Couple’s rocking the business world

When announcing your intent to go into business with a loved one, it’s wise to anticipate a mix of confusion and hesitation. As it turns out, your relationship will be ruined before you break even – or so rumour has it.

But what if you and your significant other can pull it off? What if your business thrives because of your compatible personalities? Moneybags journalist, Isabelle Coetzee, speaks to couples who have taken the challenge.

The perfect complements

According to Aisha Pandor, who co-founded SweepSouth in 2013, she and her husband, Alen Ribic, went into business together because of their complementary skills, and an interest in being self-employed.

“Fortunately, I love working with my husband,” says Pandor.

“I think the fact that we have complementary skills, we have a shared dream for our business, and we were able to pool our resources together into this project were key success factors,” she explains.

“If we were both developers or if we were each working on different business ventures, I don’t think things would’ve worked out the same,” she adds.

The couple realised there was a gap in the market when they struggled to find a cleaner during one holiday, and they found out that the sector had remained unchanged for many years. They subsequently decided to build a tech platform where cleaners could be matched with customers.

“The aim was to use tech to remove the inconvenience of finding a cleaner and also use the opportunity to usher in a new way of thinking that respects domestic workers and the role they play in our homes,” says Pandor.

The couple managed to successfully launch their business, and they have since become the African pioneers in bringing technology to the industry.

Pandor believes that when you’re in a relationship with your business partner, there is a risk that working together will negatively affect your personal relationship.

“Starting SweepSouth was a scary decision for us as a family. Our daughter was 3 years old when we launched the business, so we had to be okay with the possibility of not being able to pay for her school fees sometimes, and we saw how selling our house was quite distressing for her,” she says.

“For anyone considering pursuing an entrepreneurial venture with their partner, it’s a hard decision, there’s a lot at stake and it’s definitely not something to be taken lightly,” she insists.

Pandor believes it’s important to not just have a good relationship partner, but to have a good business partner.

“It’s an extremely difficult journey, and if you’re starting a business from scratch, there will be really bad times and your self-worth will be challenged. We’ve found that having a support system outside of the business isn’t really enough to get you through the emotional journey,” she says.

“You need to have a business partner who understands the challenges and can keep you motivated, and your spouse or partner should be able to support you emotionally when needed,” she adds.

Besides this, Pandor believes both partners need to be equally passionate about the business and its vision, which ought to extend beyond the money and the egotistical side of business.

“So make sure you have a shared vision and a mission that’s meaningful, because that’s what becomes the ‘why’ which you have to fall back on when the ‘what’ becomes really hard,” she says.

“Ultimately, if these things are in place, working together can really strengthen the bond you have with one another,” she adds.

It’s in the family

The couple behind the Kgalagadi Lodge, situated between the red sand dunes of the Kalahari, agree that they wouldn’t want it any other way.

According to Denise Koortzen, who’s the co-owner of the modern, desert-based lodge, she and her husband, SJ, are avid travellers who always dreamed of owning a luxury lodge in a unique location.

“Luckily, my husband and I both grew up in the same type of households, where our parents do everything together – including working together,” she explains.

“My husband and I are really each other’s best friends and we work together really well. We are husband and wife but always business partners. We support each other and if we do not agree on something we make sure to talk about it and sort it out as soon as possible,” she says.

Koortzen believes it’s important to distinguish between work and your relationship, but as owners and managing directors of a company you will always take work home.

“We try our best not to work or speak about work at home, and rather try to make time for each other. Even though we both have a great passion for our work, we try to keep it short when we speak about our day at home,” she says.

Otherwise, this adventurous couple makes time to travel and explore together, as well as spend time with friends and family, to get some distance from work.

Resolving disagreements quickly

Ingrid Lotze, who’s the co-managing director of Join.the.dots, has worked with her husband, Gavin, since 1998 when they started an IT PR firm.

As a result of the dot com bubble and the rise of social media, they adjusted themselves in the market, and today they own a successful company focussed on brand strategy.

Lotze believes that their involvement in their respective volunteer programmes taught them how to manage conflict effectively, and they strongly related to one another as husband and wife, as well as 50-50 business partners.

“Irrespective of whether the disagreements happen in the business or personal relationship, we’re very careful about resolving disagreements quickly and properly, leaving little or no residue,” she explains.

“From the beginning, we’ve had rules and tools to deal with conflict which has helped us tremendously over the years,” she added.

The couple celebrate their ‘business anniversary’ each year, in addition to celebrating their wedding anniversary.

“It is an important day for us to remember as it was the beginning of our financial and personal independence. Over the 19 years of business we’ve either taken the staff for lunch, held team building days, or sent everyone home on our anniversary,” she says.

Next year they plan to throw a huge celebration for their 20th business anniversary.