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Q&A: How we make our business partnership work

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Business partners Tom Cridland and Debs Marx share how their business relationship works

Tom Cridland and girlfriend Debs Marx are two twenty-something entrepreneurs living in Cambridge who run a sustainable fashion brand and a boutique PR agency, while also performing together in a band, The Tomicks. So, what’s the key to a successful business partnership?

Background: Cridland and Marx started their sustainable fashion brand, Tom Cridland, in 2014, when they were 23, aided by a government start-up loan. Worn by Leonardo Di Caprio, Clint Eastwood, Hugh Grant, Rod Stewart, Daniel Craig and many other A-listers, such is Cridland and Marx’s commitment to quality that their trousers, sweatshirts, T-shirts, shirts and jackets come with a 30-year guarantee. And they even sell an Entrepreneur’s Shirt, with 10% of the sale price donated to the charity, DEKI, which helps entrepreneurs in the developing world.

So, how did you meet?

Tom Cridland (TC): “We were both studying modern languages at the University of Bristol. I wasn’t really applying myself until I met Debs, who lived in the same halls. I wanted to get to know her better, so I started going into university much more often [laughs]. Debs really helped me to turn my life around. We graduated in July 2013 and later I went to work for an accountancy firm for a few months, but hated it. My mum and brother are accountants, my dad trained as an accountant – I’ve nothing against accountants – but it’s just not for me.”

How did you start the business?

Debs Marx (DM): “Tom had the idea of starting a fashion brand at uni and we both wanted to do something together. We went on holiday to the USA, where we decided to start our own business and when we came back we applied for a government start-up loan and used the money to launch the business in 2014. For a short while, Tom was still at the accountancy firm, so we worked at night to get the business off the ground. We started our PR agency in November 2015 and we now have about 20 clients. It’s a low-cost business, because we run the business from home or wherever we are. Tom and I also play in a band together.”

Did you have any doubts about starting a business together?

TC: “No, we both wanted to do it. Business partnerships aren’t for everyone and neither is running a business with someone you’re in a personal relationship with. But it works very well for us. We’re around each other a lot, but that’s not a problem. We always planned to work together, but it probably happened much sooner than we’d imagined. A few friends and family probably did raise their eyebrows when they heard we were starting our own fashion brand, it must be said, but it’s worked out very well.”

Do you ever have disagreements over business agreements and decisions?

DM: “We have very similar views, so disagreements are rare – and they never develop into rows. We’re both quite calm and rational. Communication is key, so we just talk things through and come to an agreement, which can involve compromise for one or both of us. For more serious business decisions, we’d involve professional advisors. And both sets of parents have been incredibly supportive, which has really helped.”

How do you stop work stuff spilling over into your home life and vice versa?

DM: “Neither of us mind if we end up discussing business at home – we don’t have any strict demarcation rules. But we enjoy our spare time, and we’re good at switching off, so we don’t just talk business all the time.”

TC: “We’re lucky enough to travel a lot, but most days we do some work. A while ago we were celebrating our anniversary on a beach in Vietnam, doing a little work here and there, but the business gives us the flexibility to do such things. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”

What do you think is the key to making a business relationship work?

TC: “You must find the right partner or partners and ‘be on the same page’, sharing goals, commitment and outlook. Having different personalities is a good thing. Whereas I can be fiery, Debs is more measured. If both of us were fiery, it might create more problems.”

DM: “Having skills that complement each other can really benefit the business. And all good relationships, whether business or personal, are built on trust, so you need to find someone you can trust.”

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