Working with your other half: Three couples explain how it works for them

Starting any business is tough, so is having your life partner working by your side an asset or a liability?

 

Three couples talk about the ups and downs of starting businesses together.

Dan and Linda Kiely

Voxpro

Dan and Linda Kiely were a couple long before starting Voxpro, their Cork-based, multilingual business process outsourcing company.

“We’ve been in business for 20 years, and we’ve been together as a couple for 27 years. It’s still as exciting as ever on both counts,” said Dan.

“We always knew the chemistry was there. From a business point of view, we wouldn’t be as successful without the combination of what we both bring to the table.”

But their partnership has not been without its ups and downs. According to Dan, they were once “48 hours away from going out of business” during the recession.

“It wasn’t that our business wasn’t successful, it was that credit was evaporating and we were scaling,” he said.

They have also faced personal challenges, including Linda’s cancer diagnosis several years ago.

“We had a very tough time for two years, but we’re still in business. At no point did she ever not encourage me to drive the business forward . . .Having a life and business partner you can trust got us through the lows,” he said.

The pair have no intention of slowing down.

The company employs 1,000 people across sites in Cork and Dublin, with plans to add 400 more staff next year. The Kielys recently launched a site in California with 100 employees; they expect to add 700 more over the next 18 months.

According to Dan, they “want to collect revenues of €100 million by 2018, and the ultimate aim is to IPO once we reach those targets”.

Gráinne Holland and Tony Costello

The Meatball Place

Inspired by a meatball and wine bar they frequented in Melbourne, this Shannon College of Hotel Management-educated pair opened The Meatball Place in Cork in November.

The couple of eight years had worked together before and had no reservations about going into business.

Both had also grown up working in their family businesses – Costello in his family’s bar and restaurant (The Locke Bar in Limerick) and Holland in her family’s nursing home.

Holland said: “We got good grounding from both sets of parents. They set up their businesses when they were a similar age, and they gave us good advice.”

Costello says they are “extremely lucky” to have had that experience, and they know “exactly what it takes to make something successful”.

Because the business is in its early days, they work constantly.

“We’re working long hours, seven days a week. We’re both tired, and it’s easy to take it out on each other,” Costello said.

Finding time to spend with each other outside of work is also a challenge, but one they do not think will last forever.

“We only talk about the business, how a dish is served, what goes with what. That’s not what we want forever, but building something together is exciting,” Costello said. “We have a goal and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Róisín and Graham Hynes

Gradpush

For Róisín Hynes, the challenge was convincing her husband Graham that her business idea, a slight departure from their plan to move back from Australia to settle down and start a family, was a risk worth taking.

When they returned to Ireland in January 2014, Róisín was six-months pregnant and Graham went back to his job as a psychiatric nurse with the HSE.

Unbeknownst to him, Róisín spent the week before her due date on their couch writing a business plan. She had heard about the search for Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur (IBYE), run by local enterprise offices across the country, from her mother and decided to apply with an idea that came to her while working at a recruitment firm in Sydney.

The idea was Gradpush, a start-up that uses recruitment videos to help job seekers better understand companies. Users can search by interest or goal, using search terms like “crèche on site” or “no corporate dress code”.

“I didn’t tell Graham until I got into the IBYE boot camp, and he thought it was really bad timing. I said, ‘Well, it’s only a few weeks and I’ll get great experience out of it’,” Róisín said.

She did not only get good experience, she also won €20,000 at the IBYE Carlow county final – for “best start-up in Carlow” and “best overall winner”.

From that night forward, she says, Graham was “on board”. Now the operations director, he works on GradPush in a marketing and administrative role while keeping his day job.

“We have a newfound respect for each other and for what the other person can bring to the table,” she says.