Two businesses, one marriage

When Lize and Simon Hartley started dating they were both gainfully – and happily – employed. Next came marriage. Then, they each launched a start-up. Now, they tell us how they made it all work…

Simon was first to resign and devote his attention to his start-up full-time, with Lize following a few months later. Alongside co-founder Roy Borole, Simon launched WumDrop, a courier service that matches drivers and customers using a mobile app request system similar to Uber. In September 2015 the company secured an investment of just over R1-million from angel investors.

Lize’s start-up Plasta manufactures medical plasters in three different skin tones and was born when she realised that nothing in our shops catered to South Africa’s wide demographic. Today her products are stocked in hundreds of stores across South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia and the Netherlands. 2016 saw her expand into central and northern Africa, as well as other markets in Europe.

Getting started

While Lize had always had an idea that she would follow in her father’s footsteps and dive into entrepreneurship, Simon had no such goal in mind, but did know that he wanted to find something that was a better fit than the job he was in. “I didn’t hate my workplace or my colleagues, it was simply time to do something with a bigger mission. I hadn’t considered that the bigger mission could be my own thing, until my co-founder and friend, Roy, suggested that we start a business together.”

With the vision of starting her own business one day, Lize had long been on the look-out for the right opportunity. “The gap in the market I spotted was the perfect reason for me to take the plunge. I spent a fair bit of time doing market research and finding a good manufacturer, which was tricky because no one was making this product. I worked on developing a full range while still working full-time. But after Simon resigned I realised I needed to take that step too, so I resigned a few months later.”

Feeling the pressure

Two start-ups in one household puts pressure on the finances. To cover themselves over the initial months both Lize and Simon lined up freelance work before giving up their day jobs. “The pressure was on because I charged by the hour and could do only as much as Plasta allowed, while making sure I got enough money in to cover basic expenses,” says Lize. To keep Plasta’s cash flow as healthy as possible, she also only started drawing a salary some months down the line.

Simon describes himself as naïve in the expectation that he would start generating enough money to live off fairly quickly. “Instead I found myself dipping extensively into my savings and having to even give up my freelance work to devote myself to the business.” Over and above the money challenges, as first-time business owners with no formal business training, Simon says the pair struggled with the fear that they were somehow making a big mistake in launching. “We also realised quickly that you can’t please everyone, and that the negative voices are always the loudest,” says Lize.

Facing the challenges

These challenges would put pressure on even the strongest relationship. “You have to be ready for that,” says Simon. “And willing to grow your relationship into the gaps that entrepreneurship will reveal.”

I’m quite certain that our marriage would be a much, much bleaker place if one of us wasn’t going through the same journey.

But despite the challenges it’s clear the Hartleys wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’m quite certain that our marriage would be a much, much bleaker place if one of us wasn’t going through the same journey,” Simon says. “It has been life-saving to have a partner who can understand how an email can break you.”

“It’s important to plan and strategise in a very realistic way so that you are (both) prepared,” says Lize. “And then brace yourself for more emotions, less sleep, and less money than you could ever imagine!”