In the Startup World, Balance Breeds Success
In their book, Startup Life, Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor share their experiences and insights as a couple in the startup world. In this edited excerpt, the authors focus on the importance of a balanced life to both your business and your relationship.
Conventional wisdom says that entrepreneurs can't have work-life balance, that entrepreneurship is an "all-in" experience and the entrepreneur's partner has to accept that he or she is playing second fiddle to the startup.
We reject this notion. We reject the idea that the more you work, the better the outcome. We reject that time spent on work matters more than having a fulfilling life. And we reject the notion that an entrepreneur should defer his or her experience of a full life for "after the business has been successful," especially since that day may never arrive.
Every entrepreneur benefits from having room in their life for relationships. Your startup is a part of your life, not your entire life. Both you and your startup will be more successful if you have a full experience on this planet.
The historical notion of retirement reinforces the idea that you work hard until later in life, squeezing in everything else, and defer your exploration of all the non-work things until you retire. This completely misses the point that you have no idea when the lights will go out. The cliche of a businessperson retiring to travel with his partner and dying shortly after retirement is a sad one, but it reinforces the error of deferring a full life.
Entrepreneurship is really hard. So are relationships. In the same way that failure should be accepted in startups, it should be accepted in relationships. No one is perfect; mistakes will be made -- often. Entrepreneurs are told to "fail fast" -- make a mistake, learn from it, pivot, and move on. This doesn't mean quit your startup, but it does mean not to linger on the mistake once you've figured out why it happened and what you can do better the next time. The same is true with relationships: Own your mistakes, learn from them, and move on.
Patience, a sense of humor, and willingness to forgive are excellent qualities to cultivate in yourself and to encourage in your partner. There are going to be challenging times in any business and in any relationship; having high but reasonable expectations that your relationship will endure through whatever comes is an important piece of the picture for long-term success.
Communication is the most important factor in a successful relationship. But knowing this and practicing this can be two very different things, especially in an always-on, always-urgent environment.
There will be stretches of intense work that dominate everything else for days, weeks, or even months. Communicating clearly when these stretches will happen is critical. Knowing for yourself and sharing a commitment with your partner that your relationship is a high priority, and sometimes is the highest priority of all, will make it easier to adapt to intense work times and to make more time for the two of you when there is an ebb time. If your company really has no cycles of lower intensity or you feel like you can never take a week away, that's an indicator that you have work to do to grow your company structure to support healthier lives for you as well as your employees. The actual long-term highest priority is to have a good life, with room for both love and work.
Understanding what drives you, and what drives your partner, is critical to a successful startup life.
Many different things motivate people. Most researchers divide motivation into extrinsic (external) and intrinsic (internal). Extrinsic motivation occurs when you do something in order to attain an outcome, like monetary rewards, grades, or gold stars, or avoiding punishment or negative emotions like shame, guilt, or humiliation. Enjoying the task itself rather than working for some other reward drives intrinsic motivation. For some, like Brad, intrinsic motivation dominates. Others, like Amy, are more balanced between intrinsic and extrinsic. Yet others are dominated by extrinsic motivation.
Some entrepreneurs are driven by the need for achievement, while others are driven by the need for independence. We've observed that some entrepreneurs are driven by the joy of success while others are driven by the fear of failure. There is an ongoing conversation about what motivates entrepreneurs and whether they're as comfortable with risk as the myths indicate, or whether they're motivated by not wanting to risk a life in a cubicle. If the entrepreneur is motivated by success, the inevitable ups and downs of any company can be more emotionally dramatic than for an entrepreneur who is motivated by creating a lasting enterprise.
Understanding what motivates your partner is essential to having a successful relationship. Assuming that what motivates you also motivates your partner, especially if your partner is an entrepreneur, can create a chasm of misunderstanding between you. Bridging it starts with communicating what you think motivates each of you.
Brad Feld is co-founder of Foundry Group, a Boulder, Colo., venture-capital firm specializing in early-stage information-technology companies, and TechStars, a startup accelerator. Amy Batchelor is a managing director of the Anchor Point Fund, which makes grants to nonprofit organizations and a co-founder and partner of Social Venture Partners Boulder County. They are authors of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving In a Relationship With an Entrepreneur (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2013).