If you’ve ever been given the advice to never go into business with friends or family, it’s because there are some good points as to why.
Many friends launch a business together with so much optimism that they sometimes fail to communicate what to do if failure does come. Others start a business with family with different sets of goals and values while some couples enter into business without discussing work-life boundaries.
For Rich Sanz, founder of FoodAsia Group, which is behind brands such as Bibingkinitan, Lava Cheese Tarts, Papas Potato Chips, and Magnum Cafe, marrying his business partner Max couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.
“Max came at the right time in my life. She came at a time when everything at my company was so stable and was running like a well-oiled machine. I was so relaxed and complacent as to where I was in business,” Rich recalls.
“I was in Shanghai every week to visit Max. And I’d come back here just to have one meeting, sign checks, and I’d be off again to see her. It was so relaxing for me. In a way, that’s when business becomes stagnant—no more innovation.”
“The market and F&B scene in Shanghai is so different from Manila. So I was so amazed at how she was doing it. We were supposed to [put up a business together] in Shanghai, but because of the pandemic we couldn’t continue our plans there and we were physically barred from going there. So I thought, why don’t we do it here?” Rich Sanz says.
At the time, Max was the marketing manager of one of the top F&B groups in Shanghai called Muse Group.
“The market and F&B scene in Shanghai is so different from Manila. So I was so amazed at how she was doing it. We were supposed to [put up a business together] in Shanghai, but because of the pandemic we couldn’t continue our plans there and we were physically barred from going there. So I thought, why don’t we do it here? We came up with a plan and we decided to consolidate some functions including marketing,” Rich says.
This idea manifested itself into two flourishing F&B ventures: Muchi Group (with its flagship brand Butternut Bakery) and, along with two other partners, Raspberry Kitchen Group, which launched Ginza Gyu and Made in BKK at the height of the pandemic.
Being able to think of contingency plans when things don’t happen the way you envision them is an important part of business—more so if you are doing it with a friend or family member. Many relationships get strained when a business ends so it’s important to discuss these scenarios even before entering into committing to each other.
A study of family-owned businesses in 2010 found that the more successful ones “made each person’s role in the company clear and upfront.”
“Now that we run businesses together, I am in charge of marketing, people and the culture in the company, and recruitment. Rich handles everything else—operations, accounting, and production but we do R&D together,” Max says.
The wonders of marketing and retargeting
The pandemic had many in the industry scrambling for ways to survive with the lockdowns and restrictions, including their own brands Bibingkinitan and Papas Potato Chips.
“My brands are really meant for face-to-face and do best in places with high foot traffic. That’s where it thrives—the malls, marketplaces, supermarkets. So when the pandemic happened and the malls were shut, here comes Max with her marketing prowess and marketing genius,” says Rich.
“Bibingkinitan is a 17-year-old brand. But Max breathed life into me and I was so inspired. Knowing what she can do and what I can do, we did a rebranding with Bibingkinitan,” Rich Sanz says.
Max was able to think of ways to give Bibingkinitan a fresh look to capture a younger market and bolster its online presence. She gave it a hip, abbreviated name—BBK—and accompanied it with catchy photos. “Bibingkinitan is a 17-year-old brand. But Max breathed life into me and I was so inspired. Knowing what she can do and what I can do, we did a rebranding with Bibingkinitan,” Rich says.
Mastering couple and work dynamics
Rich and Max got married last December after postponing two big wedding celebrations. Being married to your business partner comes with a great necessity for balance. “The inevitable blur of boundaries is one of the main challenges,” Max replies. “Everything spills into each other 24/7.”
The couple also had two different working styles. Max grew up in a household that worked around the clock given that her family was in the catering business. Also, being 14 years junior to Rich, Max felt she had more energy to work at any given time. That said, they were both clear about how they wanted to take their working dynamics forward.
“I wanted to set the tone in our marriage where our lives don’t revolve around our work 100 percent. I know from my own experience how it could destroy a relationship. I’ve seen it firsthand. That’s why I set hard stops and boundaries in our marriage. For instance, we start at 9 a.m. and stop at 9 p.m. Even weekends, I want to dedicate to my family,” reveals Rich.
“Of course our relationship is our priority. I saw the value in learning how to set boundaries. Admittedly, I haven’t mastered it yet, so sometimes he would remind me,” says Max.
“At the same time, I didn’t want to douse water on that fire burning in Max. So it was a balance. How do you keep that fire burning, but at the same time keep it from burning us both?” Rich adds.
Avoiding the pitfalls of overwork
Whether business is doing really good or really bad, there’s a natural tendency to overwork yourself. According to Rich, this is a potential pitfall of their relationship.
“It still happens to us, but there has to be someone to sound the alarm. Imagine if you’re having dinner with your parents, and something happens with work. We just have to nudge each other and get back into the moment. At the end of the day, our relationship matters more. We try to do everything as much as we can during work hours.”
“There’s a certain chemistry required for doing business together. Not everyone is cut out for that. When I say chemistry, it’s not just romantic. Both have to have an open mind. There will be a lot of learnings and adjustments involved,” Rich Sanz says.
When married couples enter into a business partnership, treating each other as co-equals is vital. Emotions can easily overpower sound business sense so aligning your values and setting common goals early on can keep both parties focused.
“There’s a certain chemistry required for doing business together. Not everyone is cut out for that. When I say chemistry, it’s not just romantic. Both have to have an open mind. There will be a lot of learnings and adjustments involved,” Rich says.
And sure, while most of your time is spent with your significant other, it becomes even more pertinent to set aside time for yourself. Max explains, “Time alone allows us our individualities. Because everything is so intertwined, I cannot lose sight of myself also.”