From the current Brangelina headlines, to the somewhat daunting statistics about marriage these days, one wonders if entrepreneurs should shift focus from that of building sustainable businesses to solving the "how to have a sustainable relationship" problem. For those who are driven more by social innovation and less by mere profit, perhaps it's not such a bad idea.
One such entrepreneur, Malini Bhatia is clearly ahead of this trend. Her passion for supporting people through the journey of building and sustaining positive, healthy relationships, combined with her business acumen, inspired the creation of Marriage.com. Prior to building Marriage.com, she ran a company in the consumer internet/technology space and worked in PR and communications with companies across industries such as tech and healthcare, both in the U.S. and internationally. All of these experiences, she says, gave her the experience and confidence to tackling the "relationship space", and by applying technology solutions to untapped areas she believes Marriage.com can have a huge, positive, social impact.
Inspired by her quest, I sat down with Malini to learn more about what drives her, the challenges she faces as an entrepreneur, and ultimately what makes a successful relationship in both marriage and business.
What was the inspiration for launching Marriage.com?
I always had the desire to work in an area that could add meaningful value to people's lives. There was a phase in my life when people close to my heart were really suffering in their relationships, which either led them to get a divorce, separate, or just be married for the sake of it and live together despite no emotional or physical connection.
It was around that phase in my life when my husband and I came across the opportunity to acquire the assets of the company Marriage.com (through a business network), which then operated as a wedding site. Rather than focus on weddings, which is one day in a person's life, we decided to change the focus to marriage, which is intended to be a lifetime event. We rebuilt the website entirely to reflect this change in direction and strategy. One year later, we re-launched to provide expert advice, trusted resources, and positive information about all things marriage.
Today, marriage as an institution is suffering. Statistics show that nearly 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in a divorce. The divorce rate for first marriages is 41 percent, 60 percent of second, and 73 percent of third marriages end in divorce. Healthy marriages are important for mental and physical health of a couple as well as for the children; growing up in a "happy" home protects children from mental, physical, educational and social problems.
Marriage.com is the first step for people seeking advice and guidance; the site is like your confidant, where you have access to insight from experts, who are verified professionals who are qualified in this area. This is ideal when you don't necessarily have the resources to seek a therapist, or when you are not comfortable speaking to your friends and family about your personal struggles. In essence, we wanted to create a place where advice and support are given without any judgment. We invite marriage experts from various areas and specialties to contribute content to the site based on their focus area; and we suggest topics that would interest and benefit our audience in terms of their relationships.
What do you think company founder relationships (partners) can learn from strong, healthy marriages?
In my business, my husband is my business partner. We have learned so much over the years and while it was challenging initially, it has been a very exciting and rewarding journey working together.
It is an important process to decide whether you can or want to work with your spouse. If this partnership works well, the benefits of this business relationship can shine. It takes work, communication, negotiation, commitment, and sometimes a decision to compromise. But in the end, it is very fulfilling, united by working toward the same business and personal goals.
Here are some suggestions to help ensure that both the business and the marriage continue to prosper:
#1 - Divide up responsibilities: It is wise to separate your areas of responsibility and then let each other work without interference. This helps maintain a good working relationship while simultaneously and allowing business goals to be achieved.
#2 - Keep personal issues at home: Bringing personal issues up during business hours is a no no, while conducting yourselves in a professional manner when you are at work together is an absolute must. Personal arguments and conversations can interfere with smooth workflow and take precious time away from things that matter for the business.
#3 - Keep work out of the bedroom: Often we find that we are so busy at work that we haven't had much time to talk about business in the office, however, it is important to set boundaries. It's a good idea to limit the time you take each day to catch up about work to half an hour or so after you leave the office, after which you agree not talk business again until you're both back in the office.
#4 - Take breaks together: A short break from work together can do wonders for both your relationship and the business. An unplanned lunch, a quick coffee or even a short walk together can remind you why you love being in business together.
#5 - Give each other some alone time: Along with taking breaks sometimes from business stress, it may be a good idea and healthy to take a break from each other by giving each other some space and regularly engaging in personal interests, sports or activities.
How is a startup business similar to "starting" a marriage?
Marriage needs strong pillars to survive the many ups and downs of life. Those underlying principles of a strong marriage can also be applied to a very different kind of passion project: entrepreneurship. In fact, the pillars of a successful marriage can pave the road to taking a start-up from its initial all-consuming flurry (dating and the honeymoon period) to a large, successful, and sustainable business (a steady and healthy marriage). Let's look at five ways this can happen:
#1 - Commitment: Building a startup is tough and requires hard work. Without a sense of commitment it is difficult to achieve success. Marriage is a roller coaster, and it requires commitment to make it work.
#2 - Love and passion: Love is the foundation of any marriage. Love for what you do and whom you are with will help sail you through difficult times. Businesses start as a labor of love, just as marriages begin with two people falling in love.
#3 - Communication: Communication is one of the most important aspect of a healthy marriage. Communication with your team, partners and customers is a key ingredient for a successful company.
#4 - Health and fitness: Healthy marriages and businesses require you to be in good health. Corporate wellness is of growing importance to the success of a company, not to mention that healthy employees are productive employees!
#5 - Time: Relationships and successful companies are not built without investment of time. You need to carve out and invest time with your spouse for a healthy marriage. Successful companies are not built overnight and require investment of time and patience. The same way we have monthly meetings on the work calendar, as a family we have made a conscious effort to make time for date nights on the 23rd of every month (since we got married on October 23rd). It's a family ritual we have done for the last 11 years and one that is a lot of fun.
Who are some of the company founders you admire the most and why?
I admire Bill Gates for his ingenuity that has led him to revolutionize the technology world.
Most importantly, I admire his strong initiative for giving back to the community through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the world, founded by he and his wife, Melinda Gates. The Foundation has spent billions to help some of the world's poorest countries.
I also admire Mark Zuckerberg who has built a company that changed the way people connect. Together with his wife Priscilla Chan, they have inspired people around the world by creating the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and committing 99 percent of their wealth to taking on challenges like improving education, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities. In fact, they recently made an announcement that they will dedicate $3 billion over the next several years to help fight and cure disease.
What is your vision for Marriage.com over the next 3 to 5 years? In other words, how do you want to positively impact the world in your own unique way?
The short term goal is to continue to double down on what's already working for us: connecting people with expert advice and improve our platform to cover more resources, deeper information and building a stronger community to support healthy, happy marriages. We want to introduce new platforms and ways in which people consume information, add videos and enable easy access to receiving advice and help for their marriage.
Our long-term goal is to be able to provide value in every marriage. We want to take the platform to be truly global and support many languages. We are passionate about connecting people in remote parts of the world with information and advice from top therapists and experts so they can be guided and supported in the right way...and ultimately, build long-term, healthy relationships.
The idea of having extensive, positive impact on marriages is what gets me going in the morning and keeps me focused on our mission.