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Harvard Venture Stories: How two young entrepreneurs found a sympathetic ear — and something more.

2/15/2018

Entrepreneurs pour their hearts into their ventures. Sometimes those hearts meet.

Will Guillaume Foussier met Rong Xia last year at a social mixer at the Harvard Launch Lab. He thought she was interesting. She thought he was sweet.

His company, Ace-Up, is working to become the go-to marketplace for life and career coaches, connecting them with people looking to achieve personal and career goals and employers looking for talent development services. Her company, Raiing Medical, is developing hospital-grade, wireless smart thermometers that can be used for continuous temperature monitoring and fertility tracking.

So it was probably a given that they would have a lot in common, and understand where the other person was coming from. After all, that’s a big reason the Harvard Innovation Labs exist — to build communities of like-minded innovators. But in finding each other, Will and Rong found something more.

They talked. And kept talking. And pretty soon their relationship blossomed into a full-fledged romance. For busy entrepreneurs, they both say, being in a relationship with someone who understands what they are going through has been a wonderful thing.

“You’re living a very exciting experience, but at the same time you have a burden to carry,” Will says. “You’re building a vision for years to come, and you also have to pay the bills at the end of the month, so you have to deal with a lot of emotions, ups and downs, and it can be difficult to find someone who understands.”

Rong says you can find passion, and you can find love, “but [finding] understanding is very hard.”

“Especially for entrepreneurs,” she says. “It’s a very unique experience, and as Will said, it’s very overwhelming. You make decisions every day, and you need someone who understands the situation and your emotions.”

Life can be especially complicated for international student-entrepreneurs. Rong, who is Chinese, has team members not only in the Launch Lab, but in China and Europe, all with different schedules. “It kind of never stops for her,” Will says.

Will, who is French, got stuck outside the US for three months last September due to a visa problem. They called and Skyped each other every day, but losing that constant feeling of immediate support and understanding was very hard. “But we had a chance to really look at the relationship,” Rong says, and realize what they really had. “In the long run, we both benefited from that.”

Now that they’re reunited, Will says one of the best things about their relationship is having her positive support in an environment of constant trial and error, where there is never a shortage of people telling you what you’re doing wrong. “Critics are necessary to constantly help you improve, and to develop a better product and a better solution,” he says. “But sometimes you need some positive feedback.”

Yet the couple has found that even positive shop talk can be a double-edged sword. Sure, it’s great to have someone to kick around ideas and brainstorm solutions to problems with, but too much can kill the romance.

“Every entrepreneur understands this, even when you’re taking a shower, when you’re in the bathroom, even when you’re sleeping, you’re thinking about your business,” Rong says. She says that about 80 to 85 percent of their daily conversation is about work, with the rest being about life and love. “I would say 70-30,” Will says.

So, to make sure they aren’t overdoing it, the couple made a New Year’s resolution to both share a book they had read and a movie they had watched once a month, to “force ourselves to talk less about work and more about each other,” he says.

She also made him promise they would exercise together twice a week. “I hope he will spend more time working on his life and health,” she says. “Now he has me, so I’m going to force him to eat more healthier and exercise more.”

Sunday mornings are now their weekly break from the whirlwind of entrepreneurship. Will makes crepes. (“I make very good crepes.”) Rong has tea. Will has coffee. They think about the future of their ventures — both the ones they’re making in the business world and the one they’re creating with each other.

“Understanding is the most important thing,” Rong says. “As long as we have that, we can continue building our relationship and have a happy life with each other.”

Says Will: “I just hope we continue to build our relationship, our beautiful relationship, with the same energy that we have to build our companies every day.”

 

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