In her book from 1998, Dr. Kathy Marshack examines the traps entrepreneurial couples can fall into – breakdowns in communication, failure to confront issues head-on, instead relying on compromise and other avoidance techniques to ward off conflict. Dr. Marschack was looking at couples that are running a business together.
We decided to talk to couples in which both partners run their own businesses, or have done so in a certain period during the relationship. Main goal: to find the strategies for having a healthy relationship with someone who is dedicated to his or her own venture, and showcase that unlike in business, “1+1 is much more than 2” as one of our interview partners said.
Of course, a strict distinction between business and private time is hard, and fundraising is not a taboo topic over dinner, but there are certain rules happy entrepreneurial couples follow. A hint – planning ahead, traveling, shared Google calendars and creating time for each other.
Share bugs, flaws and hobbies
Kremena and Ned Dervenkovi met during the Summer Entrepreneurship Program in the US in 2015. While exploring the American startup ecosystem and developing their own projects in separate teams, they naturally came together. “It all started in Marriott, San Francisco”, Ned laughs. Ever since they are back, Kremena has been working on her own business – products made of insects and trying to introduce new trends on the local food market. Ned, who has several more or less successful ventures on his resume, is currently an active part of the Bulgarian Startup Association, and trying to pass diverse legislative measures to help the ecosystem’s further development. Kremena and Ned got married last summer after Ned was about to miss the ceremony due to a business trip to China.
You say you have never formally worked together. What does it mean?
Ned: Informally, we help each other in any project each of us is working on. Formally the bugs business is her own and led by her, I support her with advice and anything I can.
Kremena: We do start ventures together, but not business related – rather social causes, Last summer we did a bicycle road trip in Bulgaria, together with a friend of ours with cerebral paralysis to raise awareness for people suffering from such diseases.
Keep dating, share a Google calendar
Elina Zheleva, the founder of DesignThinking.bg – the first design-thinking agency in Bulgaria, and Max Gurvits, a serial entrepreneur and ecosystem developer from the Netherlands, have been together for 12 years. Around nine of them, they spent in a long-distance relationship. Elina, a young industrial engineer, and Max, a young law graduate, first met in 2007 at the European Aviation Safety Agency where they were the youngest employees. “I instantly fell in love when I saw him explaining about the then coolest thing – Facebook to two 60+ French colleagues. He didn’t care about them looking strange at him, he just wanted to share what’s up and coming”, Elina laughingly recalls. Half a year later, Max’s internship ended and he went back home to Amsterdam. And this is how a long journey began. The next years they spent traveling around – between Germany, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, even France at some point while Elina was doing her MBA. In 2011 they rented an old Volvo and drove all the way from Germany through the Balkans to Turkey exploring the local startup ecosystems and writing a blog. After exiting his first startup Max, who enjoyed Sofia during the road trip, decided to come to Bulgaria and make it his home base as he saw an evolving startup ecosystem and a vivid community. Meanwhile, Elina had changed the course drastically, graduating a Design Thinking program at Stanford and looking for her next big thing. Both knew it’s already time to set up a home base together and after several conversations, Elina decided to come back as well.
How has your relationship influenced your career paths?
Elina: Travelling so much with Max made me look at things from a different perspective and at some point led me to my second big love – design thinking. He was also the one who made me think I could bring this to Bulgaria.
Max: One of the reasons I left the Safety Agency was Eli. I didn’t feel it was right for our relationship to stay there, I didn’t want to see it as an office romance – these are not sustainable. And I didn’t like the job as much, I admit (laughs).
Work hard, schedule escapes
Tatyana Mitkova and Alex Naydenov have been together for seven years. They got to know each other through a project Alex was organizing to motivate high school students to work on solutions to different societal problems. Tatyana was one of the awarded students. Soon after this, they founded United Ideas for Bulgaria, an NGO aiming to support social entrepreneurship. They run the organization for the next three-four years, lived and studied in Berlin meanwhile and had several attempts to found startups. “Of course, we didn’t really know that a startup is something beyond logo and website, and what exactly an addressable market is, so we didn’t get far at that point”, Tatyana laughs. In a very natural way, around 2014 both started to work on their own ventures. Tatyana co-founded ClaimCompass, a platform for flight delay claims that led her to California and Bulgaria in the next years. Alex started Paperhive, a Berlin-based collaboration platform for researchers, which he recently exited.
What is it to be a colleague with your partner in life?
Tatyana: We had several startup projects together. It was quite an entertaining process actually. One of the reasons for me to start thinking of myself as an entrepreneur was indeed Alex and his example. At some point, however, Alex started Paperhive, I started ClaimCompass and we haven’t really talked about doing something together since then. I personally prefer it this way.
You spent two years apart because when ClaimCompass started growing, Tatyana had to move to the US and then to Bulgaria. What do you put first when making such decisions?
Tatyana: I used to think that the relationship determines your life and every decision is based on that. I thought that family and kids come much earlier on, as I think now.
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