Running a business with your life partner and pursuing a shared dream might sound like an idyllic dream. It definitely gives you the chance to build something from scratch, to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. But starting up a new venture does come with it’s own perils. Navigating through the rough terrains of starting a new venture together needs immense mutual trust and a high level of maturity that is respectful of each other during times of disagreements.
Let’s meet one such copreneurial couple –Siddharth & Satvika Suri . Siddharth is an adrenaline junkie, passionate photographer, ardent squash player and a complete world explorer. Being a National tennis champion and a classical music singer are few of the many feathers on Satvika’s cap. Leaving their jobs in the United States they started “Andamen” – weaving Indian stories on highest quality men’s wear.
SoulCafe: Tell us a bit about your “Jab we Met” story. Did you ever think about starting your own venture then?
It started in college – we were class mates, studying economic hons in St. Stephens. We started dating and a few years later we tied the knot. At the time we started dating and then even when we got married, we had no plans of working together – we were both happily working in very different businesses.
SoulCafe: What inspired you both to leave your corporate jobs in the United States and start your own venture – “Andamen” back in India?
It was during the second year of Siddharth’s MBA at Wharton Business School that we conceptualized Andamen. This was in August 2014. The idea was to build a modern Indian luxury men’s brand with a truly Indian soul that fuses our textiles and stories with global fashion. Inherent in this was a strong passion to dismiss the perception that India produces ‘inferior’ or ‘mass’ or ‘craft’ quality fashion and cannot produce amongst the finest shirts in the world.
The toughest call was deciding whether we wanted to do this immediately or start Andamen after staying a few years more in the States. After many weeks of debates, discussions and arguments we decided that it’s the best that we bite the entrepreneurship bug immediately. We came back to India mid-2015, and our website launched by December 2016.
Soul Cafe: If in a sentence, you had to tell us – what does “Andamen” stand for ?
Just like the islands, Andamen is about venturing beyond the motherland. Exploring. Discovering the world. Yet in it its roots remaining resolutely Indian. It is that eternal duality of current and past, of Indian and Western, of unique and familiar that is in many ways a representation of today’s global contemporary Indian.
Soul Cafe: There is a story behind each Andamen shirt and a humungous attention to details. For instance, “The Gold String” shirt with vintage panels has over 2 lakh embroidered stitches and does take an incredible number of days to make. How do you decide on the stories/themes for your collection?
Our passion lies in bringing the beauty of Indian stories, traditions, patterns and techniques closer to the modern Indian man by making it more relevant for him. Like the stones of ancient Varanasi, every shirt in our Heritage Collection has a meaningful story behind it. The design and story telling process starts 9-12 months before the collection launches. Our design lead Amit, Siddharth and I brainstorm over various themes and finally pick out one that we are most excited about. From there we start making a mood board which involves research, talking to people, travel if required.
Soul Cafe: At a superficial level, spouse as business partner sounds like a dream – you work together, play together, and never have to be apart. In reality, what are some of the practical challenges when spouses collaborate on a business venture?
Entrepreneurship is hard. Start-ups, especially so. There are many bad days for every good day. On bad days, we’re in the same cycle together.
We’ve gone through long, tough periods at work together, so it gets very challenging to lift each other’s spirits and motivate one another.
It’s also tough to manage egos and taking final calls. Even though we have clear role separations, I head marketing and communication. Sid heads ops and finance, the web team and product – we end up collaborating a lot. During disagreements it’s hard to let go of egos. It’s even harder to not bring fights back home.
Soul Cafe: Do you think it’s important for entrepreneur couples to know how to turn off the business switch and enjoy their personal lives once in a while?
Yes for sure! We keep taking mini-holidays once a quarter so that we get time to switch off. But trying to separate work and personal lives when you’re working together as founders in a start-up is, which is like a baby of yours is impossible.
We don’t try to achieve work-life balance. Rather than segregating the two we embrace it and enjoy the fact that we are always available and can brainstorm till wee hours of the night and on weekends.
For us, personal and professional spaces have become very intertwined. I love that I can just chat with Siddharth on mundane home things like dinners, plumbers, electricians, etc. in office.
Soul Cafe: How do you handle disagreements as business partners and make sure it doesn’t seep into your personal relationship?
We have one rule on arguments: don’t sleep over them.
It’s usually not easy and it always means giving up egos and finding a middle ground but by and large, this rule has been worth following. At work, we have complimentary skill sets and manage very different areas. We’ve set up rules on hierarchy basis those for ourselves so that when there is conflict, we know how to resolve it. Rather than our professional relation hampering our personal relationship, which is how we’ve most often heard it to be, we’ve actually experienced that our professional relation has enhanced our personal one. We’ve learnt how to resolve personal conflicts in a less emotional and more practical way.
Soul Cafe: How have your relationship evolved after taking the entrepreneurial journey? What are the perks of working together?
Working together has made us so much more efficient. It’s also increased the respect we have for one another. Because we have different skill sets, we depend so much on each other and that creates a lot of respect, patience and understanding.
Soul Cafe: Entrepreneurship is an extremely challenging path to choose in itself and when spouses become business partners the personal and professional spaces become very intertwined. What would be your piece of advice to couples who plan to get into business together?
It’s a simple thing – but it’s quite hard to do. Our advice is to always respect each other and have one another’s back – especially in front of your team. Take arguments out of the work place and resolve them fast.
Entrepreneurship is a hard journey – don’t make it harder by carrying on arguments!
Soul Cafe: Tell us about your upcoming collection – the story, the inspiration behind it.
The 2017 Heritage Collection, both for Spring Summer and Autumn Winter is titled ‘Indus – Call of the Lost Age’. It recalls the legend of the Indus civilization. The tight range of shirts capture intricate Indus seals, unsolved scriptures, mysterious sculptures and important historic elements like ‘The Great Bath’. All of this is designed in a very modern, minimalistic way so that it appeals to the new and emerging design sensibilities of the young, confident, globe travelling Indian.
We wish this soulful couple all the success with their upcoming collection and future growth. They surely makes us believe that – couples who work together, stay soulful together!
www.SoulCafe.co.in – A Long Term Soul Relationship starts here.