The husband-wife co-founders of Tessol, Rajat Gupta and Niranjana Neelakantan, the almost decade old journey has been enriching. TESSOL offers next gen storage and logistics solutions across the temperature-controlled supply chain.
Gupta and Neelakantan say building TESSOL has not been a cakewalk, but they have enjoyed the journey of nurturing their company together. What binds the couple together, despite their very different personalities, is their underlying agreement on personal values and beliefs. This common foundation gives them a unified vision of the principles of running the business and for planning for its future.
Division of labour and respecting it
Neelakantan and Gupta says it is important to identify each partner’s unique skills/competencies and leverage them fully by defining and demarcating the roles/responsibilities. “We have highly complementary skills, and we use this difference to the advantage of our business. We divide our roles and responsibilities based on our core strengths and domain expertise,” says Gupta, sharing the very basics of their partnership. Gupta is the chief innovator and Neelakantan is a specialist in organization design. Where she is more outspoken and direct in her communication, he invariably adopts a more diplomatic tone. Their divergent communication styles help them to navigate many tricky situations.
They use their combined understanding of business to ensure the business stays on track. “We bring diverse perspectives to issues because of our distinct abilities, which keeps the business discussions interesting,” Neelakantan adds. The couple says that they trust each other’s decisions in their defined areas of responsibility. It helps them to avoid stepping onto each other’s toes. “While we express our views, we strictly follow the rule that the final decision-making authority rests with the owner of the function,” she adds.
Separating the personal from the professional
The entrepreneur couple stress on the importance of finding the right balance and consciously separating ‘the personal from the professional’. Gupta and Neelakantan have two children, and Tessol was founded a little after the couple had their first child. Managing a young family along with building an organisation has not been easy for them.
“At the outset, finding the right balance was tough, but over the years we have realised that it’s important to keep work outside of our personal lives. We demarcate clear boundaries and are conscious of spill-overs. We avoid discussing work during mealtimes, on holidays, and when family and friends are around and also don’t discuss personal issues at work,” says Neelakantan. According to Gupta, it was easier to separate the two parts of their lives during pre-Covid times, but it was difficult to compartmentalize during the pandemic induced work from home situation. “We then set-up a time schedule to switch off from all work talk. That worked,” he says.
Respect for the other as a professional
The couple values their personal relationship and respects the other as an individual professional. They consciously avoid competing with each other professionally. “We value each other’s professional success and give ample space to the other to flourish professionally. We take joy in each other successes,” Neelakantan says.
Working with external mentors / coaches helps them to professionally disassociate, which is important to manage any professional conflicts/differences of opinion, though the couple strongly feels that their mutual collaboration as professionals has helped the business grow and reach its current stage of success. “When there is a difference of opinion, we reach out to our group of mentors and advisors to take their views. This helps us arrive at a consensus on the course of action needed,” explains Gupta.
Managing a crisis together
Managing a crisis in a business is never easy. “Having different capabilities comes in handy during crisis management. We have experienced it in many instances,” says Gupta. When the organisation first went through a deep crisis in 2017, Gupta focused on the long-term business strategy and planning while Neelakantan managed the on-ground execution. Together, they ensured a quick turnaround of the business in less than three months.
The Covid-19 crisis once again proved that together as a couple and as business partners, they can navigate any crisis smoothly. During the pandemic, Neelakantan used her expertise in HR /IR and people management to manage the teams and keep them motivated and engaged while Gupta focused on product development. With end-customer focused deliveries taking centre stage during the pandemic, Tessol has already introduced new hyper local cold chain solutions.
Communication is the key
As in all relationships, communication is the key, especially when couples work together. Gupta and Neelakantan ensure that their communication channel stays open always. Interestingly, they mention that occasionally they reminisce and remember how it all started and what got the two of them together. It helps them to put their relationship above everything else. Their personal memories help them see their spouse as a friend/confidante first and not just a colleague.
Is a couple-business a unique form of business?
“We are an investor funded startup and hence very different from a family-owned business. We ensure professionalism in all aspects, including recruitment, team building, performance management and in our interactions with all stakeholders. Both of us come from a family of professionals, hence we are naturally wired to see this as a corporate set-up and not a family venture,” says Neelakantan.
She adds that she sees nothing unique in their working relationship, except that they spend a lot more time in the same physical space. “However, our personal experience is that sometimes people are sceptical about couples being invested together in a business, especially as co-founders. This is well understandable because if a couple’s personal issues spill over into their professional space, it may take a toll on the business. This scenario may be especially worrisome for investors. Prospective employees may worry about professional boundaries being crossed or not clearly demarcated. But hyped-up stereotypes propel most of these thoughts and worries and we are here to dispel them,” Neelakantan adds.
Entrepreneurship is a tough and a lonely space to be in. Rarely can an entrepreneur completely open-up to someone. “When you are in business with your partner/spouse, you have someone who is on the same page as you and with whom you can lay bare your innermost thoughts. Now this is an advantage only we couple-entrepreneurs have,” says Gupta.
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