Trend Spotting: Love and Startups

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A growing high tech startup industry trend has little to do with tech, and a lot to do with togetherness.

By Sramana Mitra (Founder, One Million By One Million)

There was a time in Silicon Valley when VCs did not like the idea of funding couples. Nonetheless, Cisco and 3Com – two legendary Valley startups – were founded by entrepreneur couples. These days, the startup world seems to nurture a lot more romance… Sometimes he is the CEO, sometimes she. Sometimes they switch roles. To have a baby. Or a few babies. Or not. In any case, the bias against entrepreneur couples needs to be over. Entrepreneurship is a passionate affair. A powerful aphrodisiac. Better acknowledge that phenomenon.

Julia & Kevin Hartz (Eventbrite)

It took an engagement and the offer to work on a new business venture together for Kevin Hartz to bring his fiancée Julia to Silicon Valley. Julia’s previous work in Los Angeles was solely within the entertainment industry, but she showed great enthusiasm for entrepreneurship by independently handling the early stages of the venture. In 2006, the couple enlisted a third co-founder and launched Eventbrite, an online ticketing site that also fosters user connections and local event discovery.

In early 2008, just days before Eventbrite received its first round of angel funding, Julia gave birth to the couple’s first child. Determined to continue the momentum of their success, Julia continued to work from home for the next five months before returning. Kevin holds the position of CEO, and Amy retains her title as President while mothering the couple’s two daughters. She and Kevin use a combination of family help and nanny care throughout the week until Julia works from home each Friday. Kevin and Amy continue to work as a team, balancing their business with life at home.

Victoria Ransom & Alain Chuard (Wildfire)

Like Julia Hartz before her, Victoria Ransom’s interest in becoming an entrepreneur was piqued by her boyfriend. Victoria joined Alain Chuard to found Access Trips, a travel planning company targeting young professionals in 2001. In 2007, when Facebook expanded business presence with the introduction of fan pages, Victoria and Alain created an application to run a sweepstakes through their page. The app gained such traction that they quickly expanded to the standalone application Wildfire, a social media marketing provider.

Wildfire draws upon the viral effects of social media to run campaigns, manage analytics, and develop online leads. Wildfire grew to nearly 300 employees, and included 30 of the top 50 global brands among its clients. In July 2012, Google came knocking, and scooped up Victoria’s company for over $350 million.

During their work together, the couple remained a strong team by playing to their strengths. Alain’s skill set cast him as Head of Product with a focus on design, running engineering and overseeing development. Victoria’s business sense saw her collaborate on the product but run the show, holding the CEO title. Victoria expresses admiration for mothers in business, but does not yet have children of her own. She continues to work in Silicon Valley, championing the cause of women in technology.

Collis & Cyan Ta’eed (Envato)

Collis and Cyan Ta’eed traveled from Papua New Guinea and New York, respectively, to meet and marry each other in Australia. Collis was independently pursuing design work and Cyan was working toward a design degree when the two were introduced, and in 2004 they began a freelance design business together. Their company, GoodCreative, was focused around charity design work. The sale of Flash files online prompted the move toward Envato, an online marketplace network to buy and sell creative services and digital goods.

Today Envato sees nearly 10 million visits per month, and a file is sold every 10 seconds. The largest marketplaces feature web design templates and Adobe After Effects templates, as well as a background music marketplace for use in advertising. In 2007 Collis’ foray into blogging resulted in a second dimension for the site. Envato now has a total of 12 tutorial sites on every topic from game development to DJ-ing.

Cyan’s affinity for project management creates a simple workflow for the couple, in which “Collis would create fantastic business ideas and [Cyan] would then take on the ideas and put a team around them.” Collis thus heads the company as CEO, and proclaims himself much less lonely than other CEOs because he can work with his wife – though, like Victoria and Alain, the couple is so far without children. The two are extremely close, relishing the entire day together and sharing a passion for their work.

Amy Pressman & Borge Hald (Medallia)

Following her business degree from Stanford in 1993, Amy Pressman’s work at a Norwegian-based consulting firm focused her attention on the falling standards of American manufacturing. While formulating a business plan to address the neglected sector, she fell in love with her husband Borge Hald, also working overseas after attending Stanford business school. The two returned to the Bay Area in 1999 to found Medallia. Medallia offers web-based surveys and related workflow to build customer loyalty for retailers, hospitality chains, and other services oriented businesses.

After a long run of bootstrapping, Medallia was profitable by the end of 2002. In the 10 years since their start, Amy and her husband have built a sizable company that does well over $30 million in revenue. Though Borge handles primarily product and engineering, while Amy facilitates sales and generates new business, the two split leadership of the company. Only when the couple’s second child was born did the designation shift to Borge as CEO and Amy as President. The mother of three balances work and life through daily morning meetings with her husband to remain in touch with the progress of the company. “Life is chaotic,” Amy admits.

Wendy Tan White & Joe White (Moonfruit)

After earning a degree in computer science from Imperial College in London, Wendy Tan White was recruited to help construct the UK-based Internet bank Egg.com. It was a project that would introduce her to Joe White, and what inspired her to begin her own venture. In 2000, Wendy founded Moonfruit, an on-demand website development platform providing a simple interface for users to share their passions. Both Joe and a close college friend served as her co-founders; Wendy and Joe were married soon after.

Moonfruit’s financial stability wavered during the Dotcom crash, at which time Joe left the company for full-time work with McKinsey. Through freelance help and additional funding, Moonfruit was back on its feet by 2005. In the midst of their growth Joe returned, as Wendy took her turn away from the company from 2004-2008 to raise the couple’s children. She continued to contribute to company growth, attending design school and developing media campaigns.

When Wendy returned to work, roles were shuffled. This time, Wendy took up the CEO title while Joe became CFO. The two handle running a business as a couple by each working out of office one day per week. They arrange a weekly date night, and leave phones out of reach upon coming home each night. It’s a system that appears to work well, as Moonfruit’s revenue for 2012 was over $5 million, with an 80-90% retention rate on their e-commerce platform product.

So you see, love in startups is a real trend these days!

Women 2.0 readers: Got a love in startups story? Let us know in the comments!

About the guest blogger: Sramana Mitra is Founder of One Million By One Million, an educational business development and incubation program that aims to help one million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond. She is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and strategy consultant. As an entrepreneur CEO, she ran three companies: DAIS, Intarka, and Uuma. Sramana has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT. Follow her on Twitter at @sramana.