Desk Live: Two unicorns recently hit a rocky patch when their co-founders’ marriage went sour. But there are many who are living their startup dream together. Sunday Times spoke to some couple-preneurs on how they make the work-life merger work.
Mehak and Anand Shahani first met in 2007 while interning for the same company . They fell in love and got married in 2012. Three years later, they decided to start WedMeGood, an online platform that lists wedding services. Lovers turned spouses turned business partners. To an outsider, it sounds almost too good to be true but Anand has one word of advice for anyone who gets inspired -“please don’t try this at home!” “We had our apprehensions while starting the venture. It’s extremely rare to see people who are happy in both their personal and professional lives. But the fact was that this business would not work if both of us were not in it,” says Mehak, who handles the creative part while Anand takes care of the business operations.While the duo is happy running the company together, not all couple-preneur partnerships have struck a sweet note. Last May, the bitter divorce between Mu Sigma’s founder and director Dhiraj Rajaram and Ambiga, who was the company CEO, raised questions about the startup unicorn’s future.
Last week, another power couple’s venture hit a bump when Shopclues founder Sandeep Aggarwal publicly ac cused his estranged wife Radhika of dissolving his board rights and downplaying his role in the creation of Shopclues, another unicorn.
“In my experience running a business with a spouse does not work and I will never do it again,” says Sandeep Aggarwal. When Aggarwal got arrested in the US in 2013 for insider trading, he had nominated his wife for his board seat. “In hindsight, this is the biggest mistake I made. Had I appointed anyone else for my seat, he or she would have informed me that the board is taking away my voting rights. But Radhika never shared these details with me despite being my nominee. I feel deeply betrayed,” says Aggarwal, presenting his side of the story. Both the cases have brought into focus the difficulty of running a business as a couple.
While these two cases made news because the ventures were unicorns (startups valued at over $1billion), there have been other not-so-public falling outs. Bengaluru-based divorce advocate Revathy Rohira, who handles around 200 cases a year, says that in the past three to four years, she has seen a 30% rise in cases where couple-preneurs have decided to part ways.
Investors say they are wary of all relatives, and not just couples. Mohan Kumar, executive director at Norwest Venture Partners, points out that any family problem will affect the company . “When relationships result in nepotism, it is a concern and we point it out.The relationship at work should be at arm’s length but we don’t have any problems with relatives or the partners having equity holding in the company,” Kumar says.
Setting ground rules
Running one of India’s leading mobile payment networks cannot be easy and founders of Mobikwik, Bipin Preet Singh and Upasana Taku understand that. “Building a startup from scratch is definitely stressful and this does impact on the personal relationship,” says Singh. The couple has set ground rules like minimising contact during work hours and sitting with different teams, not talking about work at home, and spending at least two hours of personal time every day with each other. The rules of engagement laid down by Singh and Taku clearly seem to be working as Mobikwik recently announced an investment of Rs 300 crore for expansion aimed at growing its user base from the current 50 million to 150 million in 2017.
Running a business with a spouse does have its advantages. “We get to spend more time together this way . If just one of us were running the business, then that person would always be stuck at work,” says Prashant Goyal who runs Innoflaps, a health startup in Delhi, with his wife Soniya. Also, spouses understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses well, and Goyal feels that this makes them good partners at work.
Yes, there’ll be fights
“You have to be fully committed to both the good and the bad when one is living the venture 24×7,” says Meena Ganesh, founder of Portea Medical, an online healthcare service. Meena and her husband Krishnan Ganesh are serial entrepreneurs who are currently incubating five startups through `Growth Story’.
“We have different strengths and different perspectives and rarely agree on any topic, be it growth versus profitability, hiring ahead of the curve, firing fast, or even some business pivots. But that brings very valuable, healthy debates which sometimes leads to strong positions and points of view,” she says.
Abhishek Daga, who set up travel startup Thrillophilia in 2010 with wife Chitra, says there is no rule book for conflict management. “We are different people and so conflicts do happen,” he says adding that like other founders, understanding and respecting each other’s role works well.
Not just a spouse
One of the essentials to making the professional relationship work is for both partners to have skills that complement.”It’s about finding a co-founder who can complement your skills sets rather than just making your spouse a co-founder,” says Mehak Shahani.
Meena Ganesh says their decision to come together professionally was in no way influenced by their personal relationship. “Both of us were coming together not because we were married but independently we were qualified, had the professional skills and corporate standing to be there on our own merit. Neither was there because we were the spouse.”
Dhaka, 28 March, (campuslive24.com) //AM