A power couple on running a successful business together
Mr Alan Phua, CEO and Co-founder and Ms Verleen Goh, Chief Food Fighter and Co-founder of Alchemy Foodtech Pte Ltd show us how they have found success in being each other’s partners in both life and work.
Running a business with your significant other has always been a polarising topic in the world of entrepreneurship. Starting a business is risky enough; but is it wise adding a relationship factor into the mix? It can certainly throw entrepreneurs off their game.
But for power couple Mr Alan Phua and Ms Verleen Goh, it has been a fruitful partnership. They first met in 2006 and started dating two years later. In 2011, they founded their first business together, Soyato Foods International Pte Ltd, which they ran successfully until they exited in 2015. Soyato is a brand of low-calorie vegan ice cream inspired by the couple’s love of the sweet treat and their dream of creating ice cream that can be enjoyed without guilt.
Mr Phua’s background in finance and Ms Goh’s food science and tech expertise made it easier for them to delegate their duties within the company. This first partnership drove them to work on Alchemy Foodtech in 2015 to explore greater opportunities in making carbohydrates such as rice, noodles and sugars, healthier and creating food solutions for the greater good. Much like Soyato, their motivations for starting Alchemy Foodtech were very close to heart — Mr Phua lost both of his grandmothers to diabetic complications.
It was timely as well, with diabetes becoming a global health concern and the Singapore government was stepping up its fight against diabetes. They found that the majority of the Singapore population, especially the elderly, was consuming a lot of carbohydrates (namely, rice) which is one of the top causes of this chronic health condition. This led them to develop their patented solution Alchemy Fibre™ and grow Alchemy Foodtech to become the food ingredient company that “Make Carbs Good”.
The pair tied the knot in 2018 and continued to commit their time into bringing Alchemy Foodtech to the global stage.
BiZQ speaks to the duo for insights on what it’s like to run a business with your spouse.
Did you have any initial apprehensions and how did you overcome these doubts?
Ms Goh: We didn’t have any. When we started Soyato, we were already a few years into our relationship, and we have always been talking about various business ideas. It just came naturally to us. Our personalities also complemented each other a lot, but most importantly, our goals were aligned. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, I think it’s important to find the right business partner. For us, it worked well because we share the same passion, goals and dreams.
You are together at home and at work, how do you draw the line between personal and work life?
Mr Phua: We don’t! They are very intertwined, and we are fine with it. We work through weekends and even when we take breaks, there would still be ongoing work discussions. It is pretty much work-life integration, instead of drawing a line. Occasionally, we do disconnect. We recently went on a cruise where we didn’t do any work-related stuff.
What are some of the rewards and challenges of being in a business together?
Mr Phua: One of the biggest rewards is that I don’t have to explain what’s happening at work to her. It is important that your spouse has a good idea of what is happening in your work life. As entrepreneurs, we have to take risks in our business, and our salaries. In the earlier years of entrepreneurship, we were not as financially stable as compared to our peers of the same age, which to some other couples, can be a cause of tension. But since we’re in it together, we both understood the risk and sacrifices we had to make to create a business with social impact.
Ms Goh: We are workaholics, so whenever we have any ideas, we talk to each other immediately — which is both a reward and a challenge because sometimes our relationship takes a backseat, so we have to schedule in date nights. But we always make it a point to celebrate our birthdays and anniversaries together.
What’s the biggest misconception about couples working together?
Mr Phua: There is a certain level of stigma from some people. For example, one venture capitalist wanted a divorce clause to be included in the contract. But we have also met plenty of investors who didn’t bring it up and have invested with us. One of the biggest misconceptions is that it will be very difficult to make it work and that you will get into a lot of fights. However, being a couple going into a business together just amplifies what’s already present in the relationship. If you are already fighting all the time, a business will not change that. And if you are in a stable relationship, there is a good chance that you will continue to be stable.
What are your top tips for couples who want to pursue a business together?
Ms Goh: The most important thing is to see each other as equals. It’s not about who came up with the idea or who invested more money. Couple or not, if you are going into a business together, you must be able to place your complete trust in that person.
Mr Phua: Have a conversation on the major milestones you want in your personal lives and the timeline. Talk through the risks you are willing to take together because starting a business can delay such milestones. You may also need to take all the commitment and sacrifices into consideration. We didn’t have our own home until recently and to some, this can be considered as a big sacrifice but with a business to run, this was something that we both had agreed on.
Be prepared to discover a different side of your partner as a person’s ‘work mode’ and ‘regular mode’ can be quite different. Couples who are considering going into business together can start off by doing a small project together to see the dynamics of your personalities and work styles.
What’s next for Alchemy Foodtech? What can we look forward to in 2023?
Mr Phua: A lot of good things are coming up in 2023. We have expanded our Alchemy Fibre™ solution into more applications including cakes, dairy and even bubble tea. We also recently raised US$3 million from investors to support the next stage of development in both local and overseas markets. The past year has been a start-up winter with many companies downsizing or even going out of business, so we are very blessed with the overwhelming support we have received so far.