Mixing Love, Business, and Social Purpose: 5 Couplepreneurs Who Are Making It Work

by Gelaine Santiago January 31, 2017

Mixing Love, Business, and Social Purpose: 5 Couplepreneurs Who Are Making It Work

Would you start a business with your romantic partner?

To some that sounds like a dream, but to others, it would be a relationship apocalypse.

Wouldn’t you get sick of each other? What if you fight all the time? How will it affect your relationship?

It’s hard enough to start a business, but throw in the added challenge of creating a business with a social purpose – how do you make money, make an impact, AND make it through as a couple? 

There’s no shortage of questions and challenges. Jerome and I sure had our doubts when we started Cambio Market together.

But creating something you love with the person you love (and making a positive impact while you do it) IS possible – and here are 5 entrepreneurial couples who are proving it.

Zehra & Sunny - Aasra

Zehra & Sunny from Aasra

“We both saw it as a great big adventure. We were both scared. We were terrified! But at the same time, it seemed like ‘if not now, then when?’. We felt like if we're ever going to do this, this is the time to explore and take those leaps.”
– Zehra, on moving to Pakistan and starting Aasra

Aasra is a social enterprise creating modern, fair trade accessories made by women with disabilities in Pakistan. By purchasing an Aasra product, you help support the woman who made it while simultaneously funding non-profit projects and empowerment programs in the country.

Prior to Aasra, founder Zehra Abbas was running her own social enterprise in Mississauga, Ontario called Studio 89. She loved what she was doing, but felt a calling halfway across the world. Eventually, Zehra and her husband Sunny decided to rent out their home in Mississauga, pack their bags, and move to Pakistan to start Aasra. Zehra primarily runs Aasra while Sunny provides support. Currently, they live in Portugal where Sunny studies online and Zehra travels back and forth to Pakistan.

On how they support each other:
“Our working styles are quite different - we know that we're in it together, we're partners, but this is what I do and this is what Sunny does... He does his own thing, but he'll also accompany me to all my meetings. When I meet partners, Sunny is with me. When we go to buy materials, Sunny's with me. When I ask him his opinion on fabrics, he says... ‘I don’t know’ but he’s still there with me!,” Zehra laughs. “In the past, Sunny had a business of his own and I helped (all the artsy fartsy stuff is me, and the finance and tech side is him). We work together, we separate the tasks. Aasra is my baby, and his thing is his baby, but we're both in it together.”

Learn more about Aasra at www.aasra.co and @aasra.co on Instagram 

Dave & Sarah - Genuine Tea

Genuine Tea - Dave & Sarah

“The notion that ‘working with your partner must be hard’ is a very 20th century idea. Traditionally, business WAS the home and the family all worked for the business. If you owned a farm, the husband and wife worked on the farm and the kids helped on the farm… This notion that it’s normal to work 60 hours a week NOT with the person you choose to spend your life with – that’s a very 20th century idea that almost seems more alien, in a way.”
– Dave, on whether it’s hard to work with your partner

Based in Toronto, Genuine Tea is on a mission to promote transparency and quality in the tea industry. They specialize in a “farm to cup” philosophy, preferring to cut out the middleman and pay farmers directly. Genuine Tea’s teas are sourced from members of the Ethical Tea Partnership, are certified organic, and Rainforest Alliance Certified.

Founders Sarah and Dave met in 2008 at a ski resort in British Columbia, Canada. Avid travellers and explorers at heart, the two of them eventually moved to Taiwan where they lived for four years and discovered their passion for tea. They travelled through China, Sri Lanka, India, and Japan learning all about tea cultivation, harvesting, and tea culture. But they also learned about the lack of transparency in the tea industry and set out to change it. They returned to Canada in 2015 and launched Genuine Tea tolead the fair trade tea movement in Canada and beyond. Sarah and Dave are travelling to Japan this year to meet their partner plantations and immerse themselves into Japanese tea culture.

On how the business has impacted their relationship:

“Having a business together is like having a baby... it’s a roller coaster, but you both have to stay focused on your shared goal. You see each other at your best self and your worst self, and get to know each other on every level. When one of you is feeling down, the other brings you up. You support each other and understand each other in a way no one else can.” – Sarah

Learn more at www.genuinetea.ca or follow them on Instagram @genuinetea

Sonia and Fouad – Woodlot

Woodlot - Sonia and Fouad

“I think it’s important to bring different skills to the table. Egos can get in the way and challenges can arise if you two are the best at the same thing. I also have the mindset that romantic partners are always working together, whether it’s to raise a child or make sure their home life is functioning okay. It really comes down to what you are willing to risk together, and respecting each other's thoughts as you move along.”
- Sonia, on how to work with your partner

Woodlot is a Vancouver-based company creating plant-based, handmade soaps and candles out of simple, quality ingredients. Candles are palm-, petroleum-, GMO-, and phthalate-free, and made of coconut and soy wax scented with pure essential oils. Soaps are rich blends of olive, coconut, and avocado oils. Woodlot aspires to become B-corp certified in the future, and is committed to creating products that are safe, natural, and nourishing.

Founders Sonia and Fouad met while Sonia was travelling in Toronto (she’s originally from Vancouver). They instantly became good friends and eventually fell in love. After Sonia returned to British Columbia, they continued to date long-distance until Fouad moved to Vancouver join her. They started off making candles and bath products at home (Fouad had been making his own soap for over ten years, a practice he learned in Lebanon where he grew up), and people really began to enjoy them. Sonia and Fouad could already tell they worked well together and had a positive energy, so they took the leap and went into business together. Fast forward over two years later and Woodlot is booming. You can find their products in multiple retailers across Canada and online.

On what it’s like to work together:

“I enjoy working together. We respect each other’s domain and get things done. We can butt heads in some areas but I think it’s normal. We are working on not bringing our work home as much, but our business is in its early years and we enjoy talking about what’s working and what’s not. These conversations can become difficult to have during the work day as we are wearing multiple hats and need to focus on the immediate tasks and deadlines that day.”

Learn more at www.shopwoodlot.com or follow them on Instagram @woodlot

Praj & Dave – Corala Cashmere

Corala Cashmere - Praj & Dave

“On one hand, you know each other so well - you know what your strengths are, you know what your weaknesses are together, and so you can more easily fill the gaps inbetween. But the separation of business and life becomes a challenge, because it all blurs together. You're out at dinner one night and one minute you're talking about the business, then you talk about life stuff in the next. The challenge for us has been to define the boundaries between business and personal, and to find time where we're building the company, but also separate time where we're building our marriage.”
- Dave, on the pros and cons of running a business with your partner

Corala Cashmere is a luxury Canadian boutique offering premium quality scarves, shawls, and hats handwoven from the world’s finest cashmere sourced from the Himalayan mountain regions. With every purchase, Corala Cashmere donates a percentage of sales to various non-profits in Nepal (Praj is Nepalese ) that support local literacy and gender equality initiatives.

Praj (originally from Kathmandu) and Dave (from Halifax, Nova Scotia) met and fell in love while studying international development in the Netherlands. They married in Kathmandu and honeymooned in the mountains, falling in love with Nepal as they developed their love for each other. On their trip, they noticed cashmere on every shelf and market stall – and realized the potential to create a business that fit their lifestyles and maintained their connection to Praj’s home country of Nepal. Currently Praj and Dave work full-time jobs and run Corala on the side. 2017 marks their fourth year in business.

On making compromises with your partner:

“We’re very opinionated and strong headed individuals. Even though we communicate and listen well to each other, we still bring our best ideas to the table, and when you only have two people involved in building the business, it's sometimes a 50/50 split - you believe one thing and your partner believes something else. So we know that in order to grow, we had to listen and occasionally we had to compromise on what we thought was the best direction because we're building that strategy together. That's been a learning process. I don't think we started off knowing how to do that, but over time, we've divided up the responsibilities more and we've seen where one of us is better in certain areas than others.” – Dave

Learn more at www.coralacashmere.com or follow them on Instagram @coralacashmere

Lisa & Juancho - TI'XAR

TIXAR - Lisa & Juancho

“We’re both artistic in nature and never short of ideas. I remember one time, after moving in together, we wanted to build a vegetable garden at our house. We clearly decided we would build a “box” to contain it. A box, so simple. Turned out we had wildly different visions of what a box is! Through time, we’ve found ways to work with our complex imaginations and deep emotional connections. In our private lives, we practice and invest in our creative fusion regularly - we make ridiculous filmed videos, musical escapades, wild adventures and home projects that strengthen our creative cohesion, keep the good vibes flowing, and contribute to the overall happiness that comes from our lives together.”
- Lisa, on working together when you’re both creative types

Based in Guatemala, TI’XAR (pronounced “tee-shar”) works with local communities to support sustainability and environmental initiatives in the country (like reforestation, education, eco-tourism, and more). Through the TI’XAR bazaar, they collaborate with artisans to create handcrafted goods that use Earth-friendly materials and share the beauty of Guatemalan culture. Every purchase supports the artisan who made it and helps fund TI’XAR’s various environmental projects. 

Lisa (originally from Canada) and Juancho had worked for competing guide companies in Antigua, but already felt chemistry between them. When the opportunity came to work together as guides for an intense hiking trip up 7 volcanoes, they took it. From there, their professional (and romantic) relationship grew. They continued to work together, often finding freelance opportunities in the eco and environmental space. Through their work, they developed close relationships with communities on the ground and realized communication gaps between the groups they work with. Lisa eventually dreamed up and founded TI’XAR, focusing on its daily operations while Juancho supports the project and assists TI’XAR in a million ways behind the scenes.

On how they’ve made their professional and romantic relationship work:

“Try to find the sweet spot between letting your personal emotions inspire you, and letting them take control,” Juancho says. Lisa says, “I think there is important space for being tender to one another. When no one is around or looking, we’ll take a minute to hold hands, to sneak a kiss or a squeeze, to simply remind each other of our roots, and to show our personal appreciation and gratitude.”

Learn more at www.tixar.org, follow them on Instagram @ti.xar or checkout their products on Cambio Market

Conclusion

Are you a couplepreneur, or know someone who is? Share your story with us in the comments!





Gelaine Santiago
Gelaine Santiago

Author

Gelaine is co-founder of Cambio Market – an online shop for handcrafted, ethical products that give back. She's also co-founder of ChooseSocial.PH – the go-to resource to learn about the social enterprise scene in the Philippines. She's pretty nerdy and loves to talk about all things social enterprises, careers, entrepreneurship, travel, start-ups, and (of course) food.


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