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I give a regular talk at Techstars called Work Life Harmony. It try to do it a few weeks into the 12 week program just to give the founders a breather and a chance to reflect on everything that is going on around them.
Ty Danco, one of the director at Techstars Boston, did a great job of blogging a detailed summary it.
Sarah Needleman wrote a fun article in the WSJ over the weekend titled Yes, Entrepreneurs, You Still Can Have a Love Life. In it she interviewed me and Amy and wrote about a few of our tactics.
“One of the most important is to dedicate a few minutes every day to listen to your partner. While you may be tired from lending your ear to clients, investors or employees, shutting out your significant other can result in resentment and bottled-up feelings.
Another practice Mr. Feld and Ms. Batchelor recommend is to plan a date at least once a month, plus vacations a few times a year, even if just for a weekend. Go somewhere away from home so you can focus on enjoying one another’s company and leave your smartphone or other work device behind. Otherwise, you may be tempted to check your messages or excuse yourself to answer a call.”
It’s a short article but Sarah captured the spirit of the challenge of a startup life well!
Mark Suster, a partner at GRP who writes the well-known and excellent blog Both Sides of the Table put up a detailed and excellent review of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur yesterday.
His wife, Tania Suster, weighed in with an excellent comment about her hints for surviving being the spouse of an incredibly busy startup person. Tania’s tips follow.
– Get electronic access to his calendar
– Don’t call when you see he is in a board meeting or meeting an important investor
– Use the calendar for scheduling so you don’t have to bug him about when he is free
– Respect and develop a positive working relationship with his assistant/team
– Don’t email him unless you have to, he is barraged with literally hundreds of emails a day. I text his iPhone if it is important and then I know he sees it
– Get a babysitter once a week for date night whether or not you have plans, you need couple time. If money is tight, you can trade babysitting with friends. Its worth the hassle. Even when you are tired and don’t feel like going out, once you are out you breathe deeply and realize its a good idea.
– Respect his need for down time: If he loves mountain biking or poker night or in Mark’s case obscure foreign films about blind Iranian shepherds, then make sure your over-stressed partner gets to do something that truly relaxes him once a week
– Do the same for yourself, no one likes a Martyr. Plan some fun with your girlfriends regularly, no one is going to do it for you.
– Pick your battle times: Say “we don’t need to discuss this now, but we need to schedule time to discuss X as its really important”
– Remember, when he takes that call during dinner or the weekend, he is working for the success of the family, he is doing it for us, it isn’t fun for him. That only makes it 15% less annoying, but it helps
– Take vacations! It is mandatory. I used to love our unplugged week each year in Sequoia Nat’l park with no WiFi and no cell coverage. Sadly after 5 years they started getting just enough coverage for him to check in, bummer!
– I love the idea of a Digital Sabbath – some time each week where the whole family unplugs. Haven’t gotten this family to sign up, but would like to try.
– Take some weekends without the kids each year, it is really important to reconnect. It is worth the hassle of organizing and the expense. The kids are going to grow up and abandon us. We need to nourish our couplehood. It won’t happen on its own.
As Amy and I gear up for the publication of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship With An Entrepreneur (pre-orders available now on Amazon), we’re going to pick up the tempo of the posts here, including some awesome guest posts from friends. The following is from Bart Lorang, CEO and co-founder of FullContact (Brad is on the board).Bart is two months into a new marriage with his wife Sarah, and the original version of this post is on the FullContact blog.
I’ve made some angel investments that didn’t work out in my life.
Once, I invested in a cryogenic company. They cryogenically treated things to last longer. Think “cryogenic brake pads.”
That company didn’t end up so well.
Another time, I invested in an online gambling company.
That didn’t really work out either.
I’ve got a few more angel investments I’m not sure will survive. But, that’s simply the nature of the game.
However, I’ve got one particular angel investment that I’m absolutely, POSITIVELY certain will work out. I’m so excited about this investment I can barely contain myself. It’s a lead-pipe, stone-cold lock to be a winner.
What is this investment?
It’s an investment in an actual, real-life Angel. I’m investing the rest of my life in my relationship with Sarah Benson – and we’re getting married in September!
I’m actually kind of shocked that we agreed to terms and Sarah is actually going to marry me. But I’m not one to second guess or kick a gift-horse in the mouth.
Instead, I’ve promised Sarah that I’ll work hard for the rest of my life to make her happy, as I definitely don’t want her to back out of the deal.
That would suck.
So how did this investment close? If you read my post on 126 NOs and 1 Big YES, you’ll understand that like any investment, it’s about hard work, persistence, and never say die attitude. This was no different.
This is our story (in pictures) – read on for the full blown version.
Sarah and I first met in August of 2009. We had both enrolled in the Executive MBA program at Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver.
I had recently exited my last venture and figured an EMBA would be a good “gap-filler”.
Sarah had decided she wanted an MBA to advance her career.
A little about the EMBA program – it’s an 18 month program – no summer breaks, much to my chagrin. Students are organized into Cohorts – about 40 students per cohort. We all take the same classes on alternating Fridays and Saturdays. To be accepted, students must have at least 10 years management experience. The average age is 37.
Sarah was 29 when the program started entered. I was 30. We were the two youngest members of our Cohort. Ironically, the third youngest member was Ben Deda, who now is the VP of Business Development for FullContact.
When we first met, it was hardly love at first sight.
I sat behind Sarah in class, but it turns out that she found me obnoxious, loud, and brash. She actually moved seats to get away from me!
I thought Sarah was a little too obsessed with her dog, Parker. And given her high-end luxury resort background, thought she was a little too high-brow.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In our EMBA program, we had been assigned “Study Groups.” These study groups gathered every week to drink beer, study and do group projects.
My study group met exactly twice at the very beginning of the program. After that, I kept pressing for meetings but none of the other members seemed interested.
One day, Sarah was telling me about her study group – they met every Wednesday at Hanson’s Bar and Grill. She talked about Ben Deda and how he really drove the group with assignments.
I expressed my frustration with my current study group (the fact they wouldn’t meet). Unbeknownst to me, my study group was actually meeting – just without me and in secret. Apparently my focus on beer or something about my personality clashed. Whatever.
So instead of telling me this, Sarah graciously invited me into her group. Her group took a vote, and allowed me in.
Her decision would prove prescient.
Our study group wrapped up at the end of the quarter. We decided to still meet over the holidays.
One night at Hanson’s, it was just me and Andy Funk – everyone else was on holiday and Sarah was in Tuscany for work. The two of us proceeded to get really, really drunk.
I remember thinking to myself – “Man, it’s just not the same without Sarah and everyone else – she is the glue that keeps this thing together.”
So, on my cab ride home, I decided to call Sarah and tell her just that. To my surprise, she actually answered my call (it was 5AM in Tuscany).
I told her that our study group sucked without her, and demanded she come back as soon as possible. Ever patient, she just laughed it off.
At that time, I had way too much time on my hands. I was currently between ventures and fiddling with angel investing. All I had was the EMBA program – but it was winter break and I was bored.
I told Sarah I needed to go on vacation and asked “where I should go?”. Sarah knew I had a soft spot for Four Seasons, and recommended the Four Seasons in Florence.
Drunk off my ass, I thought that was a great idea.
I hung up, then promptly booked the next flight to Zurich, Switzerland. I then booked a Hertz rental car and several nights at the Four Seasons in Florence.
Around 1AM Denver time, I emailed Sarah the info and said “On my way!”
I got an email response saying something like “WTF” at which point I called her and said “Thanks for the advice, I’m comin’ to Italy.”
At this point, I’m pretty sure that Sarah thought I was completely insane.
However, Sarah indicated she had a day off and was planning on visiting Milan for the day.
I said “Great, want to do lunch in Milan? It’s a three hour drive from Zurich.”
We agreed on lunch in Milan (at this point, Sarah felt really sorry for me).
The next morning I rose, still hungover and probably still a little drunk, and got my ass to the airport.
8AM Zurich time, I landed. My iPhone didn’t work (forgot to turn International plan on) so I purchased a pre-paid cell phone from an Airport kiosk.
I then proceeded to make the drive to Milan.
Milan is pretty chaotic, and after a few hours trying to triangulate each other’s position, Sarah and I managed to meet up for lunch.
We had some lunch at a quaint little restaurant then decided to walk around.
Soon thereafter, it started snowing in Milan. Then it started snowing some more.
Knowing that I was alone, Sarah felt sorry for me and invited me to stay with her at her Tuscan villa instead. This ‘villa’ was on 4,200 acres and the house had 7 bedrooms. Nice.
I said “Cool, I’ll just leave my car here in Milan and we’ll ride down together”
So we departed Milan, and that’s when the snow really started to fall. And I mean really fall.
Turns out, it was the worst blizzard Italy had seen in 40 years.
Our 4 hour drive turned into 5…then 6….then 7…then 8….
10 hours later and a whole lot of conversation, we arrived at the villa at 5AM.
Not so fast.
The little piece of shit Peugeot couldn’t get up the snowy hill to the villa. It was another 3 miles to the villa.
At that point, I was exhausted, but we’d come so far.
So, I told Sarah to take the wheel and I got out and started pushing the Peugeot up the snowy, slippery road.
After about an hour, totally spent, we finally got to the villa.
We were wired from the drive and Sarah was scared out of her mind (snow wasn’t her thing – she’s from Phoenix).
Naturally, we decided to crack open a few bottles of wine to unwind relax. It was 6AM.
A few hours and a few bottles of wine later … stranded in a snowed-in villa in Tuscany ….I’ll let you decipher the rest.
And that’s how it all started.
The Formative Period
Over the next year, we focused our energy on our new relationship. We quickly grew on each other.
Basically, Sarah found me less obnoxious every day.
As it turns out, Sarah and I are complete opposites.
She’s sweet and forgiving. I’m angry and judgmental.
She’s patient. I have no patience.
She’s kind and thoughtful. I’m selfish.
She’s highly analytical and careful. I am emotional and impulsive.
She worries about other people’s feelings. I have to really remember to think about anyone else’s feelings.
She likes to go on walks in the morning. I’m cranky in the mornings.
Basically, she’s a terrific human being. I’m a shitty one.
Somehow, she still stuck around.
We were both working 60+ hours a week, plus EMBA (20-40 hours / week). Honestly, I don’t think I would have gotten through it without her. I had started what would become FullContact, and I didn’t have the patience for school.
But every week, Sarah dragged my ass to class. She forced me to do the work – even though I didn’t want to.
She supported me during my down times (there were many) and during my triumphs (far fewer).
I fell in love with her dog Parker. He’s hard not to love.
Over the next 15 months…we ended up becoming…. inseparable. A far cry from how it started (Sarah unable to stand my mere presence).
Graduation & TechStars
In March of 2011, Sarah and I graduated from our EMBA program together.
True to form, when it was my turn to come up to the microphone and announce my name, I seized the moment and thanked Sarah for everything she had done – told everyone I couldn’t have done it without her.
Immediately following graduation, FullContact was accepted into TechStars. So for me, it was out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Sarah agreed to move to Boulder with me during the summer and commute to Denver for work.
We rented a shitty college apartment at Arapahoe and 19th.
I loved every second of it. I had always wanted to move back to Boulder and TechStars gave me the opportunity.
During this time, it was a little rough.
Sarah put up with my 18 hour days.
She put up with me coming home smelling like Tequila after every TechStars Wednesday night 9:09 meetings.
She put up with the commute.
She put up with me closing our first seed round during her appendectomy.
She put up with the lack of cable TV.
She put up with the college parties raging until 4AM.
She put up with the endless pitch practices I made her sit through.
Basically, she was a Saint, while I was a Selfish Dick.
But then, TechStars ended, and everything turned out OK.
So, at the end of the summer, we had a decision to make: move back to Denver, or stay in Boulder?
As Sarah was looking for places to stay, she stumbled upon a great place at 9th and Spruce. It had been listed 45 seconds earlier on Craigslist.
She called me immediately and told me to go make a deposit.
I did, and that’s where we decided to stay.
As we settled into our new life in Boulder, we fell into a good rythym.
Sarah absolutely fell in love with Boulder and we decided that we were going to live here – even if our work lives were in Denver.
Parker loved Boulder too – the squirrels, the trees, the weird remnants left behind by college kids partying the night before.
Sarah really started to appreciate my obsession with the NFL – particularly on Sundays. Eventually, she figured out she just needed to go shopping instead of listening to me scream and curse at the top of my lungs.
We started visiting a new restaurant every few days.
Sarah started to become obsessed with our neighborhood (Mapleton Hill) – tracking every home, who lives in it, and the history behind it (somewhat creepy, but endearing).
We started making new friends – many from TechStars – but others from the startup community as well.
Eventually, Sarah started a new career in tech at Name.com, leveraging her five star hospitality skills to become their Director of Customer Experience.
Even though her commute was going to be longer (an hour each way each day) we still decided to stick in Boulder.
We just loved it too much to leave.
I had been planning on proposing for a long time.
I knew Sarah was The One six months into our relationship – it was merely a matter of timing.
So, one night, I took Sarah for a walk. Got down on one knee in a quiet part of Mapleton Hill, and asked her to marry me.
She actually said “Yes”
And we couldn’t be happier.
The moral of the story? Invest in an Angel. It will pay off in the end. I promise.
Happy Life Dinner, Sarah. I love you. Thanks for putting up with me.
As Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur gets closer to it’s publication date (it’s January, but you can pre-order now – hint hint) I’ve been getting increasing number of notes from folks I know about their own experiences. Today’s is from Sandy Grason about her thoughts around her relationship with husband Rich Kwiat. I think all of this stuff is powerful and magical – Sandy, thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts out there in the world.
So, I’ve been reading some of your thoughts on relationships and thinking about your book…. These thoughts woke me up at 3am, whenever something wakes me up at 3am I know I’m supposed to pay attention to it, because I love to sleep, like a lot. Here’s what I believe…
I met Rich Kwiat when we were both 19 years old. I didn’t realize I was falling in love with a serial entrepreneur, I thought I was falling in love with a rock star. I now know the two career paths have quite a bit common. We’ve been together for over 26 years and he’s still my favorite person to hang out with. People constantly ask me what the secret is to our relationship and I never really know what to say. I tell my daughters, find a man that makes you laugh, because if you can laugh even when you’re in a fight, you’ll be okay. No one makes me laugh harder than Rich.
But I think the best information about being in a relationship with an entrepreneur (or a rock star) actually came from a song that Rich wrote many, many years ago. He’s not one to preach “live in the moment” whoo-whoo philosophy and before we had kids he was strictly rock-n-roll, but this song sums up everything you need to know to be happy in a relationship (or in life for that matter). The song is called “This Ordinary Life” and here a few of the lyrics:
Once in a while, through this ordinary life we’ve made on broken dreams, we’ll catch our eyes & still know what’s there between.
Yesterday seems oh so far, I thought I’d reach and touch the stars, I’d never knew I’d share the moon with you.
Once in a while through our daily measure, I’ll get to feel your warm embrace, if what we have is ordinary…. it’s for me.
I made a video for Rich a few years ago for this song. You can see what Rich looked like with hair :-)
Our little girls are now 16 & 14 and Rich is on his 4th or 5th start up, I’ve lost count. We haven’t had the big google sale yet, but we still stay up late talking about all of the incredible possibilities that being a serial entrepreneur brings to life. I’d much rather be in a relationship with a passionate entrepreneur than a punch-the-clock, 9-to-5-er. It’s the roller coaster versus the merry-go-round. (My favorite “Parenthood” reference, some people prefer the Merry-go-round, but it just goes round and around, same everyday… I prefer the roller coaster, it’s scary and exiting and makes you feel so alive.)
This is a guest post from Scott Yates and Kathy Yates. Like me and Amy, they are clearly partners in much of how they live their entrepreneurial life. Also like us they are thinking about these issues out loud, us with our upcoming book, Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur, and Scott and Kathy with this blog post:
Any entrepreneur will tell you that that the first investor is often the hardest one to get. What we’ve found is that there’s one special kind of investor you have to get a commitment from before even that first cash investor, and that’s your spouse.
While your spouse won’t be signing a term sheet, there’s little doubt that your spouse will be invested in your success. Before you can go out and get investors, or even customers, we think it’s important that you convince the person closest to you that you have a good idea, a good market, that the opportunity is ripe, and that you are the one to go after it.
Think about it. If you are starting a new venture, there’s a good chance that your spouse will be investing in the idea pretty directly by supporting you as you work initially without a paycheck. Or the spouse may be sacrificing the time that might have been spent enjoying life with you as you spend all your nights and weekends working on your business.
And it’s a risky investment. If you get regular investors, they will put some money and time into your business, but if the business fails that investor isn’t going to lose much, really. Investors build their funds with the idea that a certain percent of the investments will return nothing.
With your spouse’s investment, however, the risk is dramatic. Retirement funds, college funds and the like are just the start. Add in all the time they don’t get to spend with you that they never get back. There’s a reason we use the same verb for money and time — spend — and entrepreneurs are asking a huge spend of one or the other and most often both.
In short, it’s a hard sale. Brutally hard.
Some entrepreneurs don’t make the sale — they cheat. They essentially steal that money and/or that time because they think they won’t be able to make the sale. Suddenly a spouse looks up and two years and/or all the savings are gone and they don’t really even know what happened.
Our view is that you need to make that sale. You need to convince that first investor to go all in with you.
We speak from the experience of three businesses that Scott has started and Kathy has “invested” in.
In all of them, Scott tried hard to treat Kathy has an investor, making sure that she bought into the vision, that she understood the potential risks and rewards. He told her about the market analysis, and shared with her the struggles. Heck, as Scott struggled with a name for the new company, Kathy even came up with a brilliant one: Blogmutt.
She was no pushover, either. Scott worked hard at convincing her that companies had a need for blog content, and that it was potentially an idea that could generate $100 million in annual sales if run just right.
In part because Kathy did such a good job in her due diligence, Scott was much better prepared to go out and talk to investors and when he did he found top notch investors for his seed round.
Now when Kathy sees the Blogmutt logo hanging proudly on the Walnut Street offices in Boulder, and she knows that hundreds of businesses from around the world count on Blogmutt for blog content, she has the special kind of pride that investors know well. It’s a pride that comes with knowing that she played a significant part of the success of the entrepreneur. Like other investors, she knows that she’s not in the trenches, but she helped arm and prepare him physically and emotionally to get into those trenches and fight fight fight.
Imagine if she’d been opposed to the idea from the start.
The idea of marriage is that you share success and failure. If an entrepreneur doesn’t work hard to convince a spouse of the merit of an idea, they are both robbed of the joy of celebrating success together. If the business suffers a setback, the entrepreneur can’t take solace with the one person who is supposed to always be there.
And on the spouse’s side… It’s good to look with a critical eye at the idea of your entrepreneur spouse, but not too critical. Remember, this is the dream of your husband or your wife. This is how they want to change the world.
If an idea is a little bit crazy sounding, that doesn’t mean that you should oppose it out of hand. Imagine if you’d said no to a guy who came home one day and said that he thought people should be able to rent out a spare room in their homes to total strangers. If you talked a spouse out of starting that idea, you just robbed the world of Airbnb and your own family of enough money to buy your own island. The ideas may be a bit crazy, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work
Yes, it should have some research, and yes the idea should play in a big market. If your spouse has a dream of fixing things for all of the left-handed bocce ball enthusiasts in the Upper Peninsula… maybe encourage that entrepreneur to dream a bit bigger.
But once your spouse has an idea that’s got potential, it’s time for you to switch from “prospective investor” where all you have is questions to “investor” where you can still ask questions but the questions come from a place where it’s absolutely clear that you are 100 percent committed to the success of the entrepreneurial vision.
If not, you are just a person standing between the dreamer and the dream.
Do you really want to be that person?