Five key questions to ask yourself before you set up a start-up with your spouse
- Starting a firm together is not just working together—it’s a commitment to a full lifestyle
- Done right, it can be an endlessly fulfilling experience that advances your professional goals while bringing you closer as a couple
Six years ago, I left the world of high finance (equity sales, Nomura Securities) to join my wife, Malini, on an ambitious, perhaps audacious, journey. She had started a hobby blog in 2008 which had attracted a small but loyal following. Those were still the very early days of the Indian internet, particularly for digital content and social media marketing. We envisioned our site—MissMalini.com—as India’s independent lifestyle and entertainment portal, providing Bollywood news, fashion advice and lifestyle tips to a growing young demographic woefully under-represented online. Backed by the third member of our founding team, entertainment consultant Mike Melli, who had drummed up just enough advertiser interest to make a business case for “native format advertising", we quit our jobs, bid farewell to our pay cheques, and ventured into the unknown (Malini was head of digital content at Channel [V] before she became a full-time blogger).
If my story sounds dramatic, it pales in comparison to the reactions it tends to elicit, particularly from other men. It seems I have done something quite unusual, if not remarkable. Heavily indebted after earning my MBA from Harvard Business School, I voluntarily left a career in a lucrative industry to join an unproven company started as a hobby of my wife’s, named after my wife, and whose eventual success, by its nature, would be attributed almost exclusively to my wife.
Today, MissMalini is recognized as an early success story in the Indian digital media, and our brand has travelled far and wide. MissMalini Entertainment creates lifestyle content for our website, digital video channels, social media pages, and television networks. I am regularly asked about what in hindsight appears to be a heroic decision to back my wife. By writing this, I wish to demystify that choice, and encourage more men to shed their inhibitions in support of the incredible women that surround us. Here are the five most important considerations in my experience:
Do you have a sound business plan you both are equally excited about?
The road ahead is fertile ground for breeding resentment, especially if either of you feels you made an unreasonable sacrifice for the other. Effective cooperation requires working in lock-step, and this is impossible if one of you feels short-changed. A common misconception is that I magnanimously volunteered to support my wife’s dream at the expense of my own. The truth is that launching a disruptive media company was as much my dream as it was Malini’s. The success of our industry abroad gave us confidence, and the opportunity was too exciting for either of us to pass up.
Are your roles distinct and do you have complete trust in each other’s abilities?
You’re just asking for trouble if one of you feels like an unequal contributor. From Day 1, Malini has had final say over creative decisions, while I have managed all our business operations (with Mike in charge of revenue). We respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses and try our best not to interfere in each other’s work. We may disagree, but we don’t compete. We may argue, but we know when to back off. If you’re the kind of couple that can’t boil an egg without tripping over each other, this gig probably isn’t for you.
Do you have a supportive relationship at home?
Take it from me, you will fight. You will fight about who to hire, what colours go on your website, and which clients you work with. Working together adds a whole new dimension of strain on a couple, and you’ll need to rely on all your relationship skills to keep things in perspective. If you’re not getting along at home, you’re not going to get along at work.
Do you share an equal tolerance for risk?
Starting a business from scratch creates significant financial stress and uncertainty, which is why couples rarely jump into entrepreneurship together. Malini and I saw our combined income drop by over 70% when we started out. We lived pay cheque to pay cheque for years, maxed out two credit cards, borrowed from our parents, bowed out of group travel plans, and shed more than a few tears caused by financial strain. But we kept our eyes on the prize, and were equal partners in our sacrifice.
Do you share the same life plan?
This is perhaps the most important question you can ask. Most of our friends have multiple children, own property, live near their parents, go on annual vacations, have zero debt, and are well on their way to securing their retirement. We can claim almost none of these, and so far we’re both okay with that. Starting a company together is not just working together—it’s a commitment to a full lifestyle.
Starting a business as a couple is a wild and unpredictable adventure that both partners must be qualified to tackle, and ready to embrace. Done wrong, it could cost you your relationship. Done right, it can be an endlessly fulfilling experience that advances your professional goals while bringing you closer as a couple.
A Working Marriage is a column that will cover the practical considerations of working with your spouse.
Nowshad Rizwanullah is the CEO of MissMalini Entertainment.