The Psychological Guide to Starting Up: Preparing Loved Ones

June 19, 2013

2:33 pm

This post is part of Tech Cocktail’s “Psychological Guide to Starting Up,” bringing you insights on the psychological and emotional challenges of startups throughout June.

Starting up is an emotional roller coaster.  An idea strikes, you’re filled with passion.  You embark, and fall into “The Dip” (to borrow on Godin’s terminology). You continue to alternate between successes and setbacks, while investing all of your time, energy, and money to the cause. The highs are liberating, the lows are soul crushing.

We’ve already covered how to psychologically prepare yourself for starting up, but what about those who surround you?  What about your support system? You owe it to loved ones to prepare them as well, because by taking the startup vow, you’re inviting them onto this roller coaster with you.

Coming Out

Undoubtedly you’ve put ample thought into the decision to venture into your own venture. But before opening up shop (so to speak), your first task as an entrepreneur, according to Kirsty Spraggon, Founder of Konnection Global, is to present a tactful campaign to loved ones on why you’re taking the leaps.

“For many entrepreneurs, it’s about more than a job or an idea, but feeling it is their purpose or life’s work. Not everyone understands that and can be more worried than excited for you. You need to help them feel comfortable and share examples of people in your field who have had success with what you’re about to embark on.”

For young, single entrepreneurs, the decision to go all-in carries less risk, relatively speaking. Those with families, however, have a responsibility to more than just themselves.  For this reason, their conditional buy-in must be granted first.

“It has to be a decision that not only you invest in, but that your family invests in. So just like a marriage, make the decision collectively and be sure to articulate the ground rules and tradeoffs before you jump head over heels – don’t turn a blind eye,” says Matt Ehrlichman, Founder and CEO at Porch. “Ideally you are in the business together for better or for worse, predicting and knowing the pivotal evolutions necessary to being successful in the long term. Make time to be inclusively transparent.”

Setting Realistic Expectations

As an entrepreneur, work hours and waking hours are often used interchangeably.  Although being your own boss affords new freedoms, the responsibility also carries new restrictions. Brian Selander, Executive Vice President at The Whistle, stresses the importance of being upfront:

There will be soccer games and early-morning parent-teachers conferences that you can make at a startup that you might otherwise miss tied to your corporate desk…There are also times when a potential partner or investor calls, and you find yourself on a flight with just a few hours notice. It’s important that they know that it can cut both ways.

But in all likelihood, starting up will command much more of your time than it did at your corporate gig. Michael Topolovac, Co-Founder of CRAVE, suggests being completely candid about this.

“Let them know it is the closest thing to having a kid without actually having a kid. If they are your parents, it will give them some idea of why you seem to have your hands full all the time.”

At this point, it will be important to remind loved ones that you’re taking on the increased risk and added workload for a reason.  Only presenting the negatives will leave loved ones apprehensive.  Be as thorough as possible when outlining all of the positives.

Perhaps they’re reluctant to take your word for it, however.  Maybe you have a history of being blinded by your passion. In that case, Thomas D. Kuczmarski, founder of the Chicago Innovation Awards, suggests calling on fellow entrepreneurs to help cheerlead your decision.

“Set up a dinner with an entrepreneur (and his/her loved one) who is now successful but who can talk about the ups and downs of an entrepreneur’s life and encourage the loved one to ask this person (and their loved one) lots of questions.”

Building Boundaries

Because you’ll be entering into a world without defined work hours, the soccer game exceptions might soon become the expectation if not otherwise dealt with.

“From the get go when I started the business, I prepped my young children that there will be time for work and time for play.  Although I will never ever take away or compromise my time with any of the children for work, there will be designated times where I have to work and cannot take them to activities or hang out,” says Nellie Akalp, CEO and Co-founder at CorpNet. “The fact that I sat them down and explained this to them early on worked really well because the kids know that during such and such hours I am 100% focused on work so I can grow my business and our future.”

The importance of boundary setting extends beyond just your kids.  When at your corporate office, loved ones are unlikely to consider you available for rides to the airport, setting the DVR, or engaging in casual conversation.  When working from home, this distinction may be lost.  Karl W. Palachuk, author and Founder of Great Little Book Publishing Co., stresses the importance of not letting this misconception occur.

“The family needs to know that ‘work time’ means you’re not available to run errands, answer questions, and take care of non-work issues. When you’re the boss and no one else is managing your time, you need to do it yourself. It’s good to set up a signal that means you’re at work. For example, you can put up a sign that just says “The Office is Open” so that your family knows you are not interruptible.”

Mitigate Highs and Lows

Although you are ultimately taking loved ones on this roller coaster with you, they need not know about every up and down along the way.  You might be on the Twilight Tower of Terror, but they ought to only ride It’s A Small World After All (Disneyland ride-reference, anyone?).     

As Srikumar Rao, speaker, author, and former business school professor, puts it:

 “There are times when entrepreneurs feel terrified, when the world seems to be collapsing around them and they wonder why they made that horrible mistake. There are other times when they feel invincible and all powerful sure that they are exactly where they are supposed to be. The trick is to smooth these cycles and especially not to get into the deep trough. And, never to share this with spouses who could lose their own moorings. I don’t believe it is a good idea to share unreservedly with partners. There are some roads you have to travel alone. The best way to prepare loved ones is to let them know that you will be there for them at times of crisis but may not be there for things short of that.”

Closing Thoughts

But at the end of the day, striking a proper balance isn’t easy, and will likely be an ever evolving process.  When an idea first strikes, entrepreneurs tend to pursuit full steam.  When a setback is dealt, they feel as if their world is on the verge of collapsing beneath them.  In all reality, by pushing friends and family away for the pursuit of your venture, your work does become your world.  This is in large part why depression is all-too common amongst entrepreneurs.

The importance of setting ground rules for loved ones isn’t only for them, it’s in your best interest. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance will help to avoid these unstable highs and lows.  Your enthusiasm will have you sprinting out of the gate, but remember, starting up is a marathon.  Keeping loved ones close will help you stay the course.

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When Zach Davis isn't getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail's Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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