Why and how did you come to run your business together?
It happened by accident. We came back from overseas, free of living constraints and ready to set up fresh again as we had done in England. We had no jobs and only a few savings but very open minds. Peter had been working on the Foodbox website in the evenings while we were still living in England and that's where the concept was born.
I planned to get a job to have an income to support him while he started up the business. I happened to get involved when I was on the computer one day applying for jobs and looked over at the business cards he was about to get printed and realised he needed some serious help! So I quickly whipped one up he loved. Basically I was absorbed from that point on.
I guess the motivating factor was we felt we could achieve more as a team. We didn't really have any trepidations about working together; it was just fun to do it that way. It's nice to build something together as a couple. I must mention too that we were quite young - in our late twenties - so perhaps we thought less about the consequences of what lay ahead.
What are your respective roles in the business?
We both studied food technology and food engineering together at university. Since we've been in the food industry we've had different roles; I enjoyed product development - basically formulating recipes that can be scaled up - and Peter enjoyed processes, or basically scaling up the recipes in the factory.
These skill sets worked well together in our own business; I've planned the products, boxes, recipes, customer service and concepts within Foodbox, while Peter has focused on planning packing, drivers, vans and daily operations. I've now fallen more into a marketing role as the company has grown, and Peter more into a financial control and HR role.
Running your own business can be a 24/7 occupation. How do you make this work as a family unit?
We have the rule 'no talking about work at home'. In the early days after a 16-hour day this was easy because we were never at home! When you are relaxed at home you often get great inspiration, so obviously work does come up and it can be fun to talk about, but we have a bit of an unspoken rule that the first person to 'call it quits' means the conversation ends. Then there's always silence for one or two minutes while we desperately think of something else to talk about!
We also have a little girl now. We held off starting a family until our business reached a certain size and one of us could step out of the business to raise a family. We're lucky that that happened while we were young enough to have a family! Nowadays I'm at home, and working just one day a week. My role was directly replaced, but I still have a hand in strategic decisions and Peter can ring during the day to bounce ideas off me.
What are the benefits of running a business as a couple?
We love building something together. We can see it among friends who buy their first homes together and madly work evenings and weekends painting and landscaping. If you've ever done something like that with someone you realise how satisfying it is to build something with someone. I think we also like the hard work and challenge involved. It creates a shared experience that you can talk about and reflect on over time. I think it makes the relationship stronger, in a way, doing something together 'your own way'.
What have been some of the bumps in the road along the way?
The biggest challenge initially was not taking things personally and to treat each other professionally as you would any work colleague. This may go without saying, but it is something you need to work at; it doesn't come naturally - well, it didn't for us.
Once we got that down we then needed to find a way to 'disagree professionally' and leave it there so that we could make a positive decision to move forward with. Ultimately we're still working on this! But one thing that has helped is having an overall leader in Peter, and me playing more of a support role.
We've also learnt to never, never, never say 'I told you so'. Sometimes we get things wrong - it's as simple as that - and you have to work together to put things right. I guess part of that is just about growing up.
What's your biggest learning so far about running a business with your other half?
You need to be really tough; not 'mean' tough, but 'fair' tough - consistent and resilient. But the experience is very rewarding because it's so nice to be in something together. It's also nice to see how your partner works. Most couples never experience that, even though work is a huge part of your life and who you are.
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