Founder’s Diary: Starting A Business With Your Boyfriend

Founder’s Diary: Starting A Business With Your Boyfriend

[Photo credit Jessica Hoang]

People often ask me what it’s like to run a business with my boyfriend.

My answer is usually a mumble of thoughts, barely strung together into a cohesive sentence. When asked this question, I feel a jumble of emotions – some of them negative, many positive, but overall a mess of thoughts to sort through.  

Before Cambio Market, Jerome was working in IT, making big money consulting for big corporations. I was a recruiter, accustomed to a very corporate environment. I worked predictable hours and was always surrounded by people, mostly women (as the HR field is known for). Quitting both our jobs and transitioning to a home office (aka. Our kitchen table), making significantly less money, and seeing only one other person every day – all of that was a big change.

And, of course, it impacted our relationship.

Rough Times Ahead

It was probably six months in to our business that things became really hard.

Our first holiday season was extremely busy with sales and projects and the fact that we were leaving for two months on Christmas eve. We were unprepared, physically and mentally. By the end of the month, I felt burnt out and de-motivated. And then we hopped on a plane to Philippines to begin our two-month sourcing trip to meet partners and visit our communities.
I should have been excited, but I wasn’t. I was angry and resentful and wholly insecure – I had no idea where our business was headed and what we stood for. At the same time, sales barely trickled in during January and February. We probably had no more than $200 in sales for the entire two months.

When we returned to Toronto, I was stressed out. I wanted results, and I wanted them fast, and I felt angry that we couldn’t get them. I blamed Jerome for not being creative enough or outgoing enough or business-savvy enough, and I blamed myself even more. 

I began to wonder if our failures as a business translated into our failures as a couple. What if we weren’t right for each other? What if this was a sign?

Moving Forward

Those months were hard on us and our relationship, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything else. The hard times taught me a lot about business, but they taught me even more about love and what it means to give that love unconditionally.

During my lowest lows, on days when I couldn’t get myself out of bed, Jerome responded to my depression and self-pity with kindness and understanding. He never once told me to get back to work, or to dust myself off and try harder. Instead, he would place a blanket over me and bring me water without needing to be told. He gave me space when I asked for it, and pushed me when I needed it. He would sit all day at the little corner of our dining table that he’s claimed as his work station, open his laptop, and work – often harder than usual to counteract my negativity.

In his rare moments of despondency when he would retreat into himself, I offered encouraging words, coaxed him into closing down his computer, and coming on a stroll with me around our neighbourhood. We laughed with and at each other, cried together, opened up to one another, shared late night meals and after-midnight conversations. When a sale came in or something particularly good happened, we high five’d and danced and jumped around, feeling like our one bedroom rental was a castle.

For better or for worse, we were in this together.

Looking back, I realize now that my biggest mistake didn’t involve marketing or products or retail – my biggest mistake was striving for “perfect” when I should have been striving for evolution. For growth. For understanding.

After six years together, there is still so much to learn from one another; pointing out flaws in each other as we point out flaws in our business. We keep finding and losing and then discovering ourselves again and again.

So to answer that elusive question: what has it been like starting Cambio Market together?

It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

But it’s also been the best.

Gelaine Santiago

Gelaine Santiago

Gelaine is a social entrepreneur, an online storyteller, and a passionate advocate for diversity and ethics in business. She’s the co-founder of Cambio & Co., an e-commerce fashion company working with Filipino artisans to celebrate Filipino craftsmanship, culture, and heritage. Gelaine is also one of the founders of Sinta & Co., the world’s first conscious Filipino wedding boutique. She was named one of RBC’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants of 2019. Find her on Instagram @gelainesantiago and

1 comment

  • Sarah F.

    I know you guys from a brief stint at The Sentinel Project…how amazing that you are on this journey together!!! So heartwarming and inspirational. I will definitely keep my eye on this store and the lovely items. All the best!

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