January 30, 2013
Don’t have time to read? Here’s a quick but comprehensive summary of Brad Feld and wife Amy Batchelor’s “Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur,” released on January 14, 2013.
Who should read this: I don’t even have to guess, because the authors tell us: “This book is for any entrepreneur who wants to be in a successful relationship. It’s also for anyone who wants to be in a successful relationship with an entrepreneur.”
Elevator pitch: It’s possible to have a successful company and a successful relationship. You’ll just need hefty doses of introspection and communication – and the ability to admit your failures.
Authors: Brad Feld is a cofounder of TechStars and the managing director of Foundry Group. His wife, Amy Batchelor, is a managing director of the Anchor Point Fund and a cofounder and partner of Social Venture Partners Boulder County.
Feld and Batchelor start with the assumption that work-life balance is possible. Work is part of life, and you can work smarter rather than harder. And, after all, life is short – happiness shouldn’t be deferred.
Communication is the thread that runs throughout the fabric of Startup Life. “The first principle of relationships, and startups, is communication. Without consistent, effective, honest communication, your relationship situation will be much more challenging,” they write.
With an entrepreneur’s busy schedule, you often need to set aside time for communication. Feld and Batchelor make sure to spend “four minutes in the morning” connecting when they’re together, and make good morning and goodnight calls when they’re apart. They schedule a monthly Life Dinner, like a relationship performance review. And they take one week of vacation each quarter.
But all communication isn’t created equal. To be effective, be honest but kind; show respect for your partner; don’t interrupt or use black-and-white terms of accusation (like “always” and “never”); and practice listening, even to hard truths.
Negative emotions should be communicated, but carefully. Anger is one of the most important things to communicate. Otherwise, it can fester, and it often reflects underlying fear or hurt. Avoiding conflicts may mean that you’re afraid of your partner’s response or rejection. That said, it’s important to make time to discuss anger when both parties are calm and not exhausted. If all else fails, seek professional help.
Startup company life
For founders: startup life is consistently hard, and you can’t wait for it to get better to work on your relationship. To make that possible, create a company culture that allows employees (including yourself) to find balance and spend time at home. You’ll also need time alone for rest and recovery (and creativity). Make sure to communicate with your partner about how your startup is going, but don’t drag them into your obsessing over it. If you need more support, read the advice and wisdom of other entrepreneurs.
To minimize confusion and conflict, you and your partner should reflect on whether you’re introverts or extroverts; motivated by extrinsic or intrinsic motivation; and very public or private. This will impact how you socialize, communicate with each other, and communicate with the world.
Both partners should understand that not all entrepreneurs have entrepreneurial personalities at home: some like to avoid risks, and others aren’t very flexible or adaptable. But the latter trait is essential to surviving times of crisis.
The best partners for entrepreneurs may be ones who are naturally independent, and take charge of their own happiness. But even VC Fred Wilson acknowledges that, over a long-term relationship, it can’t be all about one partner and their career. He and his wife have alternated time in the “driver’s seat.”
Other personality traits require some negotiation between partners. These include gender differences: while you may jump to solve your partner’s problem, sometimes they just want empathy. Entrepreneurs may bring their indefatigable optimism into the personal realm, and their partners may need to balance it with a dose of realism.
Connect words and actions: Words are important, but they lose their power when they aren’t connected to actions. For example, soothing words followed by a combative and hostile attitude don’t do their job.
Align your values: Explore things you disagree on to see if you share fundamental values and a philosophy of life.
Think before you have children.
Define what is unforgivable.
Skills, tactics, and tools
Little tools can go a long way toward connection and understanding: a long hug, saying “I love you,” apologizing and asking for forgiveness, doing something fun that reminds you of the early days, and taking little personality tests to spur discussion. Feld and Batchelor have also developed code words to use in times of stress or difficulty: saying “use your words” or “talk to me” can be a reminder that the partner can express their feelings without judgment.
You should also set rules around technology: define when it’s acceptable to use the computer around your partner, and when you will take calls (helpful hint: not in the bedroom). They also recommend removing the TV from the bedroom, as well.
And finally, entrepreneurs sometimes need silence – and you can enjoy silent moments with your partner.
Common issues and conflicts
Workaholic: Understand why you’re a workaholic – because you enjoy the adrenalin, or the self-importance of being needed all the time – and acknowledge the value of relaxation and connection with your partner.
Time management: This requires figuring out your short- and long-term priorities. Then, share your schedule with your partner to manage expectations, and schedule in time together. Also, make time for friends.
No means no: After you figure out your priorities, use them to decide what commitments to say no to.
Travel: Travel creates many issues. Recognize “reentry adjustment disorder,” the syndrome where travel has put you and your partner in different moods or attitudes that clash when you reunite.
Being late: Being late signals that your partner is less important than your work.
Decision making: Figure out what areas one partner can decide, and where you will share the decision making. For money, decide what amount of expense requires consultation with your partner.
Compatibility: For little daily differences, like music or food choice, practice fairness and taking turns.
Cheerleader vs. critic: Your partner can be your cheerleader and your critic; if you need one or the other at a particular moment, say so.
Issues: If you have personal issues (like anxiety), deal with them on your own or seek professional help, and try not to let them corrupt the relationship.
Marriage: If you’re not in agreement on this, set times (like every six months) to discuss it again, or a longer time limit (like three years) to make a final decision.
Big issues: Illness, relationship failure, and divorce
None of these are easy, but introspection is key. If your relationship is failing, acknowledge that and deal with it – otherwise the issues may only exacerbate. Also be open to the fact that, after a serious illness or accident, your priorities may shift.
Money, the authors remind us, is a tool to help you live a good life. That’s something to keep in mind.
Dealing with money starts with reflection: figuring out what you and your partner value, and how you want to spend it (for example, on art, experiences, food, etc.). You should define your “sleep-at-night money” (what you’d need to reasonably get by for a while), your “fuck you money” (what would allow you to stop working if you wanted to), and your retirement money. These can be helpful benchmarks. If you’re ever feeling pressured by money matters, be open with your partner so you both know the situation and are responsible about your spending.
Entrepreneurs can often find themselves transitioning from having little money to having a windfall from a big exit. Those transitions are difficult, because you have to adapt your mental approach to spending. After a big exit, take 90 days off to figure out what you want to do with the money. And spend 10 percent on a splurge – to celebrate the moment.
If you want to be successful at angel investing, make lots of investments, set a budget, choose people over ideas, make decisions quickly, and work with other angels.
(The following recommendations are from other entrepreneurs, as Feld and Batchelor don’t have children.) To have children and a startup and still be happy, founders should find a partner who truly (not just nominally) supports your dreams, and is comfortable risking all your finances. For the parent who stays home, find a hobby or activity that is your own.
Interestingly, starting a company has an unexpected benefit for your children – namely, it sets a good example for them about risk taking, solving problems, and being independent.
A variety of decisions will help your family stay happy and healthy. If you work together, consider avoiding work discussions outside the office. Don’t forget what profound effects your location has on your happiness. And, in between companies, savor the time to explore and adventure anywhere in the world – after all, life is a marathon and not a sprint.
Sex and romance
Communication around sex, as in all areas, is essential. Embrace small romantic gestures: little gifts, phone calls, and saying “I love you.”
Talk about your lifetime plan. Until what age do you want to be focused on work? What does retirement mean to you? See what your partner’s views are.
Overall Grade: A
This is a delightfully honest and in-depth look at the challenges and joys of being in a relationship with an entrepreneur. I say “honest,” because you’ll find many personal anecdotes from Feld and Batchelor, peppered with cute concepts they’ve developed – “reentry adjustment disorder” being just one of them. In addition, you can read heartfelt stories from entrepreneurs at the Cheezburger Network, TechStars, SEOmoz, and other companies.
But this book is not a manual; rather, it’s more of a guide for the intellectually and emotionally curious. Some sections are like little teases about a topic – if it interests you, you can investigate further, sometimes with the help of suggested readings from the authors. It may be frustrating to find no hard-and-fast answers to these issues, but entrepreneurs will be happy to discover that things like scheduling, data tracking, and performance reviews can be implemented at home. Ultimately, the key is to figure out what works for you and your partner.
Click here to order your own copy of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur.
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