Working in business as a couple: Bad idea or bliss?
We met Franck when he took part in the Innovating for Growth: Scale-up programme in 2012, with his partner Brijesh. Since then, their London-based photo and video studio, Kalory, has gone from strength to strength since launching in 2011 and in 2017, they launched a second venture, Heating & Plumbing, lifestyle accessories with a tongue in cheek attitude. We caught up with Franck to get his take on working together as a couple and how it affects their home and business lives...
Working and living together definitely has its advantages, but it also brings a lot of new challenges on both aspects of life: personal and professional. Our personal relationship was already very established, as we had met over 10 years before whilst working in New York. We both had corporate jobs for years but were always tempted by the freedom that entrepreneurship gives. Brij was the first one to take the plunge and he went freelance in 2005. Not to have a boss and the politics of a corporate life makes you start the month with an invaluable amount of happiness. We never really questioned the idea of starting a business, nor working together, it came really naturally. We didn’t even have a discussion about it. It just built up progressively before we took the jump. On both sides our parents have worked together for over 40 years, so we never really questioned ourselves on how feasible this was. Sometimes you just end up replicating, in part at least, your family model.
Brijesh and Franck © Kalory Photo & Video
The fact that we never clearly discussed it or put any types of guidelines in place, doesn't make it always easy. Business life obviously takes over our personal life and manages to penetrate every aspects of it. You don't even notice it sometimes; you could be having the perfect G&T moment in the middle of Devon on a beautiful sunny bank holiday weekend and the conversation slips to the business. The right balance is to accept the fact that your personal and professional lives have merged, but to make sure it doesn’t become only about the business. It becomes a way of living and doing things. One of the big pluses, is that you also never have that Sunday night feeling anymore, thinking of going to the office on Monday is no longer spoiling your Sunday evening. It is kind of a continuity.
One of the challenges we meet, is having holidays at the same time. Our businesses are small and when we leave it is the whole management that’s off and that has an obvious impact on the business. The plus side is that we have the same rhythm. If we both were working in a different field, it might be a struggle as our peak period would be most likely at different periods in the year.
One of the keys to success of working together is having different skills. For us, the separation of task and decision making has been very natural. One of us is the technical and creative side of the business, whilst the other one handles the business and make sure projects stay in line with the brands' guidelines and the clients’ briefs.
We also have very different characters which helps, but this is also our main source of conflicts. Our level of optimism is very different for example. That can be a real boost for the most pessimistic one. But, seen from another angle, pessimism and the doubts and stress it can bring, can also very annoying for someone who is naturally relaxed and positive.
© Kalory Photo & Video
Money is also something that you need to be comfortable with and being partners in life and business is probably not advised for young couples. The fact is that you have to be fully comfortable with the idea that: what is mine is yours and what is yours is mine. A working relationship like a personal one has to evolve too. People change, and the business does too.
Working together has been easier or more difficult depending on the stage of development of the business. When we set up the business, the overheads were very low as we were working from home. We had really good clients right away through our personal connections. We had no commute and a level of work was very manageable. We always had time for a nice home-cooked lunch, would go and swim at 3pm at our local gym, and make money in a very relaxed way. Growing the business meant committing to a monthly rent (and commute), as well as employees’ salaries, being on time at the office (at least for one of us!). This means having enough business every month to cover the cost to break-even, and of course to make a living. This definitely increases the level of stress. We get often told: 'I don’t know how you do it, I would never be able to work with my partner', the answer is probably that if it feels natural, it is meant to be. If you are starting to ask yourselves questions and you are finding a list of reasons why it wouldn’t work, this is probably not a good idea for your relationship.
You also have to be very entrepreneurial at heart. The business is going to become an entire part of your life, so you have to enjoy it. We always have different projects. We started our second business only very recently, but already have an idea for the next one. This has time to change, as the main goal for now is to grow the existing ones, but it is fun to be always thinking of the next venture.
Franck Jehanne, director & co-founder of Kalory Photo & Video, Corporate Portrait and Heating & Plumbing
If you’d like to follow in the footsteps of Franck and believe your business has what it takes, is based in London and has a turnover of £100,000 or more, why not apply for Innovating for Growth: Scale-up and take your business to the next level?