Alisa and Rob Miller first met at work in 2001 and as two very driven individuals they quickly realised were very like-minded. They were also very competitive…in a good way! As we meet, Rob and Alisa share their story: Alisa explains a little more. “We spent lots of time together and jointly developed ways to improve the business we worked for at the time. We were also in a secret tongue-in-cheek race to see who could get to the top first – so yes, we were a little competitive to say the least. We did rise through the ranks very quickly and soon found ourselves being considered for positions on the board”. The friendship merged in to a relationship and a great sense of knowing each other’s strengths and just what they were capable of led to the creation of their business in 2006 – PCM Healthcare.
Exited Couplepreneur – Alisa & Rob Miller
Business Established – 2006 / sold October 2015
Industry – Medical Communications
What were the reactions of those close to you when you decided to leave your jobs and set up a business together?
Though of course it wasn’t without risk, Rob and Alisa were certain this was the right move in spite of Alisa’s blossoming pregnancy. But they were surprised at the reaction of those people who were close to them. Rob tells us “Everyone thought we were crazy but people really didn’t know what we were capable of and the standing we had in the industry. Your family and friends don’t know you in a work context so they didn’t see the confidence, reputation and expertise we had built-up over our careers” they went on, one family member asked, “why would a blue-chip company want to hire YOU?”
They are not alone; it is not unusual for many Couplepreneurs to find friends in disbelief at their choices. In extreme cases, some have ended up losing friends, spending so much time in the business in those early months and years that it becomes all encompassing.
Would either of you have set up the business on your own?
Rob and Alisa are adamant that it was their combined skillset, having worked together, and their passion for the business that meant they were stronger together as a Couplepreneur in starting the business. They also shared with us how, while they are both comfortable with risk, their different perspectives balance perfectly. Alisa trying to push boundaries in her approach while Rob is very data-led in robustly assessing and validating the investment opportunities, tethering them to the business context. It is this balance that enabled them to make strong decisions together.
Tell us more about those early months in leaving the business and starting out on your own together – and the ‘Life’ balance
Many believe that Couplepreneurs set up businesses together when they find themselves becoming empty nesters. This couldn’t be further from the truth – and it’s happening from 20-somethings to 70-somethings among the Couplepreneurs we have met so far.
Rob paints us a picture of the early days, exposing this myth; “We set up from our spare bedroom in the first three months. It was very exciting and a little scary. Alisa had just given birth to our first daughter and within days was breast feeding whilst on an international conference call”.
Rob and Alisa had very defined roles with Rob taking on all the Business Management including creative, digital, finance and operations and Alisa focussed on Client Services and Editorial. Having worked together before, they knew how complementary their skillsets were.
There were some ‘sweaty moments’, like the first time they took on a five year lease. It felt like a huge decision but they quickly started to win more contracts going on to double in size year-on-year for 5 years running. In fact, they were so ‘in’ the business that their original idea, as Alisa says “of running a business to have a better work/life balance and not growing too much” quickly faded. Alisa adds, “At times, it was great that we could operate on our schedule and not someone else’s. It meant that we could sometimes do the school run, for example” Alisa goes on to tell us how the growth crept up on them and took over; “it felt like it was happening to us, we never knew whether to celebrate our success or try and put the brakes on. And there was this ballooning, permanent weight on our shoulders that meant we could never switch off”.
“Your family and friends don’t know you in a work context so they didn’t see the confidence, reputation and expertise we had built-up over our careers”Rob Miller
You never thought you would sell – tell us more about how the sale came about
Rob explains “When the business was self sufficient, we decided to have another baby. Sadly, Alisa was very unwell during the pregnancy. So much so, she was bed bound for nine months. During this time she was mostly unable to work – though she managed a trip to Paris to run a client workshop in a wheelchair”.
Towards the end of the pregnancy there was a moment when Alisa was told that she may never walk again. Alisa shared with us “I fell apart emotionally and wondered how I would be able to cope. We were wrapped in care and had a crisis team who talked to us about the options and it was a team member there who asked me ‘Why don’t you sell?’. I looked at her and said ‘Who would want to buy our business?’ I was so unwell and so low while Rob was just exhausted from looking after me and running the business not to mention looking after our new born baby. We simply weren’t able to stand back and see things with any clarity”.
It was then that a chance flyer arrived from BCMS, a market leading mergers and acquisition business, resulting in a meeting where as Rob explains “What became very apparent in talking to BCMS was just how much sector specialism and insight they displayed and how they instilled confidence in us to know that we could do this”. Alisa and Rob then went through a sale process that ended up in them successfully selling and exiting in October 2015.
If you knew then what you know now would you have done it?
There is a resounding “yes” from both Alisa and Rob. Whilst the reason for selling involved a huge amount of trauma and illness, they loved what they did, were hugely passionate about it and proud of their success at developing and building an ethical business, recruiting top class teams to cement the high end offering. They did share with us that they would have liked to have heard other people’s stories and sought an outside perspective. Both Rob and Alisa can see the huge benefit of Couplepreneurs coming together in this global community to meet, share and inspire their stories and seek that external perspective that they lacked.
Alisa and Rob were interviewed at the launch event of Couplepreneurs on 15th March 2018 in London together with 2 other couples. Since then many of the 20 Couplepreneurs attending the inaugural event were captured by their story and Alisa and Rob have met several of them to give advise and mentoring.
What advice would you give an aspiring Couplepreneur?
Rob tells us “Go in with your eyes wide open and the right mentality and get exceptionally skilled suppliers”. Alisa adds “Don’t hire in haste and surround yourself by people who are better than you”.
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