May 15 2013

Appreciation Dinners – Hacking Startup Life

Guest Post By Jason HalleCamaleao Marketing Ltd. – (Co-Founder)

sisyphusStartups are tough.  They’re demanding and can ruin relationships if you’re not careful.  Back in 2011 my wife, Annelies, and I were building a startup together in Brazil.  We had just raised a million dollars to scale up the customer acquisition for our daily deal aggregator.  We were on top of our game and about to take over the world (or so we thought).  Long hours at the office, days apart while on the road, and many hours in front of laptops at home were the norm.  We poured everything we had into the startup.  Meanwhile, our two children (now 5 and 3) were as demanding as ever and rightfully deserved more attention – and happier parents.

How to fit in everything?  “Quality time” with family started to slip to make way for getting just one more task done before starting anew in the morning.  Forget about getting out to have a “date night”.  And dinner discussions focused on resolving business problems; such conversations started to get more intense when we had differing opinions on certain topics.  Things became even more amplified as the company started to run into finance problems…

Our relationship was in trouble and starting to show some serious cracks as the months rolled along.  We co-habitated in the same space, took each other for granted, and sadly our relationship had lost its spark.  Fights started from trivial issues and quickly escalated into days of anger and avoidance.  It became clear that neither of us appreciated the other.

At some point we came across a blog post from Brad and Amy (which would be incorporated into Startup Life) describing Life Dinner.  It was comforting to see that very accomplished couples had grappled with similar issues.  And as we toasted in the New Year of 2012, Annelies and I both made a resolution to each other to adopt our own version, which we call Appreciation Dinner.

Appreciation Dinner works like this:

  • Each month each of us will prepare a 3-course meal for the other
  • One person is the cook while the other is appreciated
  • Once the kids have gone to bed, the cook will serve the appreciated and will describe specific things they appreciate about the appreciated
  • Rules: the cook prepares all the food, drinks and also does the dishes.  The appreciated one is pampered.  No cell phones, no email, no TV.
  • (By the way, we both love to cook, so this also carves out some time to create and share interesting meals)  

Proudly, we both stuck with our New Years resolution to each other during 2012 and keep up our Appreciation Dinners to this day.  Starting out as very broad appreciations in the beginning (“I appreciate you for being a good mother”), the praise has turned into recognition of very specific events (“I appreciate your support last Thursday when I was stressed”).  The accompanying conversation is very much along the theme of Life Dinner – we have a chance to reconnect in a safe environment and discuss broad life themes, major obstacles, fears, joys, planning for the future, etc.

Through the process we have turned around our relationship for the better and have never been more connected.  We just celebrated our 10 year anniversary this January.  And while the startup itself unfortunately didn’t meet our expectations, our relationship has emerged stronger than ever.  We recently moved back to Colorado, and despite such a stressful life event as moving to another country, our Life Dinner hack gives us a great tool to stay connected and keep the daily stresses in context as we figure out our next professional moves.

Jason HallJason Hall is an expert in data driven, online marketing (PPC, SEO, affiliate, email, etc) & consumer website optimization. After working at various startups in Los Angeles, London and Porto Alegre, Brazil over the last 12 years, he has recently returned with his family to the Greater Denver area and is seeking his next challenge. He tweets irregularly at (