Being the spouse of an entrepreneur makes you resilient, optimistic and open to change, says Avina, spouse of Sumesh Menon, Co-founder u2opia Mobiles, Woo
Avina Menon is the co-founder of Avirich, a fashion label, which specialises in everyday casual dresses for women. An MBA major in marketing, Avina has the experience of working in sales and marketing for hospitality, banking, communications and media sectors over 10 years including her last stint at Citibank where she worked for five years.
U2opia Mobile is a Singapore-India based mobile technology company. Founded by Sumesh Menon and Ankit Nautiyal in 2010, the company has a diversified portfolio of consumer and enterprise products. In 2015, Sumesh started Woo and since then has ventured into a few other ecommerce startups.
“At a meeting, while negotiating his first venture raise, Sumesh asked for some time to make a call to his original investor, in his words, me.” Avina laughs, while reminiscing the memory from years ago.
She adds, “Looking back in time and reflecting on the entrepreneurial journey through some of my old emails brought back so many emotionally gratifying moments.”
The couple met during their post-graduation days at XIM (Xavier Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship).
“Sumesh has always been ambitious and has dreamt big. Even when while in a job, he was extremely passionate about his work and committed to making it a success. So, when he first spoke about venturing, I was entirely on board. While in a job, an individual may not be able to put his ideas into actions completely, and I thought it would be great to see him work unencumbered. And it has been gratifying ever since."
A huge move
Sumesh’s experience in the telecom industry, his network and the confidence in the business idea led to conversations with his co-founder. And, u2opia was launched with Airtel on board as their first major client.
Avina recalls, “It was a huge move for us, we were settled in Singapore at the time, we had just invested all of our savings into purchasing our first home, and we were in the process of moving into it. But there was no doubt in my mind that it was the right thing to do. “
How did the families react?
“Initially, they were concerned because they saw how settled and happy we were in Singapore. Both his parents are professionals who have been working all their life, so they were apprehensive about rocking the boat. Added to that, they had also seen extended family members try their luck unsuccessfully at business ventures. It did take some convincing, they spoke to both of us separately, and when they saw I was ready to take on the risk, they became more supportive”
Did finances ever become an issue or a constraint?
“Initially, yes, it was difficult. I remember one instance where we didn't have enough money to pay for our son's school fees! But we pulled through in the end. We worked on a tight budget for a while and planned our expenses right down to a tee weekly. We both had our anxious and stressful moments then, but there was an unwritten code between us to make this work without pressuring each other.”
Second time around
The second venture Woo also came into existence in 2015. Was the second time easier than the first?
“No, the second time was definitely not easier. Sumesh was always hungry to do more and solve new problems. Consumer Apps were the flavour of the season, and Woo was inspired by real challenges faced by young people right within his organisation. As it was fundamentally different from U2opia Mobile, there was a need for a completely new set up – a separate office, a new team. With this came a whole new set of challenges and responsibilities which translated back to a lot more pressure on Sumesh and impacted us personally. And Woo was not the only other venture, over the next few years other businesses were added to the group – gaming, media and advertising.”
An entrepreneur in her own right
With multiple ventures in the family, did her career or professional pursuits get impacted along the way?
“Not at all. I had quit my job at Citibank much earlier when I had my son. This was entirely an independent decision. And something I have not regretted at all ever since. It allowed me to enjoy the journey of motherhood thoroughly and also gave me the time and space to discover hobbies, interests. I found out I was immensely interested in fashion and design. It inspired me to set up my e-commerce venture and fashion label - Avirich.”
Avina says her customers' feedback has been driving the growth of the fashion apparel brand and keeps her motivated.
“One of our customers recently shared that her Avirich dress was very lucky for her. She had even worn it to an interview that worked out well for her and so she came back for more dresses. We have quite a loyal customer base and more than often, we get to hear very positive feedback on the fit of the dresses and the high level of comfort and wearability.”
The couple has a teenager son who has grown up with the entrepreneurial journey, just as a sibling. And hence wholly identifies with the venture. Avina shares,
“We have fun discussions at the dinner table, and Sumesh does ask him for candid feedback on gaming to get a teenager’s perspective. He has even interned with the company on a summer break.”
Having seen the high and low tides in the journey, what would be her message for other spouses on board?
“The journey is challenging both for the entrepreneur and the family. It is emotional with its ups and downs which do affect you as a spouse. It never stops. But, you grow multi-fold with every challenge. “
“Don't give up, it is rough, but it has its rewards. There is always a silver lining. It is important to realise that your entrepreneur spouse is undergoing a lot. Be supportive of the decision and keep things normal. Understand it is a roller coaster ride, sometimes it could be years and consecutive years which could be bad. Have open communication because that helps both the partners a lot,” she adds.