Indra Kantono and Guoyi Gan
Directors of Jigger & Pony Group, Singapore
How did you meet?
Indra: Of course it was at a bar! I met Guoyi at Ice Cold Beer, a casual beer bar on Singapore’s Emerald Hill that was close to where we both lived. I went to the bar after work with a colleague, but every table was occupied. Meanwhile, Guoyi was at a table with her friends, and coincidentally she and my colleague were acquaintances. She offered that we join her table… an offer that I took up straight away.
What made you decide to open a company together?
Indra: Back in 2010, Guoyi felt it was time to hang up her Singapore Airlines kebaya after five years of flying. She has always loved meeting people and delivering hospitality, and we both love to drink. Meanwhile I was feeling restless at my private equity job but did not have the courage to leave a cushy job and start a business. It was the push and conviction from Guoyi that made the dream a reality.
We started doing research on bars. Singapore did not have a cocktail scene back then, and honestly, we knew next to nothing about cocktails! This is where Guoyi’s globe-trotting job with Singapore Airlines became handy – she would do the field research in the cocktail capitals like New York and London, while I supported her with the desktop research. We started to host friends at home and serve them cocktails, and that is where the seed that became Jigger & Pony was planted.
We decided then that we wanted to create a place where people find comfort, forge friendships, and share happiness – very much like at our home gatherings. To this day, this has served as the company purpose of Jigger & Pony.
It has been a terrific decade-plus of working together now. Right from the start we have defined areas to focus on – Guoyi is the heart of the company and runs all things operations and hospitality related, while I take care of business development and the branding and marketing side of the business.
What has been the greatest and hardest part about working together?
Indra: For both the greatest and the hardest: When you work together with your spouse, the highs are higher, and the lows are lower. This becomes more than a job, and more than an entrepreneurial endeavour. This is our life.
When the bar accomplishes a milestone, we are the proudest “parents”. You always want to share your happy moments with your loved one, so working together makes this really easy and gratifying.
On the other hand, when work stresses pile up, there is nowhere to run and hide. It is also tough when your first reaction is always to reduce the stress and burden of your spouse, but here you are overwhelmed by the very same set of challenges.
Having said that, for me working together with Guoyi has made me a better hospitality professional, a better company co-leader, and a better person – you’ll need to ask her about the better husband bit! I am grateful that every step of the way, through the successes and the challenges, we are standing side-by-side together.
How do you separate work and your relationship both while at work and at home?
We don’t. We have pretty much integrated work and home into our lives as one. It helps that we both share similar views and approaches. Some of the best discussions about work happen while we are in the car driving to dinner, or sometimes we go into spontaneous brainstorming sessions about an idea that occurs while we are watching TV on the weekends. On the other side, some of the best birthday celebrations we have had were at our own venues with friends and regular customers alike.
What’s one piece of solid advice you’d give to couples looking to go into business together?
It is NOT for everybody, that much is obvious. Ask yourself two questions: 1) Would you actually make good colleagues if you were not in a relationship with one another? 2) Are you in a stable relationship with your partner where you positively influence each other, even if you were not working together? If you can definitely say yes to both questions, then you are ready to go into business together.