4 Married Couples Who Work Together Share Their Tips
THE FOOD STARS:
Ella & Matthew Mills – Deliciously Ella
Ella Mills launched plant-based website Deliciously Ella in 2012 while at university, after being diagnosed with a condition called postural tachycardia syndrome. She met her husband Matt –now CEO of Deliciously Ella – shortly after her first bestselling book was published. Since then, the pair have launched a café, five more books, an app, podcast and a hugely successful plant-based product range. They live in London and have two children together…
Before we launched the business Matthew was working in finance and craving a new direction. I’d only just finished university and was writing recipes for DeliciouslyElla.com, teaching cooking classes and hosting supper clubs. My first book came out and Deliciously Ella exploded. It was clear there was an opportunity to grow a business on the back of it, so he quit his job and we’ve not looked back.
I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. My interest was always in the brand and community side, and there was no way I could run a supply chain or a commercial department. Matthew has been our CEO since we started working together in 2015. Fundamentally, he’s built the business from the ground up – from the supply chain and production of our food products to our finance function and commercial team. He’s hired fantastic people, many of whom have been instrumental to the success of the business, and he’s kept it growing, year on year, even with all the challenges that Covid, Brexit and inflation have posed. He’s a clear, level-headed, ambitious person who’s rarely rattled by anything, which is ideal in his role – in contrast, I ride the highs and lows of life! I can’t read a spreadsheet and he can’t cook, so we make a good team. My role has always been to embed the DNA of the company into what we do, to lead the conversation in plant-based wellness, to ensure the brand resonates and stays relevant, and of course looking after all our content.
The highlight of our working life is getting to ride the rollercoaster together. Starting and growing a business is really, really hard. It’s incredibly fulfilling and exciting, but with the highest of highs come the lowest of lows and that has given our relationship so much depth and trust. That’s the most meaningful part of all this. In terms of outward success, it’s seeing what we do everywhere – our food products are in all the supermarkets and pretty much any food shop I go into I see them. That’s a surreal feeling.
Balance can be difficult to achieve. I’m sure that’s exacerbated by being husband and wife and business partners, as it means work creeps into all facets of our life. It’s not always a bad thing – for example, it means we have huge patience and compassion when the other has to cancel something to work, but it can make it hard to switch off. We try to be phone free at breakfast and bed/bath time with our children, so we can be more present. We also try and leave more mundane work questions at the office and only talk big picture at home.
My advice for other couples looking to go into business together is to make sure you’ve got different skill sets and want control of different aspects of the business. You both need autonomy to grow and make decisions – you have to have your own space or else you’ll consistently be treading on each other’s toes. And make sure you’re totally aligned on your big-picture values, the way you want to operate every day and what really matters to you.
THE HOMEWARE DISRUPTORS:
Poppy & Sam Wall – Eym Naturals
Eym is a 100% natural fragrance brand founded by Poppy and Sam Wall. When Poppy was pregnant with their first child, she read about the high toxin levels released when synthetic candles burn. Unwilling to part with her candle obsession, the pair decided to create 100% natural, chemical-free home fragrance products, and have since launched sellout collaborations with big-name influencers and brands…
Before Eym, I worked as an actor agent and Sam was a graphic designer/creative director for a branding agency. I have always been obsessed with candles – it was kind of a joke with my friends that I couldn't relax in the evening unless I had one burning. When I was pregnant with our first child, I was much more conscious of the products I used on my body and around the house. I became aware that most candles are full of toxins and chemicals, and as you tend to burn them with windows and doors shut, you’re often breathing in some pretty nasty chemicals. I wanted to find a brand that was 100% natural, but also looked slick and modern, but there wasn’t really anything out there. Thus, the idea for Eym was born.
We are both so different in our approach – which is really important in business. Being a designer, Sam is a total perfectionist; every detail is scrutinised, from the boxes to the labels and even the colours we use. This means everything takes ages, which can drive me mad but (secretly) I’m grateful, because I know the end result will always look beautiful. I, on the other hand, am quite impatient. But I’m good at getting things done, and putting ideas out into the ether. Everyone needs to bring a different skill to the table.
There have been many highlights over the years. When we first launched Eym, we were asked to create an exclusive candle with COS, which was a dream come true. We were also part of Kourtney Kardashian’s launch box for Poosh, so we got to see Serena Williams and Miranda Kerr using our products. Most recently, we collaborated with Lucy Williams on our refillable Murano glass candles, which was so fun.
It’s a cliché but work/family/financial life is always hard to balance. We have three young children, so we often feel pulled in multiple directions. The hardest thing for us was when we first launched Eym, Sam was offered a creative director role at an agency in Sydney, so we moved there with two children. I was running the business from the other side of the world, on a completely opposite time zone. There were lots of 5am and 9pm calls! We’ve now moved back to a farmhouse in Monmouthshire, so there’s a bit more space. We have a beautiful Scandinavian-style hut up on the hill, which we work in – it’s the shortest of commutes!
If you’re thinking of launching a business together, don’t be put off by a difference in personalities. There’s a lot to be gained from different ways of doing things. I’ve learnt so much from working with Sam – mainly to slow down. Doing separate things like seeing friends, going on walks, or doing some exercise is good too, so you still feel like you have your own time to yourself.
THE CELEBRITY DENTISTS:
Sameer & Shivani Patel – Elleven Dental
Sameer and Shivani Patel are London’s top dental duo, counting celebrities like Emma Watson, David Gandy and Sadie Frost among their patients. Together, they run a multi-award-winning practice in London at a new location at 74 Wimpole Street, alongside raising three young children…
We never intended to go into business together. I started training as a hospital consultant in orthodontics back in 2009 while on maternity leave with our first daughter, when Sameer got the opportunity to buy a practice in Marylebone. My maternity leave was cut down to four months, so I joined the practice and Elleven Dental was born. I’d never worked in a private practice before, let alone in the West End, so it was a real shock to the system. Even though Sameer had bought the practice, he wasn’t working there at the time – he was a general dentist in Henley. We quickly realised patients wanted more than orthodontics, they wanted restorative aesthetic work too. Soon, the opportunity arose for Sameer to move into Elleven Orthodontics and so began our journey of working together.
Most people who met us in those early years often said we were chalk and cheese. We’re very different people but that worked well in a business environment. Sameer is a visionary; he’s really the macro-planner in both the short and the long term. I’m much more involved in the day-to-day planning and organising. Without us knowing, we ended up in this really effective working relationship which has allowed Elleven Dental to grow enormously in the last decade.
When you work together, things never quite ‘stop’. You’re living and breathing your business together. That means you always have each other’s backs, which I really love – if something hasn’t gone quite right, we’re always there to help each other pick up the pieces. If Sameer is having a hard day, I totally get what he’s going through, and it means we’re good at knowing when the other needs some space. As a working mum, you get that bit of a buffer if your partner is also your business partner; you can take the odd day off here and there to look after the children if they’re unwell, and coming back from maternity leave is easier, because your partner has sight of everything you’re juggling.
One of the most challenging things is switching off. Also, because Sameer has a ‘big picture’ mindset, I sometimes have to find his ‘on’ button to make sure all those little tasks actually get done! As for me, I’m a working mum, and have a number of other hats that I wear outside of Elleven Dental, including teaching, examining, lecturing and judging, as well as running a household and the diaries of three little people – plus Sameer. It’s hard to compartmentalise things as everything tends to merge into one. I don’t see it as a negative though; I think it shows energy and passion for what we do.
Setting aside family time is so important. We always have a date night on Wednesdays, sometimes we’re joined by other couples, but the two of us will go out somewhere in central London after work. Family time is maximised throughout the week; we’re fortunate that our working hours allow our evenings to be quite long. Sundays in particular are always a chilled family day spent together and with friends or our wider family, just hanging out or staying in our pyjamas all day. In the evening, we’ll put the kids to bed and we might wind down with a glass of red wine. Then, it’s a bit of TV or reading before bed.
I don’t think working with your partner is for everyone. From our experience, it’s been super successful, and we really enjoy it. However, to make it work, you have a firework behind you. If you’ve got each other’s back and you work more effectively, you’re always going to move forward. You also have to be aware of how your personalities gel in a professional setting, otherwise you could be pushing and pulling in all directions. Having conflict in a professional work environment is not healthy for you as an individual, as a couple, and it’s not pleasant for your team. Thankfully, Sameer and I have really grown together over the years after running three successful dental practices. We have a lot of respect for each other and have both seen our hard work pay off. We wouldn’t change it for the world.
THE HOTEL EXPERTS:
James & Tamara Lohan – Mr & Mrs Smith
James and Tamara Lohan founded luxury travel company Mr & Mrs Smith back in 2003. Now, the company is a global booking platform and travel club which recommends only the very best places to stay all around the world, anonymously reviewed by tastemakers like Cate Blanchett and Dita von Teese.
We didn’t plan to go into business together. We both had day jobs when we went on a disastrous weekend away that gave us the idea for Mr & Mrs Smith. At first, it was a beautifully presented coffee-table book of stylish boutique stays, to help discerning couples avoid the same fate. So, it was small-scale and more of a hobby business that sounded like a fun challenge, and it just ballooned. Little did we know that 20 years down the line we’d still be developing it.
Our roles in the business evolved naturally. While it was clear who was stronger in what area, we both contributed and commented on each other's area of ‘expertise’ as we’ve never been precious or protective. We both know we’re on the same side, so we never taken offence. And because during the early years we didn’t have a team, a lot of the decisions were made together, such as deciding which hotels to invite into the collection and which tastemakers to invite to anonymously review for us – the fun parts, basically.
The best thing about working with each other is celebrating the highs and lows. We all now work from home, so one challenge for us is knowing when to ‘leave’ work, because if we’re not careful it can bleed into our home life. It’s nearly impossible to switch off sometimes. Luckily, we have two teenage kids – plus a cocker spaniel – who keep us distracted and give us good reason to get away from our screens.
We do set aside separate couple and family time. We’re good at celebrating birthdays and anniversaries together, and we go to Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Fringe without the kids each year to guarantee plenty of ‘just us’ time. We love family holidays, although the kids do sometimes get upset when we squeeze in a lunch or meeting with a hotelier or GM. Plus, we rarely stay anywhere for more than a few days, so rather than staying put for a week or two, the kids have had to get used to moving on and seeing the next Smith hotel. It’s part of the job.
At the end of a long day, we like to switch off with wine, cooking and music. And, when it’s not interrupted by another trip away, whatever the next most-talked-about box set is that we’ve not binged our way through yet.
Our advice to other couples is make sure you have complementary skill sets. If you both have similar strengths and weaknesses, it won't work as you'll crowd each other out. Make sure you really love what you create, as it's about to test you both to your limits – potentially for a very long time. In our case, 20 years and still happily counting.
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