3 Husband-Wife Duos on Running a Successful Startup
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Couples working in business go back to colonial times, but, why do some succeed and others don't? Read on to find how these couples balance the competing demands and challenges even under the best of circumstances.
(This article was first published in the March 2021 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)
Navigating the Journey with Each Other
RAKESH VERMA, Co-founder & CMD, MapmyIndia and RASHMI VERMA, Co-founder & Executive Director, MapmyIndia
Rakesh and Rashmi Verma had an arranged marriage when Rashmi was still in college. Talking about the life there, Rashmi says, “I was working with IBM and he was working with General Motors. But we both had this feeling to come back to India and wanted to work in IT.” When asked about this partnership to start a venture, Rakesh says, “Till the time we came back we were not business partners. She was doing her own work and I was doing my own work. It all started after we came back to India.” Initially, both of them started working on a software service platform. In 1992 they a partnership firm and in 1995 incorporated it as a company. For three they just did software services. Talking about the inception of MapMyIndia, Rakesh says, “We were doing quite well but it meant traveling around the world. That was a bit challenging. We realized we can’t travel like this as the children were small. We wanted to do something sitting from the office in Delhi.” During these three years, they met a company in Atlanta called MapInfo at one of the expos, which was into digital maps of the US. This was the moment the young fell in love with digital maps. “We didn’t realize what it will take to build digital maps of India, how long it will take but we wanted to work on that idea,” adds Rakesh. Technology in the mid-90s wasn’t what it looks like today. With passion, they built a small business and continued like this till 2004. In 2004, their son Rohan joined the business at the age of 19. At that time the Internet wave had begun and they made an entry with MapmyIndia.com. From 2006 onwards the company grew fast and they received three consecutive rounds of funds in 2006, 2007, and 2008.
Talking about the partnership which worked over the years, Rashmi says, “I have always been a technically oriented person, trying to solve problems, I like to be in the background being Research-oriented. I like creating and am involved in product development. He is people-oriented and enjoys dealing with the world. It complemented well as our areas were segregated.”
Today MapmyIndia is India’s leading digital mapping & location-based deep-tech company. The year 2020 saw it as the winner of the Government of India’s Aatma Nirbhar App Innovation Challenge. After providing platforms and solutions for Smart Cities, Digital Door Number Address Systems, Urban Planning, Urban Transportation & Mobility, Emergency Response, Road Safety, Smart Governance, Swacch Bharat, Grievance redressal, Traffic Management they recently announced a partnership with ISRO putting them in direct competition with Google Maps. Sharing the same, Rakesh says, “We want our country to know that there is an alternative. We provide a complete alternative to Google in India. We are ready to take up that challenge.” With INR 200 crore turnover, the company is well funded to take on future growth with 30-35% EBITDA margins from the last 7 years. With international aspirations, the company opened its office in the US six months back to support its customers for the rest of the world markets. At it might turn out slow and steady might win the race.
Let's Care Together
MALIKA SADANI, Founder & CEO, and MOHIT SADAANI, Co-Founder, The Moms Co.
The idea for The Moms Co. came to Malika Sadani, in 2012; when she had just moved back to India from London. At the time, she couldn’t find safe products for her daughters locally; in fact, one of her daughters also suffered from a skin condition. She spoke to a number of parents, only to realize that there was a gap in the market for products that mothers could trust and the concern wasn’t hers alone. When Malika was inspired to start The Moms Co. to solve this need for moms in India, she convinced Mohit to join in as the first team member. This birthed a brand, which serves over 1 million moms across 15,000 pin codes. “I look around and am constantly worried about the bad environment that we’re bringing up our kids in. While we can’t control things like the pollution and air, at The Moms Co. we are on a mission to help moms with better, safer options wherever they feel the need - personal care products, foods, and more,” asserts Mohit. Established in 2017, the mom and baby care brand has raised $8 million Series B funding from Indian and International VCs.
Talking about the support and encouragement they give each other as a couple, Malika says, “Entrepreneurship has its ups and downs - it’s not an easy journey. Your partner can understand and support you in a way no one else can and that’s what makes it so special. Partners understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which make them great Co-founders. This is immensely helpful in dividing roles and responsibilities for the greater good of the organization.” When asked how disagreements are taken care of while working together Mohit mentions, “Previously we used to solve disagreements with data and instinct. However, as we have grown, our team helps us arrive at the right decision.” They both have very strong points of view but the fact that the end goal is the same helps them reach a reasonable solution. As per Malika they never thought about creating a brand together. “But the first time we held products and then received acceptance from moms was when we had a great sense of achievement,” adds Malika. Talking about any rules they follow, Malika chips in, “We did make rules about working together and we had decided that we will never take work in our bedroom. However, we ended up having a whiteboard in the room with a list of work-related tasks for the longest time.”
It's More than Puppy Love
SAMARTH NARANG, CEO & RASHI NARANG, Founder & Creative Director, Heads Up for Tails
As they say, when everything fails up, your furry friend shows the way. The same is the case with Rashi Narang. While searching markets for products that would fulfill her pet Sara’s needs, Rashi realized the market size for this category was tiny. Pet parents in India did not have access to products that could improve their pet’s lives. Pet products were being designed to either cater to the basic needs of pets or make an owner’s life more convenient – there was an absence of holistic pet care brands. Rashi recognized the need for a premium brand in the market that could provide for all the needs of a pet. In 2008, she decided to take on the big task of turning things around for pets and kick-started her own home-based business by renting a small kiosk in a mall in South Delhi. As things turned out in 2009, her husband Samarth got transferred overseas with work. “Rashi obviously came along and I know it was hard for her to leave Heads Up For Tails and keep it on the back burner for many years,” shares Samarth. Finally, in 2015, she decided to come back to India to pursue her passion. Samarth also decided to join the business full-time. Talking about the coming together on this journey, Rashi adds, “He took a 90% pay cut and put faith in this startup. It changed the game.” With this, both set out to create a market that never existed.
When asked about life as co-founders, Samarth shares, “We definitely provide moral support to one another, and the comfort to silently lean on each other when it’s not been our day. As co-founders, we have developed a great understanding over the years: we are absolutely aligned strategically and give each other the space to focus on our respective tasks and responsibilities.” With two rounds of funding, the brand has launched seven stores in 2020 alone. Currently, it has a retail footprint of 36 physical outlets including nine spas, spread across key cities including Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad & Lucknow, and an e-commerce presence that offers nationwide delivery services. Heads Up For Tails consistently releases new collections the latest being in collaboration with Disney and an upcoming collection in association with Marvel. On how working together has helped their relationship, Rashi mentions, “Also in my experience, working together can actually bring you closer together, as you’re sharing the same passion and working toward a common goal.” The Pet parents have been able to clock 100% growth in the last five years.