in the midst of a difficult relationship breakup. I decided to give Kayla more shares in Oneiric. This sounds odd, but I saw in Kayla what I couldn't find in anyone else. Despite our relationship challenges, I respected her ability and talent, saw skills in her I lacked, and I wanted her to continue working hard with me to turn Oneiric into something big.

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We agreed that we would keep our business and personal life separate. Of course, that is always easier said than done.

I won't lie – since our breakup in the summer of 2015 and leading up to our launch this May, it has been an emotional rollercoaster.

For the first time, I felt lost. I had a really hard time focusing on the business and what really mattered. Our personal and co-founder lives were so intertwined. We lived together. We shared a car and our dog, Ellie. And, of course, there was the business.

Keeping all of it and myself together over the last year took a huge toll on my mental and physical well-being. The day-to-day hardships and struggles that come with building a startup were amplified 10-fold with the breakup always in the back of my mind.

Life has its ups and downs. And when it's low, it's really low.

However, our experiences have made us both stronger. It's just a different kind of partnership now.

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We couldn't make it as a couple, but as co-founders we are rocking it. We know we can endure any hardship together and approach the really big business problems we'll inevitably face more rationally and with greater clarity and focus.

Emily Rudow is co-founder of Oneiric Hockey, a Toronto-based sporting goods company that sells innovative hockey equipment for youth hockey players. She can be reached at emily@oneiric.ca.

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