When we think about the startup life we're often occupied with visions of long days and late nights in the office and the all consuming passion that overtakes a life as someone takes a vision and turns it into reality. An entrepreneur certainly has many things that can easily engulf his or her life as they balance product creation, customer development, hiring, sales and financing, to name but a few. But what about the other side of the life equation? Entrepreneurs have families, friends, spouses, and partners who play an important role.
As Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor point out in their book Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur, it is hard to create a startup company, but it is also hard to create a lasting relationship. Tackling these challenges at the same time comes with the need for heightened awareness about communication, expectations, and shared values. Through strategies like "four minutes in the morning" and Life Dinners, Brad and Amy have built a foundation for communication that helps them manage their busy lives.
Meg Hirshberg gives voice to similar themes in her book For Better or For Work: A Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs and their Families, about lessons learned in her own life and marriage to the founder of Stonyfield Farm. She notes that of course, your business always needs you, always, but then, so do the people on the other side of your life's equation. Despite the fact that, as she puts it, "entrepreneurial business sucks the entire family into its vortex", understanding the nature of risk and stress, making time for one another, and prioritizing communications can help families weather the ups and downs of an entrepreneurial venture. My former colleague Munro Richardson, co-founder of myEDMatch, reports that he found talking with his family – his wife and his daughters – to be very helpful, and afforded all of them a learning experience. His 12 year old even learned enough to ask him about a Plan B in case his new startup should fail. However, Richardson concedes, staying "present" even when out of the office is a challenge he has to focus on.
In a recent article in the July/August edition of Inc. magazine, Hirshberg appeals to the entrepreneur’s penchant for tracking progress with a “marriage dashboard” that encourages entrepreneurs and their families to evaluate how well they're managing to balance the equation. Asking questions about how you're feeling, the balance of support, monthly grievances (missing dinner, for example), and how well you're showing appreciation for one another, can help serve as a guide for how well you're doing.
As Hirshberg notes, there is a spousal lifetime value, one that should be considered in the balance of what you sacrifice for your business.