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Sometimes I think we’d make gritty reality TV – only we wouldn’t have time to watch it!

Would you start a business with your spouse? While many suggest it's a line that should never be crossed, Kelly and Jon Barfoot, founders of Vegbred, explain how their differing opinions and set of skills makes their business thrive.
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Some 1.4 million UK businesses are now run by couples. Among them is Titchfield-based Kelly and Jon Barfoot.

The duo is all about creating a healthy foodie heaven. In 2016, they started an online fresh produce business called Boxxfresh. They then went on to found Vegbred, an alternative, naturally gluten free, plant-based, high protein and lower carb bread made using vegetables.

While talking with Real Business for the launch of its “I fell in love with my co-founder” series, the two explained how their company was a culmination of Kelly’s personal training career and Jon’s farming family lineage. 

Here’s what they had to say about marrying business and personal life.

How did you both meet?

Many years ago whilst both working in the health and fitness industry in London.

What inspired you to start a business together?

A love of real food, made using fresh, natural, whole food plant-based ingredients and a shared belief that the food system is undergoing the most exciting change for a generation.

What specific roles do you both have?

On a day-to-day basis, Kelly is more operations management and I’m more strategy and sales; however we’ve learned to use our skills to complement each other in the business; appreciating each other’s strengths and collaborating as much as we can on key decision making areas, mucking in whenever needed.

How do you separate work from your personal life?

In the very early days we were working out of our kitchen and home-based office with a small team, so there was really no escape from the pressures of the business startup – a very difficult balance at times!

With a move to new premises at the end of 2018 we could draw a line between the day-to-day and our home life; which made a big difference to us and everyone in the team.

It’s not a rule as such, but learning to respect each other’s style, experience and judgement has been crucial, as has the requirement for work-life balance in running a business and a young family.

What are your individual strengths?

Kelly can go ‘mile wide and inch deep’, whereas I like to get into the detail and do the opposite (‘inch wide, mile deep’).

I think when you have been a mum juggling a young family you develop a very effective skill set to multi-task and squeeze things into a limited time frame – which is great for business!

Strategic documents, presentations, contracts – these are all things that drive Kelly to distraction and which I manage, so we balance each other out.

If you could swap your business partner for somebody else, who would it be?

We wouldn’t want to, as I don’t believe that we could have achieved what we have without the divergent yet complimentary skill sets we possess. Its naïve to think that a silver-bullet hire like Alan Sugar would solve all your maladies as how would they work outside of a corporation structure, beyond their contacts? 

In reality, startups are all about graft. A skills or knowledge gap has never been a problem for us as whenever we’ve hit a wall or there has been something missing – either technical or structural – we find the advice we are looking for and then self-teach.

What’s been your biggest business achievement to date?

In all reality we’ve been hugely ambitious and although we aren’t where we want to be quite yet, we’ve come a long way in a short space of time to build a credible direct-to-consumer food business and string brands. 

Many thought we would fail! Looking back there have been many milestones, but the development of Vegbred is something really special for us.

What are the perks of running a business together?

The keys of success are yours to share…if you can find them, of course.

What are the downsides of running a business together?

Startups are exhausting and unconventional. Success doesn’t come quickly either. It takes time to craft and this tests the emotions in every dimension around risk-reward, beyond what you would ever feel in a corporate role where you never really have ‘skin in the game’ despite budget performance pressures.

The difference is that you are living this startup life; there is no escape, no ‘off button’, you’re all the way in.

What celebrity couple are you most like?

Unfortunately, we are a most unusual business couple, so I wouldn’t want to upset anyone by making a comparison. Sometimes I think we’d make gritty reality TV – only we wouldn’t have time to watch it!

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is the deputy editor of Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

Real Business