The founder of Singapore brand Naiise made his girlfriend his first employee – and doing business together led them to marriage

Naiise founder Dennis Tay and his wife, Amanda Eng, both 34, dated for a year and a half before she joined the startup as its first employee. In their six years of being together, the pair say they have never argued at work.
Jacqueline Chang

Do love and work mix well? Because for Dennis Tay, the founder of local design chain Naiise, the two are practically inseparable.

For the past six years, Tay has had Amanda Eng as his partner in both romance and business – and the couple even bring their two-year-old son into the office to watch over him as they work.

The couple, both aged 34, started off as friends but lost touch over the years. They reconnected in 2012 and began dating a month before Tay launched his one-man startup in January 2013.

Eng liked that he was creative, caring, and humorous, while he admired her beauty, smarts and diligence, the couple told Business Insider in an interview.

By 2014, things were going so swimmingly that Tay decided to hire his then-girlfriend as the company’s first employee. She would do marketing and buying, while he ran the day-to-day operations.

But to join him, Eng had to give up her job at fashion retailer Zalora – and she would receive no salary. Instead, Tay promised to pay for all her expenses.

“I was initially quite apprehensive to walk away from a well-paying job and jump into the unknown,” said Eng. “It was my dad who encouraged me to take the leap.”

She added: “When Dennis promised to take care of our expenses, I trusted him.”

For the first few years, the couple lived off their savings, channeling their earnings into growing Naiise.

They had also agreed that regardless of their relationship status, they would prioritise the company, although they admitted that it was difficult to separate their personal and professional lives.

Nevertheless, the arrangement paid off. The company took off, growing from a starting capital of S$3,000 in 2013 to an annual turnover of around S$5 million today. It currently has five stores, four in Singapore (including a retail showcase in Design Orchard) and one in Kuala Lumpur.

And on the romantic end, the couple discovered that they got along so well, they even got  hitched the very next year.

“After we worked together at Naiise for a few years, we understood how well we complemented each other as individuals, which then set the stage for marriage,” Eng said.

“I would say being in it together definitely made us stronger as partners. It was really enjoyable to grow both as a couple and as a business together,” she added.

In their six years of being together, the pair claim to have never argued at work. Instead, they trust each other to handle their respective duties, and acknowledge each other’s strengths.

Tay is the main decision maker at work, while Eng calls the shots at home, he said.

Instead of being a source of stress, the pair say running a startup together has strengthened their relationship. But despite this, the duo discourage other lovebirds from starting a business together, unless both parties are genuinely invested in the company.

Entrepreneurial couples need to be sure that they will not allow romantic problems to interfere with the business, Tay said, adding that both sides “need to agree that the vision of company should be bigger than the relationship.”

Added Eng: “The best businesses work because they have a mission, and when two people share a common goal, it aligns them to succeed.”

“This applies to couples, as well as other types of business partners… a business shouldn’t be started just because you want to work together.”

Read also: The Singaporean couple behind US$200 million JustCo say this is how they built SEA’s largest co-working space provider without breaking up