“I met Daniella at the Ritz, this cool little bar in St Kilda,” says Marcus Balscheit, sitting in their Brighton home. “We were dancing and I thought this girl was beautiful. I had studied architecture and was working doing the interiors of bars. When I found out she’d studied interior design, I suggested we work together. Offering her a job was my way of trying to pick her up.”
The tactic paid off with the duo starting a relationship and a business the very next day. More than two decades later and they’re the joint owners of three successful businesses: Surround (an interior design store and consultancy), Team Cycad (a mobile advertising brand with offices in the US and Melbourne) and Goldie (a vintage jewellery label sold online and as a concept store within Surround).
Given that the average marriage in Australia lasts just 12.3 years, it seems an incredible amount of time to not only keep a romantic relationship, but also a business, alive. “At the start, you’re so caught up in the romance and being young that any sort of problems tend to be gotten over quickly,” suggests Marcus.
Adds Daniella: “Neither of us are the type of people to hold any kind of grudge. I mean, we definitely have our moments, but in the end we’re able to work through things.”
“We basically just really yell at each other for a minute,” says Marcus, “and then we’re over it.”
The connection the Balscheits have is obvious after just a few minutes in their company. Their stories flow like a seesaw with each injecting the highs and lows until you get a completely honest and balanced account. “At the start we were just living job to job,” admits Marcus. “We were a bit more freestyle, I don't want to say hippies, [but] we lived in Fitzroy in an open-plan warehouse and had a bed in the rafters.”
Building on their reputation for creating eclectic interiors, the couple opened a vintage interiors shop, House of Balscheit, in a huge space on Inkerman Street in 1997. Having grown up around the area (Daniella’s parents owned Maximas next to Greasy Joe’s when she was in her late teens), the duo found it to be the perfect location for their one-off finds. While Daniella admits that “hunting vintage was a thrill”, the couple was eager to support the local furniture industry and changed the business to Surround Interiors in 2001, stocking mostly new items.
Keeping the creative streak alive, they also began manufacturing their own line of products with Marcus designing and Daniella in charge of product development. “The lights I design are a bit crazy,” admits Marcus.
“Theatrical, you might say,” laughs Daniella before adding: “They’re dramatic and sculptural and we do have a demographic that will buy those, but we also have to have items that are more accessible.” Or “mainstream”, as Marcus puts it with a smile.
In 2003, Marcus – a keen cyclist who gets up around 4.45am six days a week to ride with a group a friends – came up with the idea of mobile billboard advertising and Team Cycad was born. The very first advertising allowed into Central Park, the brand now boasts riders in all Australian capital cities as well as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, Austin and LA. “We pride ourselves on being eco-friendly, but I think a lot of brands like that we can access places no other billboard advertising is allowed into.” As well as brands like Johnson & Johnson, Laura Mercier and T Mobile, clients include those in the political sphere. “We got hired by a group called UANI (United Against Nuclear Iran) as there’s some politician who comes to the US each year and has links with Al Qaeda. They basically pay us to ride around with his photo and park out front of his hotel in Manhattan to silently protest and draw attention to his visit.” He half-jokingly suggests bulletproof riding gear. “It’s a little scary to think Team Cycad may be on the radar for some terrorist group.”
With multiple businesses spread across the globe, how do they find time to do it all? “We don’t have children!” laughs Daniella. “Seriously though, it has been a stress juggling so many things all the time; I got shingles some years back. But at the end of the day we support each other and with things like Goldie and Team Cycad we’re able to develop our individual interests as well as work together at Surround.”
“It’s incredible really,” says Marcus. “My office for Team Cycad is within the Surround store, so we do still spend every single day together. And that’s just how we like it.”