Home Advantage: Couples increasingly enter into entrepreneurship despite challenges

 Unlike most other people, Pallavi Gupta, an entrepreneur finds it difficult to unwind and let off some steam after coming home from work. She can't even confide her work-related problems to her husband Gaurav Jain because as the other cofounder of Mast Kalandar, a quick service restaurant chain, he already knows them.

However, despite such challenges, more couples such as the Jains are entering the little-trodden terrain of entrepreneurship together and becoming very successful at it. In recent times a number of new ventures such as Mast Kalandar, Kimaya Fashions, Babyoye, MadRat Games and YourNextLeap have been launched by husband-wife teams. "We were clear-eyed about the financial risks and the sacrifices we needed to make. We were ready for it," says Gupta, 36, who cofounded Mast Kalandar in 2006.

She and Jain, 40, were both software professionals before starting their company, which raised $6 million (Rs 32 crore) from Helion Venture Partners last year, and is targeting revenue of Rs 100 crore in 2015. Venture capital investors such as Accel Partners' Prashanth Prakash and Helion's Kanwaljit Singh, who meet hundreds of emerging businesses each year, say there has been a significant rise in such entrepreneur teams in the last two years.

There is a combination of factors fuelling this trend including the greater acceptance of entrepreneurship by society. "With rise in education and qualification levels we are seeing more such couples starting up together and the positives are that a couple always has the same goals and interests and are working towards that," says Nirmala Menon, who runs diversity management solutions firm Interweave Consulting. So, for many entrepreneurs, the best co-founder they can get can be found right at home.

"My wife became my cofounder because she is qualified, not because she is my wife," says serial entrepreneur Krishnan Ganesh. Meena and Krishnan Ganesh have together launched two successful companies- CustomerAsset and TutorVista- in the past decade. ICICI acquired CustomerAsset in 2002 for over $20 million, while in 2011; UK-based publishing house Pearson acquired a majority stake in the then five-year-old TutorVista for Rs 577 crore, valuing it at around Rs 1,000 crore.

Trust is the biggest advantage of working together for these couples. "Trust and commitment are the most important requirements in a cofounder relationship and that is a given when you are married," says 30-year-old Rajat Dhariwal, who cofounded Bangalorebased educational board games venture MadRat Games with his wife Madumita Halder and brother Manuj Dhariwal. Dhariwal and Halder, who were classmates at IIT-Bombay, taught science at Andhra Pradesh-based Rishi Valley School before launching MadRat Games in late 2009.

The company has 25 employees on its rolls and raised $500,000 in a first round funding last year from Blume Ventures and First Light Ventures. Though the benefits are numerous, the couples soon realise there are potential irritants that need to be tackled if they are to grow. "Too much of each other can be a problem and ego clashes can spill over from the professional sphere to the personal and vice versa," says Interweave's Menon. Launching a business together also doubles the financial risk. 
These couples say that an entrepreneur couple should be clear-eyed about this should be confident of tiding over such issues at least in the short run. When Sanjay Nadkarni, 39, and Arunima Singhdeo, 38, launched online babycare retailerBabyoye in 2010, they put their entire savings of Rs 40 lakh into the business. The couple, who by then had a baby, had to shift back to Nadkarni's parents' house to save costs. Mast Kalandar's Gupta had initially planned to continue working while Jain set up the business. "But we decided that while the risks might be greater we wanted to go through the starting up process together," she adds.

Other challenges can be trickier. Nadkarni and Singhdeo say they end up taking work home, even if they want to avoid it. "It robs key family moments," says Nadkarni, who was previously with Airtel. "There would be short-term animosity between us. We will have disagreements." Their company, which now has 250 employees and has so far raised $11 million from Accel Partners and Tiger Global, is targeting revenues of around Rs 25 crore this fiscal. Even the seasoned husband-wife entrepreneur duo Meena and Krishnan Ganesh had to face such issues. "You come home to feel relaxed, get fully charged, but here I was spending all the time with my wife mainly talking about work," says Ganesh, 51.

MadRat's Dhariwal says there is also a tendency to gloss over issues when dealing with family. "One of us can have unreasonable demands and will get away with it," says Dhariwal. Ganesh says the secret of their success is clear demarcation of roles so they avoided stepping on each other's toes. Other entrepreneurs agree. "Compartmentalisation is the key," says Pradeep Hirani, 49, who founded multi-designer fashion brand Kimaya Fashions with his wife Neha Hirani, 44, in 2002.

"We have divided responsibilities as well, so that there is no overlap." Kimaya, which raised Rs 60 crore from Franklin Templeton in 2011, retails apparel by well-known Indian designers like Rohit Bal, Tarun Tahiliani,Manish Arora and Sabyasachi Mukherjee. Mast Kalandar's Gupta and MadRat Games' Dhariwal say taking work home, professional arguments and vacations are some of the problems they are trying to work out.

"We take two holidays a year together, have dinner together and do not check email at home. We also reward each other at work and don't take each other for granted," says Kimaya's Pradeep. The couples also face some tough questions from investors. "Finally, we look for a high quality founding team, which is not very easy to find," says Accel's Prakash. "So when we do find a good quality team, the fact they are married does not mean much to us."