Carly and Clayton Christopher have it all. They’re an attractive couple who live in a large Spanish villa luxury home with a well-behaved Labrador and an adorable toddler. But beyond that, they are among the most gracious, humble and charismatic people. Clayton co-founded Sweet Leaf Tea and Deep Eddy Vodka, and has recently embarked on a new venture of growing many more natural food brands. Carly has a history with KIND Snacks, but now splits her time as an actress and a mother to their young son, James.
Clayton: It was a job interview, as creepy as that may sound. She walked in and she was attractive, but I was professional about it. Thirty minutes into the interview I noticed she was really intelligent, grounded, and sweet. Then it became a different kind of interview—a much more permanent position.
Carly: And I thought it was a great interview. I left feeling sure that I was a great fit and I’d get a second interview. I followed up with an email and did not hear anything at all. Then a month later he asked me to dinner, but I still thought it was something related to a job opportunity. Once he started asking me about my family I realized it wasn’t a follow-up interview.
When we started dating, there was only one product—the sweet tea—with Deep Eddy Vodka. Carly continued to work for KIND bar, but occasionally worked on projects for Deep Eddy. When the marketing team would do castings and competitions for commercials or work with agencies and producers, she’d be involved with that. The whole Deep Eddy Marketing team is men, so it was good to have a woman come in and offer her perspective. Each flavor that they’d launch would have an illustrated “Betty” on it, and Carly would help refine the look of each one.
Carly: I’m on the board of Creative Action. They use the arts to foster social, emotional and educational growth in kids. It’s a lot of theatre and community art, so they hire actors to come into schools and work with kids by doing interactive role playing performances. They talk about the holocaust, civil rights movement, sexuality, bullying, and everything in between. It really helps at-risk and incarcerated youth.
Clayton: I’ve been involved with Big Brother Big Sister for a long time. I’ve known my little brother for 12 years now. Whenever there are kids at risk we do what we can to help. We’ve been so blessed and I feel obligated to give back and help others.
I’m also on the board of Mission Capital. I think a lot of the best nonprofit leaders should have a for-profit mindset. You don’t learn to scale a big idea in the nonprofit world with a degree in social work; that’s where business skills are necessary. I am very passionate about teaching that to nonprofit leaders. Resourcefulness, scrappiness, scaling, goal setting, metrics, KPIs, the works.
The older our son gets, the harder it is to work around him. Kids don’t let you do that, so that helps us have balance. You never know how selfish you are until you have a kid. There’s another human that’s dictating what you do and it puts things into perspective. But for every challenge there is an equal amount of overwhelming joy.
Being an entrepreneur is not a 9-to-5 job, but neither is acting. So it’s great that we have these unusual schedules because we’re both understanding of each other. That being said, because both of our jobs require non-typical hours, we argue about time. Most of our frustration comes from being pulled away from each other, which isn’t really a bad thing.
[Carly’s] dad is a marriage and family therapist so we’ve always thought counseling is great. We go to couples counseling once a month. We’re each in men’s and women’s groups that focus on working through challenging things like marriage, work struggles, kids. We’re open to having a support system. Whatever we need to do to make sure we aren’t repressing anything because In the long term, that never works.
We both really want a successful marriage and that doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it and you also have to work on yourself. It’s like getting a personal trainer. You find someone to help you reach your fitness goals because it’s hard to push yourself on your own. Why wouldn’t you take the same approach in your marriage?
Carly: I like to use humor. I can tell when Clayton is stressed so I’ll usually crack a joke to lighten him up. We also play a lot of tennis. Sometimes you just need to whack a racket to get some aggression out.
Clayton: When Carly is having a bad day, I try to listen. I don’t try to fix it. It’s taken me 42 years to learn that. I just build her up and support her and tell her how awesome she is.
Carly: I think half of it is: can you articulate what you need when you’re having a bad day? No matter how much we complement each other, we aren’t in each other’s heads. Sometimes I tell him that I just need to vent and be pissed off and Clayton will say, “Great, vent away!”
Set aside quality time together. Put the cellphones away when you’re around each other because it’s never helped a marriage.
Communication and willingness to work through things is also important. When you really care about someone, you want to talk about it. Have those tough conversations, even if you don’t want to.
Faith is a big part of our individual lives but also our relationship. We find that when we don’t give enough attention to that area of our lives, we start to go down the black hole of me, myself, and I.
Support your partner’s purpose and passion in life.
Lander Peerman and Noah Wright are the power couple behind Crush Fitness. Noah is a professional triathlete who has competed in locations all around the world, with Lander traveling alongside as his cheerleader for the past 2 ½ years. The engaged couple (soon to be wed in June) describes the studio as a marriage of their two fitness passions and a representation of their shared lifestyle.
As told by Lander: We had a massage therapist in common, and she tried to hook us up for six months and kept saying that we’d be perfect for each other. We had both just gotten out of relationships, so we weren’t really up for it. We ended up running into each other at Juiceland, and he only knew it was me because she had shown him pictures from my Facebook. I was in a rush, so he didn’t say anything to me, but he texted our massage therapist saying, “I think I just saw that girl you’ve been trying to set me up with.” She gave him my phone number, he called me, and we met at Whole Foods. We started dating, and then I traveled all around the world with him for his competitions. In the midst of that, I told him, “Look, I have this need to open another studio. I know what format I want to teach. I’ll take you to a class because I think you’ll really like it.” While we were in New York, I took him to Barry’s Bootcamp and he loved it. Then he told me, “Whatever you want to do, I want to open a studio with you in Austin.”
Breaking a sweat everyday together. (Yes, that includes sex!)
Date night every Wednesday.
Leaving work at the office is the biggest struggle. The top benefit is that we’re both always on the same page. We’re both very passionate about working out, and it’s fun bringing our lifestyle to work.
Fifty percent of arguments at home are attributed to the business. The other half is kids, travel, dog, everything else.
On date night, we say no cellphones or work talk. We leave our phones at home because we don’t even want the temptation.
We weren’t engaged when we started this process. We knew we were going to get engaged, but it wasn’t official yet. There were a lot of days when we thought, “Maybe we should’ve waited or shouldn’t have done this so quickly.” But there’s never a right time—you just have to go for it.
Noah: I’m more reserved, and she’s more driven. She’s very organized.
Lander: Yeah, I’ve never even seen him make a list.
We handle conflict differently in our relationship compared to the way we do in business. With work, we’ll make a decision very quickly and then stick with it. But we’re both Geminis, so when it comes to love, we’re going to make a decision in passionate circumstances, and then change our minds to something completely different later.
One thing we’ve learned to do is not make business personal. We used to blend work and our relationship, so we’d talk about work, kids, travel all at the same time, but it got too hard to make rational decisions when we had personal feelings involved.
Schedule time for business and schedule time for personal, but don’t mix the two. Also, trust the other person to handle their work, because otherwise you’ll end up micromanaging each other. Split responsibilities based on your strengths, but be open to helping each other. We’re not going to pretend it isn’t hard, because it definitely is.
Noah has two kids from a previous marriage—a daughter, 12, and a son, 5—that we have half the time. We’ve figured out that we needed to have similar parenting style. We needed to make sure the rules were consistent for them no matter which household they’re at. Even though we only have them half the time, we make sure they’re connected to us and they’re integrated in our lifestyle. They know that we’re healthy, active, we’re a team and we love them always. Kids force you to be more organized and better at juggling your time.
The name “Crush” stemmed from “Lander and Noah’s crush on each other,” not the fitness expression of “crushing a workout.”
Longtime wakeboarders and married power couple Curt and Niki Sotkovski got their start in fitness while working in a chiropractor's office shortly after college. Curt’s focus was on physical therapy, rehabilitation and personal training, while Niki worked with athletes on injury prevention. Both had a passion for wakeboarding and helping athletes stay healthy, which led to the creation of Next Level Ride, a cable park that offers a unique wakeboard and waterski experience.
As told by Niki: We were both studying kinesiology at Tarleton State University. We met in a class we had together, and also played on the same intramural softball team. The day we met in class was the same day we met on the baseball field and I thought, “Man, I can’t get away from this guy.” And we’ve been inseparable ever since.
God, sex, and honesty. Keep it passionate.
We always say “I love you” and kiss each other before we leave.
Having kids just took away our sleep. It didn’t really change things; we’re still extreme.
Curt: I was working a construction job in Houston, and there was a waterboard cable park next to my extended stay hotel. We got off at 12:00 everyday and went there and spent four hours, seven days a week there.
Niki: He spent way too much money wakeboarding. I told him he needed to stop doing this.
Curt: And I said, “No, we need to build one!”
Niki: So I came around and said, “O.K., put some stuff together. Give me some numbers.” And he’d come back with napkins of statistics and what they saw at the cable park. Then it just became a bundle of things we took to a business guy. We’re not really business savvy, but we have the heart for wakeboarding, fitness, and nutrition. Wakeboarding is everywhere, but not everybody has a boat and Next Level Ride eliminates that problem.
The biggest pro to working together is that we see each other every day. The biggest con to working together is that we see each other every day. Neither your work nor your marriage ever ends, so there’s not really a time to shut it off.
About 85 percent of our arguments are attributed to the business. The remainder is clothes, dishes and trash.
The highest achievement was riding off the dock for the first time. After the three-year process of planning, editing everything, working with the cable companies and the engineers, and then taking a year and a half to get permits, it was the best feeling. The lowest point for us was opening the park and then a month later, getting hit by a flood and having to rebuild from that.
We worked together before we were even married, but neither of us were ever the boss. The challenge we faced when we became business owners was making small decisions. The big decisions were easy, but deciding on little things like color schemes was harder for us.
We had no expectations going into this. It was just something God put in our hearts; it was something we needed to do. We would take one step and be done with it, and then when we’d look at the next step we needed to take we’d think, “We’re so unprepared for what’s next.” In the following week someone would call and they’d be the exact resource we needed. No matter how much we’ve been broken down by the past two floods, we haven’t been knocked down. We’ve got a great marriage and kids, and we’re having fun—every obstacle is just a test of our willpower and patience. We have a dream and we want to do it.
Curt: She picks up my slack. She’s good at finances, logistics, and the nitty gritty. When it comes to the construction of everything, that’s all me. It’s a great team, for sure.
Pray about it and don’t get in your own way. When it comes to business, usually fear is what’s standing in your way. You hear all these statistics about how many businesses fail, and how hard it is but those are worldly things. If you have something that you’re passionate about and you love, if the idea is in your heart to do something, whether it’s because you enjoy it or you want to help people, you’ll be rewarded for sticking with it.
The high school sweethearts behind Of The Lion Fitness, David De Leon and Courtney Carlisle, are Austin natives with a decade of romantic history together. Their relationship has survived the stressful life transitions accompanying high school, college, and building a business, and has managed to come out stronger through all of it—figuratively and literally.
We had economics class together. One day, I was driving home from school and Courtney drove by and I thought, “Hey, that’s that girl from my economics class,” so I texted her. She told me she was on her way to help her mom, because her mom’s car had broken down, and I used that as my in. I was like, “Cool, well, I can help you with your mom’s car!”
After that, we started talking more and then started dating.
A lot of people get caught up in thinking that there must be something better somewhere else, but they forget about all the great things they already have. That’s a big thing—realizing what the other person gives you that you don’t have.
For example, a lot of Type A people tend to look for other Type As to be their partner; they want someone who is like them. It’s better to look for the opposite and find someone who fills the voids.
Also, don’t be so serious—have fun.
David: I started working in the gym industry after college, while she was working in a vet clinic.
The discussion for Of The Lion started with my mom. We were at Kerbey Lane, and I was complaining about the job I was at and my mom said, “I don’t want to hear about this ever again. You either quit and start your own place or you don’t talk about this.” And I said, O.K., fine, but then 10 minutes later I started talking about it again. I went to work that week and put in my notice.
Getting Courtney to be involved in the business was the biggest point of success because it was dependant on finding the right time in both of our lives. It was never just assumed she’d be part of it.
We then started doing boot camps, and I asked Courtney if she wanted to teach a women’s only class. The women’s class did well for a while, but then we started getting more clients. I was busy coaching my own classes, but I saw it as an opportunity for Courtney to get involved and coach more.
Courtney: I knew I wasn’t going to be a veterinarian, but I just really enjoyed working with animals, and that fit into where I was at that point in time. Once David started the gym, I was always there and he was always there, and then it just made sense.
At any point in time we can talk about ideas. It’s not like we have to wait to go into an office or schedule a meeting. We could be at the grocery store pitching each other ideas. Plus, we get along so easily that there’s no threshold of time we can spend together.
The con is that it can make you consumed with work. We’re both doing it, so it can seem like that’s all we ever do, but we make sure to have balance. When you have a ton of stuff that needs to get done, you’ll think that the other person can help you—until you see that the other person is equally busy and can’t always stop what they’re doing to pick up the slack. Being with the person who does the same thing as you makes them just as busy.
Another negative is getting too comfortable. When your office is at the house, you have to force yourself to get out.
Anyone who owns a business can’t honestly say they check out. Checking out means we’ve decided that we’re not going to think about what puts food on our plate, what pays the mortgage, and what’s going to help us retire. There’s always something in the back of your mind—whether it’s an idea, a reminder to do something, or preparing for what’s coming up. For us, shutting off is just being less intense.
There’s now a better understanding that your paycheck is based on your effort. If Courtney was still working at the vet clinic, she’d be able to go in and expect a paycheck, whether she was good at being a vet tech or not. Here, we have to know that we can’t be unorganized and we have to be on top of our game all the time. We hold each other more accountable.
We’re always honest, in business and in our relationship. If we run into an issue in business, we don’t make up a reason as to why we can or can’t do something. We don’t BS people—if something goes wrong, we’ll never be the people who blame the customer. We admit when we’ve messed up.
Female BFFs have long held a formidable power couple dynamic—from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to Thelma and Louise. Two is better than one, and that holds true for running partners Wendy Ward and Carmen Morgan. In 2015, they set a goal to run one half marathon together every month. Twelve races later, they’re accomplished runners, seasoned travelers, and even closer friends.
As told by Wendy Ward: Our kids were in preschool together and we were introduced by a mutual friend. Carmen had just run her first marathon when I met her and I thought, “Oh, she’s a runner!” and there was this instant connection. The three of us would meet up and run together around Lady Bird Lake. Then we eventually drifted off on our own, and that’s how it all started.
Once it dropped from three to two, it became more sisterly, personal, and private. We could be going to hell in a handbasket and we’d still say, “We’re going to meet tomorrow morning and run.”
We did the Chicago Marathon and then afterwards we decided we needed a new goal. We did the Rim to Rim Grand Canyon hike, where we covered 24 miles from the south rim to the north rim in one day. It took us about 10 or 11 hours, and it was far more brutal than any marathon; it was the most epic and beautiful, though. We finished up, showered, and then went to Vegas. It was the best thing we’ve ever done in our lives. Prior to that we hadn’t really done much hiking. I mean, we hiked to the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles…until someone informed us that we were about to get arrested [for getting too close].
We also did the Chicago Diabetes Run for charity and raised $1,000 for it. When we were doing our summer training, we were getting up at 5 a.m., running in the lights, running in the rain, and we just kept going.
Wendy: It started in January 2015. We did the 3M in January, then the Austin Half in February. During the Austin Half Marathon, I turned to her and said, “Let’s do a half marathon every month.” She looked at me and said, “That’s crazy!”
Carmen: I said, “Yeah, O.K., we could do it, but if we’re going to run that much, we have to stay on it.” Plus we both started working [new jobs], and work got in the way of running a lot. But we knew we had to get our miles in, so we had to push each other, regardless of whatever work, kids and life threw at us.
We run together twice a week and we do a spin class once a week.
We spend time together outside of running too. We’re actually about to take a joint family ski trip to Telluride, and we’ve gone skiing in Aspen in the past. We started out as running partners, but once we started seriously training, we became much closer. Now it’s more of a sisterhood.
Every now and then, especially during higher mileage, we’ll plug into our headphones, but normally we talk to each other. Sometimes it’s a vent session, but most of the time it’s making plans for what we’re going to do next. It adds a little something different from the monotony of life.
Carmen: We both have hard days. There are times when I want to stay in bed, and I’ll skip the training. I’ll ask, “Are you mad?” and she’ll say, “No, but tomorrow we’re definitely going.”
Wendy: What’s nice is that we provide each other with that accountability. I’ll catch myself thinking, “Okay, she’s going to be at the spin class and we both signed up, and I’m not there” or “she’s going to be at Lady Bird Lake at 6 or 7 in the morning, and I’m not there.” So you just get your ass up and go. Whereas, if we were on our own, probably about 80 percent of the time we wouldn’t do it.
Carmen: Oh definitely.
We want to do Big Sur, but we’d have to do a charity to get in. We’d also like to do an overseas run. That’s what we want to do to celebrate Carmen’s 50th birthday this year.
When it starts to get tough, we’ll say, “We gotta do what we do, so we can do what we do.” We have to take care of our lives and do this run so we can reset and prepare for everything else.
Half of it is because we love to run, and half of it is because we love each other.
You have to find the right person who can deal with you. We’ll be running and one of us will say, “I’m sorry, my leg hurts!” or “my hip hurts!” and we’re both understanding of each other because it’s O.K. Sometimes you feel guilty about setting people back, but we don’t have that.