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Finding solutions to the fast-changing, consumer-led world.

We meet with Kelly and Giles Cundell who tell us about their journey growing their business Sport Factory. Sport Factory consults with American and Canadian brands in the sportswear market and works with them to help build an international/global business. In particular, they help with wholesale, e-commerce and, in some cases, with places like Amazon. Their business model is to take a percentage in business in shares so that long-term they will have payback.

The business started with Giles in 2014, but by 2016 had grown to the point where it could support Kelly too – which is when their couplepreneurship journey began.
I sat down with them to ask them about their journey and find out what advice they have to offer.

Couplepreneur – Kelly and Giles Cundell
Business Established – 2014
Industry – Retail Industry

What are the benefits of being a couplepreneur?

Giles tells us that for him the main benefit is that “You are entirely committed to what you are doing. A lot of couplepreneurs probably come at it from different angles, but from our perspective, the reason was that we quite like taking risks. It was inevitable that when we took this on we were going to throw 100% at it.”

Kelly adds to this that for her the main benefit is “Trust. With a couplepreneur the business is very dependent on the strength of the relationship that is in place. With a strong relationship, such as a marriage or partnership, you get that real sense of dependability on each other. We talk about that right up front and it happens straight away. With couplepreneurs, you have that raw edge that you wouldn’t otherwise have in a more business type partnership.”

What are the challenges of being a couplepreneur?

Giles finds that for him the most obvious challenge is “leaving work at the office door.” He also finds that as your shared experience as a couple goes beyond the trials faced in regular relationships, it adds extra stress which “is potentially incredibly destructive to the relationship and the business.”

Kelly reflects upon the challenges a couplepreneurship can bring, reflecting that “the trust and dependability only exist in the business if they exist in the relationship. If that doesn’t exist in the relationship that will affect the business.”

How do you find your work/life balance?

While Giles and Kelly think they probably work the same amount of hours that they used to, the life balance is drastically different when looking at holidays. Where the business is at the moment, they can’t ever switch off and not look at their phones, even if on holiday. They consider themselves lucky to get two or three days to take off. It has meant they can spend more time with their children though as they can pick them up straight from school and then continue working once they have gone to bed.

While they do spend more time with each other, Kelly confesses that it can be hard to find time for each other outside of work conversations. It is a constant battle to try and find time and space to not think about work and to find time to spend on their own.

There is a huge appetite for risk at the outset, tell me a bit more about how you manage the growth of the business together. What is working well and what isn’t?

Kelly speaks about their different approaches when taking risks – “I am very calculated, I need to know enough about what I am jumping into. So I tend to always look at the worst possible scenario so I can work back from that to make sure that we have ourselves covered as best we can. But Giles will always do the opposite of that, he will always look at the best possible scenario and just go after that.” Their different approaches saw them bumping heads at the start, but now they have both found that more recently they have both compromised with their different approaches to meet in a similar place.

Giles reflects that at the start “we didn’t sit down and write our own job descriptions. Looking back, we really should have done.” Running a business is complex, there are a lot of moving parts so they found it was important to find each of their places in the business. Giles explains, “Roles in your business, like in your family, are really important, so you need to define them.”

What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring couplepreneur?

Thinking about the other couplepreneurs he spoke to, Giles reflects that actually “You have kind of got to not take too much advice. Just like you shouldn’t take too much advice on your relationship. You have to let it grow in its own way.”

Kelly tell us “you should make sure your relationship and business are in balance. It is so important to be true to the relationship you have as well as the business partnership. It is such a big responsibility and you can’t work without both of those alongside each other.”

What is the biggest lesson you have taken from learning to run the business together?

Looking back on how he worked before the couplepreneurship, Giles believes that the couplepreneurship has made him a much better listener. “You learn how to manage situations so much better with people. You become more able to see things from other people’s perspectives. I have taken time to listen to Kelly and her perspective. It isn’t about listening more necessarily, but listening better.”

The relationship dynamic has helped them see the importance of honesty, Kelly says that “take the politics away and just get really honest. Sometimes there is a lot of screaming and shouting going on that you couldn’t do in a work environment as there are no politics here as you both have the same compass point. A lot of lessons come out of that.”

Are there any myths or challenge that you face or hold about couplepreneurs that people tell you.

Whenever Giles tells people he is a couplepreneur he always gets the response, ‘Oh God I couldn’t do that’. Looking back he says “It isn’t until you do it you realise you can. We kind of just found ourselves doing it and it was fine, but if you told me five years ago that Kelly and I would be working together on our own brand I would have said no chance.”

How have you funded the business?

Giles explains that “Up until now it has been entirely self-funded, but last year we did get our first small amount of funding.” When trying to find funding Kelly explains how useful it was to have Simon who is a financial director to advise them on areas they aren’t experts in. “He has been really good for our business and helped us as we went through funding circle. For our business he has been like a sounding board, with him we have the finance department locked and loaded and it is working nicely.”

Kelly’s advises couplepreneurs, “Don’t be afraid to pay for expert advice. It is worth it.” Between her and Giles they sat down to figure out what areas they weren’t so experienced in, so they could pay for good advice for a well-rounded view.

“You learn how to manage situations so much better with people. You become more able to see things from other people’s perspectives. It isn’t about listening more necessarily, but listening better.”
Giles Cundell

Co-Owner at Sport Factory Ltd

What do you think the biggest challenge you face right now is?

Business growth often brings new challenges with Kelly explaining “We have had two employees at the beginning of this year working remotely. Having remote employees has been a trickier one for us. We just have taken on a new brand and it has literally gone overnight to working with one brand at full capacity to double that. Making sure we are adding resource at the right time to sustain growth is something that definitely keeps us up at night.”

Is there an exit plan?

Giles confirms that “Yes, there is a plan. We hadn’t really thought it through, but a financial adviser started pointing ideas to us. It is a case of accelerating our business and making it very valuable in 3 – 5 years so that we could then sell our business. It is quite an unusual and forward-thinking model for our industry.”

What is happening when baby number three arrives in July (2018)?

“Brands have been asking the same question.” Kelly replies, “Over the last four months we have been pushing Giles as the face of the brand and I am taking more of a backend role as much as I can. Our hope is it will be like that for a year. We are getting a nanny in help with the kids, and we have two guys who we have trained up to be as helpful as possible. We are also just hiring someone else part-time.”

Kelly explains that it is very different to when she was working in corporate, “I took 6 months when I had a baby in corporate, that is absolutely not going to happen this time around. I am going to take a month off in August and then come back. There is no maternity leave and no maternity pay either when you are a couplepreneur.”

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