Would you entrust your boyfriend or girlfriend with your life savings? Would you let him or her manage your money on your behalf?
Most couples, especially young couples, prefer to steer clear of the uncomfortable subject of money in a relationship. If you conducted a random survey, most would admit having experienced friction at one point or another in their relationship, money to blame. But is it possible for soulmates to avoid money talk?
There is no shortage of fallacies about why it is ill-informed to run a business with one’s spouse - these four young couples tell us how they dispatched these myths to go on to run successful ventures together.
PETER KABI (Kabi wa Jesus) & MILLY KABI (Milly wa Jesus)
Peter, 27, studied film at Kenyatta University, while Milly, 24, studied business management in the same institution.
They dated from 2014 before getting married in 2017. They jointly run Bantu Films, a media production company, which Peter started after college.
“While we dated, Milly would offer insights on what I needed to do in some instances, such as how to budget for, and spend my money, drawing from her background in management. Every time I heeded her advice, it would turn out that she was right. I didn’t consider her a potential business partner at the time though,” Peter recounts.
Over time, he realised how much he was missing by not actively involving her in the business. In 2016, they partnered, a decision that was both long overdue and a masterstroke.
“He is very talented in photography and videography. Clients relate to him more on set directing while I’m the behind-the-scenes force in charge of the commercial and managerial aspects of our business,” says Milly.
Milly’s presence on set also helps to temper Peter’s emotions, which tend to flare up during shoots.
“I am a very impatient person, and often find myself shouting at the crew and cast when things don’t seem to work according to plan. It’s the nature of the job. Milly is mild-tempered, and has a natural way with people, and occasionally intervenes by either asking me to tone down or by offering to communicate to the team in a politer manner,” Peter says.
The couple’s main areas of business include filming weddings and events, musical videos, documentaries and personal photography, all which demand teamwork.
For a partnership with your spouse to work, Milly insists that couples should avoid arm-twisting each other.
“Peter is passionate about film while I love fashion. Neither of us attempts to change the other’s interest, instead, we merge them for the common good of our business. I style our subjects while he suggests the best shots for them. Playing these roles also allows us to do what we have always wanted to do as individuals,” she says.
So, what has enabled the pair to craft perfect chemistry in family and business?
“Our foundation is our belief in God and trust. When you trust God, it becomes easier to trust one another. Love is at the centre of it all. We compliment and critique each other in love, disagree from a point of love and handle our ideological differences with tenderness,” Peter says.
“Our role models, Simon Kabu and Sarah Kabu of Bonfire Adventures and Chris Kirwa and Cate Kirwa of Cate Chris Limited have also been instrumental in our journey in marriage and business. We have borrowed from them useful tips on commitment, trust and discipline as we seek to strike an effective family-business relationship.”
Shoots sometimes take them far away from home, even for days, which only makes sense if they work together.
“We are newlyweds, and as such, we want to spend as much time together as possible. Being alone at home while he works far away would be boring. Besides, this business is like our first child, which we must raise together,” Milly says.
On the wisdom of investing together, Peter argues that this arrangement motivates each person to give their all to the partnership and to nurture the person they want to spend their life with.
“A family business is perhaps the best business model yet that has been tested. The decision-making process is smoother because your partner shares in your aspirations, harbours no hidden or selfish agenda and wants the best for the family,” Peter argues, sentiments Milly concurs with.
SAMSON MBUGUA & LEANNE PERIS
Afrobiashara, Dîner en Blanc, Nairobi
Samson, 30, and Leanne, 27, met in Thika, Kiambu County, in 2013 at an organisation they were both working for. Samson had just moved back to the country from Rwanda, where he had been working, while Leanne was in between jobs. The pair would later partner in many business projects as their friendship blossomed.
“The more we shared our goals and dreams, the more we realised our shared passion for entrepreneurship. At first, our plans seemed lofty, almost like pipe dreams, but we kept sharing them,” Leanne says.
The couple’s entrepreneurial journey together started off with vim and vigour when they set up Afrobiashara that same year, borrowing from their mutual goal of driving development on the continent.
“Afrobiashara is a management consulting firm that helps small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to solve their day-to-day operational challenges by offering advisory services. We then launched Dîner en Blanc Nairobi, which has grown to be one of the biggest most exclusive parties in Nairobi,” Samson explains.
The couple got engaged in 2015 and married in 2016.
“When I shared the idea of Diner en Blanc (a global event where foodies gather in a public space to dine and wine while dressed in white) with Leanne and how successful it was in Rwanda, she jumped at the idea, saying we could try it out in Kenya,” he recalls.
The couple, who describe themselves as serial entrepreneurs, later started Aster Eden Planners, an end-to-end event management company for high-end weddings and corporate events. They have other investments in technology and finance and run a fragrance business.
On what makes them tick as a couple and business partners, Leanne says that sharing aspirations provides the best thrust for them.
“Identifying business ideas that are bigger than us, fleshing them out and executing them together is our greatest joy. We are best friends, and the opportunity to share our life and careers is a refreshing experience,” she says.
So far, the partnership has prospered due to the unique aptitudes that each partner brings aboard, Samson reveals.
“I am a financial analyst and data scientist, I am therefore able to detect loopholes and predict if a venture is worth our money. I’m also the friendlier one, so I handle all customer-facing roles. Leanne is good at spotting business opportunities and brings in the needed creativity. She is a compulsive fixer and an assertive personality, which naturally suits her for the role of cutting business deals,” he says.
Roles are also distributed according to the professional background of each partner, although business strategy and decision-making are derived upon consent.
“We try not to focus so much on clear-cut roles but to always cover each other’s back and step in for each other when circumstances demand it,” Leanne says.
Marital tiffs characterised their relationship at first, often spilling over to the office while duress from work found vent at home. With time though, the couple has managed to separate work from family.
“We learned that business issues ought not to be personal, and shouldn’t interfere with our marriage. We strictly don’t discuss personal issues at work and also try hard to avoid business talk at home.”
Samson and Leanne go for vacation separately - one of them stays behind to run the business while the other takes a break.
“Easter and Christmas are the only holidays we spend together and sometimes with our families too,” Samson says.
According to him, the biggest challenge of running a business as a couple is that most people do not expect them to be strictly objective in their judgement.
“People tend to think that we’ll always take each other’s side even when one of us is at fault, which is understandable because we have mutual interests to safeguard. They also mistakenly feel like a third wheel in the transaction at hand, where their views do not matter,” Samson says, adding that some even try to drive a wedge between them.
“An example is when Leanne makes certain decisions and people think that by engaging me separately, I will overrule her decisions and do what they want, which is not the way it works.”
Running a joint venture, they say, has provided a host of practical lessons for them, among them unity.
“When you have a business partner, whether or not they are your spouse, you must always present a united front. Never disagree with each other in public lest your clients exploit that to their advantage. You must guard your relationship too, for instance, you shouldn’t allow business operations to overrun family time. It also helps a great deal to build the relationship away from the business,” they advise.
STEVE KOBY & NJANJA KOBY
Steve, 33, and Njanja, 30, are freelance makeup artists. They met in 2009 at Vera Beauty College where they studied beauty. They were attracted to each other, but upon completing their courses, they went separate ways.
The couple would later reconnect, getting engaged in 2011 and then getting married in 2015.
“Steve had a two-year head start in the beauty industry before I got my foot in, in 2012. He was kind enough to mentor me early in my career, teaching me how to negotiate in business - I owe my career to him,” Njanja recalls.
The couple has a rich portfolio, which includes gigs with high-end clientele such as Safaricom, (Safaricom Live (2013), Coke Studio Africa (Seasons two and three) local TV commercials and celebrity weddings.
Isn’t it uninspiring to be in each other’s company all the time? The couple strongly disagrees.
“We were friends first, then soulmates. You don’t get bored around your friends, do you? We always find something exciting to talk about and do together such as watching movies, which strengthens our bond further,” Steve says.
According to the couple, working in a profession with blurred timelines such as beauty while raising their three-year-old son constantly puts them in a bind.
“Working for long hours was not a problem for us initially. This however changed when our son was born. We have had to make several adjustments to our schedules. Many are the times I proceed home ahead of Steve to check on the baby,” Njanja says.
The couple has since started a line of eyelash products, N&K Eyelashes, a business they run together.
“Most our clients would complain about the quality of eyelashes we were using on them. I saw this as a business gap to fill. I could not think of a better business partner than Steve. We discussed it and set up early 2017,” says Njanja, adding that the business has got off to a robust start.
The couple says that they deliberately set aside time for individual interests.
“We each have individual likes and hobbies. I occasionally hook up with my friends on weekends to watch football while Njanja goes on dates with her girlfriends,” Steve says.
That the majority of clients in this type of business are women does not bother Njanja in the least.
“Steve interacts with women in various stages of undress all the time, often at their homes - makeup is our bread and butter. This job demands high integrity, I trust him, so I don’t monitor him,” she says.
The pair brings in Sh200, 000 combined monthly earnings.
“Our family and work life are in sync. This business is more flexible than most professions. Freelancing allows us to take up only jobs we can handle without straining ourselves,” Steve points out.
IRENE SIFUNA & EDWARD ACHIENG’
Up to Speed Safisha Services
Irene, 26, is a graduate of broadcast journalism from the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, while Edward, 29, studied Information Technology at Multimedia University.
The pair met in 2014 while working at CCI Kenya, a business process outsourcing company. They started dating in 2015. The idea to invest jointly was arrived at out of necessity.
“I was selling womens’ handbags on the side while Edward sold second-hand shoes to augment our incomes. Neither of our businesses was doing well, with constant losses and dead stock to deal with. It only made sense to combine our efforts and resources to start something together,” Irene narrates.
Wary of slow-moving stock in a goods business, the pair decided to try their hand at a service business instead. They each contributed Sh20, 000, and in 2017, started Up To Speed Safisha Services, a residential and commercial cleaning company.
“Our services range from pest control, fumigation to carpet and sofa cleaning in home and office settings, after-party cleaning and after construction cleaning services,” Edward explains.
Besides their business, the pair have full-time jobs. Irene works as a voiceover artist and editor at Onfon, a media production company in Nairobi, while Edward works as a customer service attendant at the Commercial Bank of Africa.
“Our jobs are quite flexible since we work in straight shifts from Monday to Friday. Most of our clients prefer cleaning and fumigation done during the weekend, which is convenient for us. For weekday exercises, we have two assistants who attend to our weekday clients,” Irene says.
While money is a common fault line in most relationships, for Irene and Edward, thankfully, this issue does not arise, attributing it to trust and sincerity between them.
“In business, we treat each other as business partners, not as a couple. While we trust each other beyond doubt, we document all our transactions for accounting purposes,” Edward says.
The course, they say, has at times been stormy, especially since they both come from not-so-well-off backgrounds.
“There are days we survived on single meal a day to invest our income into the business. At first, some clients doubted our capacity to deliver, since we were new in the industry. Over the months though, we’ve attracted new business through referrals from our content customers,” Irene says.
“Some of our friends had advised against a joint investment, arguing that since we were not officially married, the venture was bound to collapse if we broke up. But we were determined to do this, and even obtained a partnership deed to bind us.”
The couple generates an average of Sh80, 000 per month from the business, enough to meet their personal needs and to support their families as well.
“We have managed to attain financial freedom and even hired two people. This would probably never have come to pass had each of us charted the course independently,” Edward observes.