How to set up a business and stay together

February 14th 2017 / Anna Hunter

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The following couples started businesses in the health and fitness industries, and are still going strong on every front. Here’s how they make it work…

Would you start a business with your other half? Writing a business plan into your vows isn’t for everyone, but when inspiration strikes, a joint passion for a business venture, as well as each other, can accelerate an idea from baby steps to the big time. Here’s how two couples got their business off the ground and thriving while maintaining domestic harmony (mostly- we’re all human after all)...

Lara and Ben Mead, founders of activewear brand Varley

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How the business started

“Ben and I actually met in Richmond Park. We were both training for the London Marathon. I’d just moved down to London and it was a very chance meeting. At the time Ben was working as an investment banker in the city and I was a celebrity TV agent. We both had very high-pressured jobs- I was working lots of late nights and Ben was getting up very early to go to work.”

“On our first holiday together we were both so miserable about the thought of going back to work. We decided that we really wanted to create something together. I’d always been into athletics, running and working out, way before the current health boom, it was just my way of life. Going to the gym or for a run was as normal as brushing my teeth. At the time there wasn’t much on the market fitness wear wise that I was inspired by. There was your Nike and Lululemon stuff, but not a lot else.”

“We came up with concept and idea for a fitness wear brand, and Varley was launched.”

How we work

“Skill set wise, we’re completely different. Ben is in charge of operations, production and finance, and I’m very much on the marketing and PR side. We both come together in product innovation and design. It’s very much a team effort. People associate the brand more with me, as I do all the press, but Ben is the driving force behind it. He’s hands down the most talented person I’ve ever met or worked with. Obviously I’m very lucky that he’s my husband and that we own Varley together.”

“People who know us sometimes liken us to the Titanic in structure…I’m on the upper deck drinking champagne and he’s shovelling coal all day.”

The big move

“It’s even more of a team effort since we had the baby. Tag teaming is the way forward, every day, all day.”

“Before we had a baby we used to travel back and forth every month to LA, which was of course lovely because we had the best of both worlds. We had our home in London and then we’d spend time in LA. The business then grew exponentially in the States, and soon it became apparent that our HQ actually should have been in LA. We started employing more people in LA and it was quite difficult to run everything from London as we were spending every evening on the phone to the team in LA. We made the decision to move there, and since then Ben and I spend pretty much every day together- we definitely hang out more than we did in London.”

“Part of the reason for this is that in LA we don’t have much of a support network. We don’t have the friends and family out there than we do in the UK, so we do everything together, from training to working to getting up in the middle of the night for the baby. Some people think that’s weird, but it works for us!”

The highs

“The best thing about working together is that, cheesy as it sounds, I’m with my best friend all day. I don’t know many people who wouldn’t want that! We share everything, we’re on the same team and we’re striving for a common goal. When we’ve won an account or had a really successful month on the website, we’re celebrating together. We really understand each other, we can always frankly discuss our problems.”

The lows

“We do bicker of course, and we don’t agree on everything. That can be hard. I sometimes miss coming home from work and moaning about the bad day I had- I used to get sympathy. Now we’re both in it together, which means if I’ve had a shit day, we both have! I can’t come home from work and say ‘wow, I did this today’, as obviously he knows. In this way stress can be amplified, which can be difficult. We have less of an outlet in the US as we don’t have the same support network- we can’t just disappear. We have quite different managerial styles as well, but we come together and merge them, moving forward to make it work.”

R.E.S.P.E.C.T

“The greatest lesson I’ve learned from working with Ben would be the importance of respect in a relationship, whether professional or otherwise. You’ve got to respect each other’s opinions and strengths. Communication is vital too, and often talking things through away from other people helps us to make decision. Ben and I will sometimes get away from the office to work somewhere quietly together, because we actually find that too many voices can confuse us. Often we find we work better just the two of us. It’s about regathering.”

“You really need to be sensitive too. If you’re working together, remind yourself than you’re married or in a relationship. If you have a disagreement, deal with it with sensitivity, as you would with an employee or employer. Also, don’t be too sensitive. At first if Ben criticised anything I did, I took it really personally, far more so than would have done if it had come from a boss or another colleague. You’ve got to keep work at work in that way.”

“That being said, it’s impossible not to bring work home with you if you eat, sleep and breathe it. We’ve grown the team a lot, which has helped, and we’ve got a lot more systems and operations in place. We’ve caught up with the growth, so now our focus is on propelling the company forward.”

Family life

“Living in LA, our quality of life, and our son’s, has gone through the roof. We spend days on the beach, we’ve found a great school for him, and so for him I think that the move, and the growth of the business, has been a really positive thing. Also, my son’s not known anything else. The business really took off when I got pregnant, so he’s always been rolling with it! He just thinks that this is the norm. I’m trying to cut down on the travelling, but I’m still travelling a lot. You just ride with it. Sometimes we all travel together; sometimes my son is with his Dad and sometimes with me. It’s getting trickier as he gets older- he’s not quite as transportable as he used to be!”

Our pride and joy

“Longevity for our business is the main goal- we don’t want to a one season wonder, we want to be here for decades to come. Ben and I really want to build a brand that’s recognisable with a strong identity.”

“I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve got 500 stockists worldwide, especially considering that we’ve been around for such a short amount of time. I’m also really proud of all of our content and photo shoots- I think they really set us apart from other brands out there. That’s my area of the company so I’m personally very proud of that! I’m proud of both of us though- we took a big risk to launch the company and move countries, and after all of that we’re still standing and successful!”

“I love it when people tell me that they love running in our leggings or if I see a girl in a gym class wearing Varley that makes me really proud. That people wear Varley and love it as much as I do is the best thing.”

The business plan

“This year we’re launching a men’s collection, as well as skincare. We’ll also be releasing more outerwear. The collections are getting bigger and we drop every month. That will continue but with a greater offering and more winter wear, plus surf and ski. As of this year we’re separating our collections into four main divisions- Varley Flow, Varley Revive, Varley Performance and Varley Surf. It helps the buyer understand how the designs are tailored to different activities.”

“As for skincare, we did a lot of market research into skincare and active women. A lot of active women feel they age quickly, perhaps to due an exposure to the elements or other factors. We wanted to create a capsule skincare collection that women actually want to put in their gym bag. I hate it when my gym bag is cluttered with lots of different products and I can’t find the actual thing I need, or things have spilled. We’re keeping it simple- a face cleanser, SPF moisturiser, eye cream, a body wash and body balm and a natural deodorant. We’ve developed the products with a European laboratory, and we’ve been involved in ensuring that products are as natural as possible, have brilliant textures and smell great. It’s not over complicated, but trying to find a decent natural deodorant was a bugbear of mine. Some definitely made me smell worse than before. I went through a stage of not wearing deodorant at all. I’m excited about what we’ve come up with."

Downtime

“We’ve not had many holidays since having a baby, but to get away from everything we go hiking in the hills with our dog to switch off, or we box together. It’s one of the only times both of us are switched off, we can’t be on our phones. We also love getting away to Napa for a long weekend. That’s what we do if we have my mum over to look after the baby. We’ll go to a winery to escape. We’re also two hours from ski fields, and we’ve started surfing lessons together too. In a way holidays are less important if you live somewhere like California. In London there’s always the feeling that you want to get away for a bit of sun, but we don’t need to. It’s more about experiences than getting away from it all.”

Amanda and Stephen Argent, founders of fresh soup company Soupologie

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The light bulb moment

“The inspiration for the business came from our family. Stephen loves cooking and he always made lots of soups for our four daughters as a great way of getting a variety of vegetables down them when they were little. As the girls grew up, Stephen’s soups were always complimented on by friends and family. It was our eldest daughter’s boyfriend, Jeremy, who hails from Perth, Western Australia, who eventually managed to encourage us to try the soups on the public at a local Christmas Fair. The whole family got involved at that point, printing labels, helping on the stall and chatting to people, and we had such an overwhelmingly positive response that Stephen and I then decided to pursue the venture together.”

Carving our niche

“Skill wise we’re very different! Stephen has the attention to detail, financial background and a passion for cooking, so he comes up with new flavours all the time and is also able to balance the books. I get involved in tasting the new flavours but also work on strategy, marketing, new products and product design.”

The highs

“It’s lovely being together for most of the day. We understand each other very well, so we know what to keep from one another and deal with individually, and what needs to be shared and debated."

The lows

“The worst thing is that there really is no such thing as ‘switching off’. We’re on it 24/7 and every so often one or other of us has to get quite stern and say, ‘okay, that’s enough, we have to get out and have a break!’”

What we’ve learned

“Working together has highlighted our weaknesses and strengths but these tend to just be in the professional arena; in our personal lives they don’t matter because we’re not dealing with the same issues. For example, at work, Stephen is great at dealing with people and juggling their various personalities and egos; at home, I’m usually the one the girls will turn to if they want advice on something.”

Our routine

“In general we mix up our working styles- we work independently but try to have a catch-up meeting every couple of days.”

“In terms of talking shop, I’m afraid that we have failed dismally at drawing the line between home and work. Our main – potentially our only – topic of conversation is soup! Our family sometimes has to make an intervention in order that we don’t literally all go stir crazy.”

The milestone

“Our proudest achievement so far is taking the UK soup sector out of the doldrums and building up Soupologie into a respected brand that’s taken free-from into the mainstream.”

“We’ve really developed the brand since launch. Soupologie in the UK is stocked in Waitrose, Ocado, Asda and independents like Whole Foods Market and Planet Organic. Excitingly, we have just launched Soupologie in Carrefour shops across France which is amazing as we have great ambitions to expand the brand across Europe and then globally.”

The ground rules

“Our advice to other couples looking to go into business together is to make sure that your skill sets complement one another and then trust in your partner to do their job without feeling the need to control them or interfere with their role. Only give advice when it’s asked for!”

Checking out

“Getting away from it all is a necessity in that we have three dogs and they all need walking. So a good day is when we manage to get out with at least one of them. It helps to clear our heads and brings back some perspective into our lives.”

Follow Varley on Instagram @varley and Soupologie @soupologie

Used to love your job but not feeling it? Here’s a few ideas to help you fall back in love…


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