Soulmates and co-founders: Love in the time of startups


While there’s no way to clone yourself, there’s always a good possibility of finding your special someone, the one who brings out the best in you.

In an entrepreneur’s world, to find someone different from you in qualities, attitude or skill set, but who shares the same dream, passion and goal means success. To have a partner with whom you can share the risks, responsibilities and triumphs of starting up is a boon. But it’s not as easy as it may sound. Not all couples can create magic together; those who’ve discovered the perfect co-founders in their life partners are a rare breed.

On Valentine’s Day we bring you stories of nine successful business couples who, despite their fair share of differences, have found the rhythm that brings them success against all odds.

Pallavi Gupta and Gaurav Jain, the Mast Kalandar couple

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”Eleanor Roosevelt

Starting Mast Kalandar was a special moment for Pallavi and Gaurav.  “We had always dreamt of starting something meaningful to us and to others. That dream has come true for us,” says the duo.

Gaurav learnt from Pallavi that all ideas are important however wild they may be-that it’s important to give it a good shot before embracing rejection.

Today, Mast Kalandar has 71 branches across four cities, and they plan to further expand their popular chain of eateries.

Pallavi and Gaurav are two different personalities who complement each other. In the beginning, though, they found it extremely hard to work together. They needed to learn how to respect each other as professionals. “Once we could get that into our day-to-day interactions, it became very easy and enjoyable to work together.” A good tip they share is to maintain decorum in the office. It ensures other colleagues at work remain comfortable interacting with them.Both of them bring unique traits to the table, which works wonders for their business. “Pallavi is extremely quick in analysing data and drawing meaningful inferences from it. She uses both intuition and inspection - as two tools that help in quick decision-making.” Gaurav, on the other hand, is a skilled negotiator. Pallavi says, “I have learnt how to deal with vendors, making deals with them, and how every penny saved is a penny earned in business. These were skills we did not have when we started working together.”

Pallavi shares with us Gaurav’s eye for detail. His impeccable knack for pre-conceiving various scenarios helps meticulously plan ahead for any initiative they execute as a team. She says, “It helps in making sure that most of the scenarios are well thought through before we actually face them in reality.”

For the mast couple, the line between personal and professional blurs: there really isn’t much difference between the two worlds.

Menstrupedia’s Aditi Gupta and Tuhin Paul

 “Love is a partnership of two unique people who bring out the very best in each other, and who know that even though they are wonderful as individuals, they are even better together.” Barbara Cage

Dyed in the wool activists, Aditi and Tuhin have been working relentlessly to educate society about menstrual health and hygiene. Tuhin says he doesn’t feel they’re over 30 years of age, or have even been married for more than a few years. The camaraderie they’ve shared since their college days is still the same. Having worked together since their college days, when they attempted to work separately, things didn’t go smoothly for them. They share:

Working together is a way of knowing each other better, loving each other more, and it always works well for us. Our individual selves, our versatility and the perspective we have towards our work and our goal enriches both of us. The chemistry we shares balances the flaws, compensates for the shortcomings and enhances the positives, and that reflects in our work. We work together so well that the end result of our combined efforts amazes us. We would’ve never managed to achieve the same results had we worked individually.

Like other couples working together, they faced friction starting up. But as the relationship matured, they began to see it as a momentary hiccup to overcome.

Tuhin values the freedom he has to show his vulnerabilities and weaknesses in this dynamic relationship. To him Aditi is a person who never judges. She’s also taught him to smile and take things easy. “Her ambition to create positive impact over not few but many lives has been the driving force behind Menstrupedia. Her hard work and motivation has helped her build it from scratch and kept her going through difficult times,” says Tuhin.Aditi, on the other hand, admires his obsession, will to dream big and work towards making it a reality. His ability to learn and implement things quickly to attain that perfection is something that has added greatly to Menstrupedia’s growth. She says, “Work is a way of life; it is our obsession. There is no demarcation between personal and professional.”

A special moment they hold close to their heart is the time they ran out of funds. With only enough money to run a month, they might have had to close all operations. Crowd-funding was their last hope to keep Menstrupedia going. Within a minute of the campaign being launched a donor donated one thousand rupees. That was all the hope they needed. “It gave us the much-needed reassurance that things would only get better and better from there,” says Tuhin.

Serial entrepreneurs of Portea Medical, Meena Ganesh and Krishnan Ganesh

Alone we can do so little; together we can do much.” Helen Keller

The Ganesh couple has together built companies like TutorVista and Tecso India. They continue to nurture startups through their platform, GrowthStory. Through it, they’ve founded and led four green

field startups, nine fund raises from institutional VCs, seven M&A transactions and four successful exits to companies listed in India, the UK and the US.For Meena and Krishnan it was love at first sight. They were classmates at IIM, and still continue to balance each other professionally, emotionally and creatively. Their corresponding skill sets have brought immense success for them. Together, they’ve built and scaled many companies and walk down the path of success with the same verve as before.

Krishnan admires Meena’s calm demeanour and ability to empathise with people to get the best out of them the most. And for Meena, Krishnan’s undiminished drive to excel is his most pleasing quality. She also appreciates his commitment to all their families.

Ever since they got married in their early twenties, their ideas, thoughts and value systems took shape together. For them, there is no concept of individual space. “It has always been about our space,” says Krishnan.

The Mad Street Den couple, Ashwini Asokan and Anand Chandrasekaran

“Always go with your passions. Never ask yourself if it’s realistic or not.” Deepak Chopra

In 2013, Ashwini, Anand and their daughter were at the San Franscisco airport scared and giddy with excitement. They had impulsively packed their entire life and career in the US to leave within 20 days for India. Ashwini says, “It was probably one of the scariest things we've done to date. But we wrapped that moment up saying this is who we are, how we do things. We said we'll figure it out as long as we'd stand by each other and the company we wanted to build. I guess it's kind of worked out at the end, even though the first year back was hell.”

Once in India, they started Mad Street Den. The company builds machines that mimic human elements making them far more intelligent. Based out of Chennai, the company raised USD 1.5million (INR 9.0crore) from Reservoir Investments’ Exfinity Fund and GrowX ventures.We received a very interesting answer when we asked the couple about the qualities they admired in each other the most. Both were quick to revert about the other: “She/He is a bigger, meaner feminist than I am.”

Ashwini and Anand consider themselves control freaks driven by passion. Anand taught her life was a marathon with a series of sprints, and she taught him how to have that pesky argument:hash it out and not let it stew.

While Anand is the "rock,” Ashwini is the “crazy one.” “Not only is she creative and impulsive,” says Anand, “but 24 hours is not enough for her to live her life. She wants to do everything and is the slave driver at Mad Street Den.” Ashwini responds: “When he works, he gets into his avatar of a mad focussed scientist, but still he is calm, patient, stable and a great mentor to employees.”

Anand and Ashwini have been arguing a lot since they met 15 years ago both on and off work. They believe it is important to respect the other person and not take anything personally. Ashwini says,

One has to have mutual respect and true belief in what the other person does - we really had to understand how the other thinks. We are so different from each other. He's a neuroscientist: everything is logical, there's an answer to everything. I'm a product designer: there's no certainty, there are so many ways, there's no one answer to anything. So it was difficult for us, but we would not have done Mad Street Den had we not been absolutely sure we understood each other and were sure we could work together.

As parents to young children they make sure they’re both hands-on at different times during the day and split chores. “It does get painful every now and then,” confesses Ashwini. Even when they are out to dine, all conversations end up being about work. On their 10th anniversary next week they’re hoping to finally take a break and explore the outdoors.

Lighthouse Insight’s Vinaya Naidu and Prasant Naidu

“One of the greatest things in life is finding someone who knows all your mistakes and still thinks you are absolutely amazing.” Unknown

“The friendship we share keeps us alive as a couple,” opens Vinaya. "It helps drive an openness in our relationship. We compensate for each other’s weaknesses, and perhaps, that's why we can tolerate each other despite being poles apart in nature.”Their labour of love, Lighthouse Insights is a blog that captures all social media-related news, insights and updates in India.

Vinaya draws inspiration from Prasant’s perseverance that has seen them through the last four years. She admires his “never give up” attitude. Prasant likes Vinaya’s meticulous approach, focus and pragmatism. Finding balance is tough. They say, “Years of infighting has left us some harsh lessons.” They do try and make time on Sundays to catch a film or cook together before they plan the new week’s content plan.

Their entrepreneurial journey is filled with many special moments, but significant is the appreciation and support they receive from people through email, a phone call or just a tweet appreciating their stories.

The gaming partners of MadRat Games, Rajat Dhariwal and Madhumita Halder

“It is incorrect to assume that you cannot find any good in the point of view directly opposite yours.” Daniel Willey

MadRat Games is a Bangalore-based offline gaming company that builds and retails educational board games. In 2014, the company raised USD 1 million in a funding round from Flipkart founders Sachin and Binny Bansal.

Madhumita says with a smile, “He will think 1,001 times before he makes his next move in a board game - he plays to win and I play to have fun. I don’t mind losing, but ensure we have a couple of laughs on the way! He is so tall and I am so short!”

Despite the differences, they’ve found a wonderful balance. She loves Rajat’s simplicity and wisdom, his ability to look at the complete picture and not let stress get into the way of making decisions, especially

when pushed in a corner. Though naturally impulsive, thanks to Rajat, Madhumita has learnt to be calm and think through before she acts.Rajat, in turn, has learnt to dream big from Madhumita who he calls his “superwoman.” Not only is she the life of every party, but other than being as occupied as him at work, she excels at all tasks: An excellent cook, gardener, health and yoga enthusiast, travel buff, spiritual seeker. Yet, she still manages to nurture all her relationships.

Madhumita indulges us and shares her special moment, too. “I met Rajat the first time in college and felt this strange attraction towards him. It was something that I felt was out of my control. With Rajat, every moment is special; I sleep every night in peace and feeling loved.”

The unbreakable founders of BreakFree, Nupur Kapadia and Mrigaen Kapadia

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Henry Ford

Both Nupur and Mrigaen achieved success through BreakFree, an Android-based mobile app for smartphone addicts. The basic principle of the app is to make users aware of how addicted they are to their phones and help reduce it.

They encourage each other to think and act independently. “We are like Yin and Yang. We complete each other and bring out the best in each other.” To them it’s important to give each other space and respect that space by trying to keep their work life as professional as possible. Though they do admit running a startup has made it difficult to avoid talking about work at home. So, they try to switch off whenever possible by going out for dinner or a film.

"Nupur has always been very fun-loving with a vivid sense of imagination. There is never a dull moment

when she is around,” says Mrigaen. He adds, “With so many things going on in a startup, it’s easy to lose focus. Nupur has been able to keep the focus very clear for the both of us.”While Nupur has learnt that sincerity pays forth, Mrigaen has set a very high bar when it comes to hard work and sincerity. She says, “Mrigaen has a very uncanny sense of humour. He always has a story up his sleeve for every incident, which he claims happened to him.”

Of the many special moments between them, they say, “Our app, BreakFree, getting featured on national television in the US; touching 100k downloads; and WNYC, New York's premier radio station selecting us as their partners was very special.”

CashKaro couple Swati Bhargava and Rohan Bhargava

“Working together as a team helps build a cohesive organization.” Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

Rohan and Swati are a boisterous couple who are friends first and partners at CashKaro, second. The good part about working together they say is “we understand work pressures.” We cannot take as much leisure time off as other people can. As entrepreneurs, there are small sacrifices we make everyday just because we prioritize work over everything else. It would -perhaps- be very difficult to be as supportive if we weren’t running CashKaro together!”

They both love travelling. In fact, one special moments of their life was their three-day trip to Cornwall

in South England two months after they’d started dating. “During that holiday, we went trekking, went on long walks, partied and worked a little, too! It was probably the weekend that made us realize we were good together-that we’ve got something special here. For this reason those three days will always remain special, even though there are so many other special moments too that life has given us.”Swati loves Rohan’s passion for work. She is inspired by his “no short cut to success” mantra and ability to keep moving against all obstacles. Rohan loves Swati’s spunk; what he’s learnt from her is “that it doesn’t hurt to ask questions to which the answer, at worst, will be no.” Swati provides balance to his life. Rohan proudly states, “It’s fair to say that I focus mainly on work. I’ve left everything else to her. Her ability to manage her own work along with all else is incredible. I’m really glad she joined me on this entrepreneurial journey with as much passion as I did.”

Sangeeta Banerjee and Venkat Kandaswamy of ApartmentAdda

“Conflict is inevitable in a team ... in fact, to achieve synergistic solutions, a variety of ideas and approaches are needed. These are the ingredients for conflict.” Susan Gerke

Sangeeta and Venkat leave their relationship hat right at home when they don their work shoes. They have very clearly defined working and decision-making scope. When their fierce debates and meeting room fights aren’t resolved naturally "moderators need to jump in,” they share with a laugh.

They founded ApartmentAdda, an online housing society accounting and management software back in 2008. It was more during the formative stages that their debates were most frequent. They now constantly remind themselves to not step on each others’ shoes, but also provide any timely wake-up call when needed.”Venkat loves Sangeeta’s killer instinct and she, his pragmatism and audacity. Both have their shortcomings and differences, too. “While Venkat is the Pictionary geek, I am the loudmouth sales person. He’s the protective dad; I'm the push-him-into-the-pool-he-will-start-swimming mom. Venkat is the paranoid security freak, I am the trust-all relationship-building person. We get to live our own strengths as the other makes up for our weaknesses,” says Sangeeta.

They let us into a secret, too-an endearing moment in 2003 a few months after their marriage. Venkat passed on a pack of chewing gum to Sangeeta in which she found a shiny iPod. On its back was engraved:"Yes, we are." It was the same words Sangeeta spoke in response to Venkat’s very cautious and cryptic proposal: "Are we in love?"

There’s no secret formula or best practice for building successful partnerships for couples. You need to understand each other, find your own balance and work to maintain it. Each couple has a different recipe for success, and love, support, respect and understanding are primary ingredients.

If you and your partner have a similar story, then share it with us at YourStory!


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