Being an entrepreneur is a difficult task. This can be even more stressful for couples who own a business. Personal factors and workplace dynamics may make it more difficult. The almost ten-year-old journey of Rajat Gupta, a husband and wife, and Niranjana Nelakantan, has been rewarding. TESSOL offers next gen storage and logistics solutions across the temperature-controlled supply chain.
Gupta, Neelakantan admit that building TESSOL was not an easy task but that they enjoyed the process of growing their business. The common bond that binds them together, despite their differences, is their shared belief and personal values. They can share a common vision for the future and the principles they will use to run the business.
Division of labour and respecting it
Neelakantan and Gupta says it is important to identify each partner’s unique skills/competencies and leverage them fully by defining and demarcating the roles/responsibilities. We have complementary skills and we use that to our advantage. Gupta shares the basics of their partnership, saying that they divide our roles and responsibilities according to our core strengths and our domain expertise. Gupta is the chief innovator and Neelakantan specializes in organizational design. He is more direct and outspoken in his communication. Their divergent communication styles help them to navigate many tricky situations.
They use their combined business knowledge to keep the business on track. Neelakantan says that they bring different perspectives to problems because of their distinct abilities. This keeps the business discussions lively. According to the couple, they trust each others’ decisions in their respective areas of responsibility. This helps them avoid being too dependent on each other. She adds that while they may express their opinions, we follow the rule that the ultimate decision-making authority rests at the owner of the function.
Separating the personal from the professional
The entrepreneur couple stress on the importance of finding the right balance and consciously separating ‘the personal from the professional’. Gupta, Neelakantan and their two children have Tessol. Tessol was established shortly after they had their first child. It was difficult for them to manage a young family and build an organization.
” At the beginning, it was difficult to find the right balance. However, we have learned over time that it is important to maintain a healthy work-life balance. We set clear boundaries and avoid spillovers. Neelakantan says that we avoid talking about work at mealtimes, holidays, or when friends and family are present. We also avoid discussing personal issues at work. According to Gupta, it was easier to separate the two parts of their lives during pre-Covid times, but it was difficult to compartmentalize during the pandemic induced work from home situation. We then created a schedule for switching off all work talk. He says that it worked.
Respect for the other as a professional
The couple values their personal relationship and respects the other as an individual professional. They are conscious of not competing professionally. They value each other’s professional successes and allow each other ample room to grow professionally. Neelakantan states that they take pride in each other’s successes.
Working with external mentors / coaches helps them to professionally disassociate, which is important to manage any professional conflicts/differences of opinion, though the couple strongly feels that their mutual collaboration as professionals has helped the business grow and reach its current stage of success. We reach out to our mentors and advisors when there is disagreement. Gupta explains that this helps us reach a consensus on the best course of action.
Managing a crisis together
Managing a crisis in a business is never easy. “Having different capabilities comes in handy during crisis management. It has happened in many cases,” Gupta says. When the organisation first went through a deep crisis in 2017, Gupta focused on the long-term business strategy and planning while Neelakantan managed the on-ground execution. They were able to quickly turnaround the business within three months.
The Covid-19 crisis once again proved that together as a couple and as business partners, they can navigate any crisis smoothly. Neelakantan, who is an expert in HR/IR and people management, managed the teams to keep them engaged and motivated during the pandemic. Gupta was focused on product development. Tessol already has new hyper-local cold chain solutions after the pandemic.
Communication is the key
As in all relationships, communication is the key, especially when couples work together. Gupta, Neelakantan make sure that communication channels are open at all times. They mention that they sometimes reminisce about the beginning and what brought them together. They can remember what brought them together and it helps them prioritize their relationship. They can see their spouse first as a friend/confidante and not only as a colleague through their personal memories.
Is a couple-business a unique form of business?
“We are an investor funded startup and hence very different from a family-owned business. We are professional in every aspect, from recruitment to team building and performance management, as well as our interactions with all stakeholders. Neelakantan says that both of us are professionals and come from a family.
She says that there is nothing special about their working relationship other than the fact that they spend more time together. However, we have found that co-founders and couples are sometimes skeptical about investing together in a business. This is understandable as if a couple has personal problems that spill over into their professional lives, it can have a negative impact on the business. Investors may find this worrying. Potential employees might be concerned about the possibility of professional boundaries being blurred or crossed. “But these fears and thoughts are fueled by distorted stereotypes, and we are here for them to be dispelled,” Neelakantan says.
Entrepreneurship is a tough and a lonely space to be in. It is rare for an entrepreneur to be completely honest with someone. Partner/spouse can be a partner in your business and you can share your deepest thoughts with them. This is a unique advantage that couple-entrepreneurs only have,” Gupta says.