A Match Made In Heaven - Meet The Couples Building Businesses Together

From Stella McCartney to Emma Bridgewater, these women are proving you can mix your personal and professional lives

By Florence Robson

30 November 2021

rom Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson co-running a production company, to former husband and wife Bill and Melinda Gates’ eponymous foundation, the world is full of power couples building businesses side by side. Even Kim Kardashian recently revealed that her estranged husband Kanye West still has a stake in her billion-dollar shapewear company Skims, offering inspiration and advice to the team.

While at first glance, starting a business with your spouse might seem like a risk – what if the relationship doesn’t work out? – new evidence suggests that married co-founders might have an advantage over their platonic peers. Startups with couples at the helm are scoring big funding rounds and notable exits, according to TechCrunch, with a series of success stories shifting the narrative around married business partners and soothing investors’ nerves.

We take a closer look at the women who went against conventional wisdom to mix their personal and professional lives – and the businesses that prove it was a risk worth taking.

“We have always understood our interests, strengths and weaknesses as individuals and as a couple, and luckily we're quite the Yin and the Yang.” - Eshita Kabra-Davies

Jules Miller, CEO and Co-founder, The Nue Co

Jules Miller, CEO and co-founder of leading wellness brand The Nue Co, raised $25 million in Series B funding this summer. Her secret weapon? Keeping it in the family. Not only is she married to her co-founder (her husband Charlie) but Jules has also hired other family members and friends to help her scale the business. “The power of the family business is huge”, she says. “We're all straight shooters, who love each other as much as we love working hard and succeeding.”

When it comes to co-founding a company with your partner, Jules recommends keeping the work talk to a minimum outside of business hours. “It's really easy to take work home with you when you work with your spouse. I personally have never done this, but many of my husband-and-wife team friends have therapists and business coaches to help them navigate the sometimes testing waters.”

Natalie Massenet, Founder, Net-a-Porter

Natalie Massenet knows the value of a partner who shares your business acumen. Her first husband, Arnaud Massenet, helped her raise £1.2 million investment capital to launch Net-a-Porter, with Natalie crediting him for giving her the confidence to set up the company in the first place. While the couple divorced in 2011, Arnaud remains a founding partner of the Net-a-Porter Group, and was an active board member for over ten years.

Natalie met her second husband, Erik Torstensson, when his fashion agency, Saturday Group, worked on the branding strategy for Mr Porter, Net-a-Porter’s spin-off site for men. Still together today, Erik has referred to Natalie as his ‘greatest mentor’: “How she meets people, how she hires people, how she evaluates people, how she sees the good and opportunity in everyone she meets… I’m so fortunate to have her.”

Julia Hartz, Co-founder & CEO, Eventbrite

The very definition of an entrepreneurial couple, Julia and Kevin Hartz co-founded ticketing website Eventbrite back in 2006, growing it to the multi-million dollar business it is today. But while their professional partnership is a clear success story, they weren’t always confident about working together as a couple. “We looked at it as a social experiment”, said Julia to the New York Times. “We thought, then we’ll go back to doing our day jobs.”

Julia transitioned from president to chief executive in 2016, taking over the job from her husband. In 2018, she took Eventbrite public, making her one of the few women to have taken a technology start-up from launch through to successful initial public offering. Her advice for married co-founders? “We just never worked on the same area of the business at the same time. If you’re working on the same spreadsheet, you’re going to be fighting over the mouse.”

Stella McCartney, Founder & Fashion Designer, Stella McCartney

Did you know that over a third of couples in the UK originally met at work? That’s exactly what happened to Stella McCartney when she met now-husband Alasdhair Willis at a meeting – a moment she has since described as “love across a breakfast table”. A creative consultant, Willis had been hired to advise on Stella’s business when their eyes locked over their laptops.

While they no longer work together – Willis resigned as Creative Director at Hunter last June – their shared professional interests bleed into their personal life. “My wife and I do offer each other advice but we never step on each other’s toes”, said Willis to the Evening Standard.

Eshita Kabra-Davies, Co-Founder, By Rotation

Formerly an investment analyst, Eshita Kabra-Davies got the idea for her business while visiting India on her honeymoon. Seeing the textile and plastic waste polluting the streets, she was inspired to do something to battle the impact of throwaway fashion. The result was By Rotation, the UK’s first peer-to-peer fashion rental app.

Eshita’s husband James is By Rotation’s Chief Analytics Adviser. A consultant at AI company Fractal, and with previous experience at McKinsey & Co, James was the obvious choice to support Eshita with By Rotation’s technical development.

"We have always understood our interests, strengths and weaknesses as individuals and as a couple, and luckily we're quite the Yin and the Yang”, said Eshita. “Because of this complimentary dynamic, we've been able to enjoy separate yet interconnected lives with a healthy balance of personal life once in a while." Their partnership is clearly working; since launching in 2019, By Rotation has surpassed over 100,000 app downloads and become a six-figure business.

“It's really easy to take work home with you when you work with your spouse… Many of my husband-and-wife team friends have therapists and business coaches to help them navigate the sometimes testing waters.” - Jules Miller

Emma Rice, Co-Founder, Emma Bridgewater

Ceramicist Emma Rice (née Bridgewater) met her – now ex – husband, Matthew Rice, at a trade fair and their professional relationship grew alongside their romantic one. They began working together in 1985, were married in 1987, and have since built a flourishing, much-loved kitchenware business. In fact, many of their signature patterns are inspired by their lives together, from conversations over the breakfast table to family holidays on the Norfolk coast.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Emma credited Matthew’s support as the reason why she has been able to balance her entrepreneurial ambitions with family life, saying "If you don't have a husband who wants you to succeed and get on with stuff it would be impossible to work and have children." While the couple divorced in 2018, their mutual commitment to the business remains as strong as ever.

Jo Malone, Founder & Perfumer, Jo Malone London & Jo Loves

Her eponymous brand grew from the kitchen table to become internationally-renowned for its fragrances – yet, while his name isn’t on the packaging, Jo Malone’s husband, Gary Willcox, has been instrumental behind the scenes since the company’s origins.

From driving round the country delivering oils, to joining meetings and even finding the first Jo Malone shop, Jo has described her husband as “the physical backbone” of the business. As the company scaled, Gary took care of operations and business development, leaving Jo free to focus on creative direction.

Even after Jo sold the company in 1999 to Estée Lauder for an undisclosed figure (she remained involved creatively until 2006), Gary supported her as she developed and launched her second company, Jo Loves. "He's the business brain”, Jo once said. “There would be no Jo Malone or Jo Loves without him”.

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