This past weekend, Americans observed Small Business Saturday, a day dedicated to purposefully and dutifully supporting small businesses. According to the U.S. Small Business Economic Administration Office of Advocacy, small businesses* accounts for 99.9% of all United States Businesses and make up 47.5% of U.S. employees. Many of America’s small businesses are family operations and many of those family operations are powered by the strength, resolve and shared vision of a married couple.
Throughout my life, I’ve heard many say “I could never work with my wife” or “on the job with my husband…naw, I’ll pass.” Still it seems to me that more of the opposite is going on. Folks are indeed finding a way to balance both a marital and business and/or career partnership. Perhaps the most famous example of duel partnership bliss that comes to mind is the Obamas. Like… they’re awesome. But a closer and more personal example for me are fellow SCAD alums, friends, and trusted business associates Ananya Vahal and Carlos Perez. Ananya is a writer, editor, blogger, podcaster and philanthropist who heads Ananya Vahal, LLC and The Sid Foundation , while Carlos is a sequential artist, illustrator and teacher who leads Prime Vice Studios, LLC. In each of their individual endeavors and their collaborative initiatives, it is rare to catch one without the other–and that is a beautiful thing to behold. In fact, I’d say they enjoy the kind of strategically sweet alliance for which the Obamas would give mad props.
I recently had the opportunity to learn more about them, the story of their union, and the way they approach their shared personal and business path. And I’m pleased to share the conversation below as definite #careergoals and #romancegoals.
Why did you each choose the artistic concentrations in which you currently work?
Loso: I chose sequential art as my artistic concentration because I wanted to learn how to tell stories through drawing for entertainment and educational purposes. My decision to obtain an MFA was because I also wanted to be an academic and teach.
Ananya: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old, I just didn’t know how. I didn’t know anyone in my family or network who was a writer. When I went to college, I decided to get a bachelor’s degree in English because it was the thing I gravitated towards the most. I gained reading, writing, and critical thinking skills, but I still didn’t learn how to be a professional writer. It took me five years and tons of life experience to realize I needed to get a master’s degree in Writing to reach my full potential as a professional writer and it worked for me. Words are powerful, and through my writing skills, I have been able to build up the businesses I have today. I also wanted to be a professor for which I would need at least an MFA.
I am assuming that you met each other at SCAD, so why did you choose to attend the school in the first place and how did you come to get to know each other?
Ananya: Many people assume this, but we actually did not meet at SCAD. We met through Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art that we both train in.
Loso, who was already attending SCAD, encouraged me to take a look at their writing program while I was searching for the right graduate program. I decided to go to SCAD after getting accepted. The first class I took was Business & Professional Writing. Loso took it with me as an elective. It was good to have his support as I transitioned into graduate school life. It made my transition a lot smoother. He basically recruited me into SCAD and is still waiting on a referral check from them.
I always wanted to pursue higher education and I had come to terms with the fact that writing was the profession for me. Getting an MFA showed me a path for becoming a professional writer, so it was worth it to me.
Loso: SCAD scouted me out when I was living in Salt Lake City. At the time I was entertaining the possibility for a terminal degree to expand my options. I was happily working as a professional artist and had gotten the opportunity to teach various art workshops. I fell in love with the teaching aspect of art and figured I could do more having the terminal degree.
In my undergraduate studies I had great mentors that encouraged me to explore my potential in pursuing higher education. With their support I was able to get the most out of my college experience. I graduated with my BFA in Art also with degrees in Ethnic Studies, African-American Studies & Anthropology.
At the time SCAD was the only school that had an MFA in Sequential Art. I moved to Atlanta to further develop my career shortly after being accepted. I had been 7 years out of school at the time.
What came first? Your business partnership or your romance?
Both: Our Romance.
Ananya: Neither one of us were looking for a relationship at the time we met. It was a rough time for both of us. So, we decided that if we were going to develop a relationship it was going to be built on a strong partnership because we didn’t have the time or energy to waste on anybody. We enjoyed each other’s company and had many interests in common so that made it easy for the romance to bloom.
We were there for each other during tough times that lead to us having a strong romantic relationship. This strong foundation made it easier for us to develop a business partnership later down the line. We had similar goals in life, so we decided to team up instead of settling down.
Loso: When we were both taking Capoeira classes as an escape. Ananya had just lost her older brother and I was dealing with the strifes of graduate school coupled with afflicting personal affairs. Apart from both liking martial arts we also loved and had similar taste in music, dance & food.
We (along with our buddies) all went out and partied together. It was fun. One thing led to another and here we are. The business partnership developed as we both realized that we complimented each other’s career and passions and came to discover we had common goals.
Teaming up was the best move to make both our dreams come true.
What primarily drives your shared ambition?
Ananya: We have a common goal and vision for our future and everything we do together or individually contributes to that goal. When we work together we can build a lot faster because every opportunity one of us gets is an opportunity for both of us. We saw how much faster we were able to build when we collaborated, so we adjusted all our personal and combined goals to include both of our skills and knowledge and build as a team.
Loso: We are both working relentlessly for a vision that’s bigger than both of us. We live for what we both are building together and gain pride from what we achieve as a team. We support each other and bring out the best in each other.
What are the biggest challenges and advantages of living and working together?
Both: There are way more advantages than challenges for us when it comes to living and working together.
As far as the challenges–sharing a studio space. Sometimes one of us needs quiet and the other wants to play music or needs to make phone calls, watch a webinar, etc. We have to adjust. Sometimes one of us has to go find another space in the house to work for a temporary period of time.
Ananya: As far as advantages, it’s easier to communicate and collaborate on things. We are always on the same page about work. We both know what’s on the line and are fully committed. We don’t have to convince each other what we are doing is important.
Gender roles are irrelevant. Labor is divided based on skills, strengths and unique attributes when it comes to professional life and personal life. Neither one of our jobs is more important than the other, so there is equal importance given to our professional work and our household chores. Sometimes, I have a deadline so Loso knows he has to handle the house stuff. Sometimes he has a deadline, so I know I have to handle the house stuff.
Living and working together allowed us to develop good collaboration skills. We are able to work well with each other and with other people.
Clients tend to like the aspect that we are a packaged deal. People trust us more when they see we have a family run business. It’s also helpful to have a second trustworthy person with you for important meetings, crucial situations, and legal matters.
Lastly, we also have the advantage that we come from different cultural and racial backgrounds. This gives us the opportunity to learn from each other, take the best from both cultures, and build a system of values that works for our relationship personally and professionally.
Loso: We always have each other’s best interests in mind. Competition is irrelevant for our personal dreams. Ananya has two businesses of her own: Ananya Vahal, LLC & The Sid Foundation organization. I support her in any and every way possible. She gave me my first job when I graduated from SCAD. I did the same for her through my company Prime Vice Studios, LLC. Through building our own dreams we also build each other up for the sake of our shared legacy.
What advice would you give to other couples who work together?
Ananya: Be clear about what your individual and couple goals are before you start working together. Then, create a plan to funnel your individual goals to that common vision so that you both are working for the same things with your unique talents and skills.
Be confident and content with yourself. Don’t look for the other person to fill your voids. Take responsibility over your own happiness and goals. Without having ownership of your own life, your relationship will never be a true partnership.
Loso: Understand what you are trying to accomplish together and why. Build from belief in yourself and each other. Have game plans so that you both shine and don’t get in each other’s way during pivotal scenarios. Work on creating harmony between work, home and personal life.
Set standards that you both agree upon so that your efforts are honest. Commit to success. Treat love as an action not just an emotion.
*A small business is defined as “firms employing fewer than 500 employees.”