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Shezan Bhojani and Gita Ramanan have clearly demarcated roles at the startup they have co-founded, Design Cafe.
Shezan Bhojani and Gita Ramanan have clearly demarcated roles at the startup they have co-founded, Design Cafe.

Starting together, staying together

For couples who run a business, balancing the personal and the professional while growing a startup can be challenging

NEW DELHI : Co-founding a startup requires people who are willing to roll with the punches while working together in harmony—a lot like a marriage, some would say. And for couples who have started a business together, managing a professional and a personal relationship while growing a startup can be challenging.

“We started working together before we got married. Maybe that made it easier for us to manage work-life balance," says Gita Ramanan, co-founder and CEO of interior design startup Design Café. She and her co-founder and husband Shezan Bhojani had been friends in college, co-founded an architecture and design firm, and worked with other companies before setting up this venture in 2015.

But they still had a lot to learn on the job about managing a relationship at home and in the office. “Initially, we divided the projects among ourselves since we’re both trained architects. But with time, we realized that each of us has strengths and its best to play to them. Gita is patient and better with people, while I want to stick to timelines strictly," says Bhojani, CEO and co-founder of Design Café.

He now handles the “big picture stuff" such as new projects, growth and strategy, while Ramanan focuses on company culture and operations. At home, though, they switch roles. “At home, he’s more disorganized but extremely patient. In a way, that is how the balance happens," says Ramanan.

Understanding and devolving individual roles seem key to keeping a startup thriving. Vineeta Singh and Kaushik Mukherjee decided right at the start that they would each would handle different aspects of the business when they set up Sugar Cosmetics in 2015. By then, they’d been married five years, and had run a beauty subscription service. “We have delegated specific roles to each other at work, but we’re more flexible at home. At work, if we had to swap roles it would be quite disastrous," says Singh.

Their careers have followed similar trajectories—they studied together at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, both interned at investment banks and ran their own startups before joining forces. “We have grown from just 25 people to about 130," says Mukherjee, who is COO of the startup.

“I started the company, and Kaushik joined after five months," says Singh, who is CEO. “We wanted to test the waters before we both got in. Everyone advised us against this… we were literally putting all our eggs in the same basket," she says.

They had seen batchmates and friends trying to manage startups and marriages. “We had a talk on how would this impact us, who would have veto power, and who would take on which role," he explains.

Singh says working with Mukherjee has given her greater confidence in starting up on her own and scaling the business. “When I took a maternity break, he handled a lot of the work and it took the pressure off me as an entrepreneur with a new business," she says.

Singh now handles finance and products, while Mukherjee looks after tech and operations. They discuss all the issues they face but finally, one person makes the decision. “So far, neither has stepped on the other’s toes," laughs Mukherjee.

Taking work home

Bhojani and Ramanan have found a rather amusing but practical solution to avoid taking work home. “I’d always talk about work at home, but he didn’t. So he devised this plan where we could discuss issues only till a certain point of our journey home from office. Once we crossed this particular traffic signal, I would not be allowed to speak about office any more. It has kept us sane," says Ramanan.

Singh believes it isn’t entirely possible for entrepreneur couples to separate work from home life. “We have never been able to divide work and home completely. Our friends have suggested going on a date night, but they too have admitted to talking about work on dates. If someone has it figured out, I’d really love to hear from them," jokes Singh.

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