You’re ready. You have a great idea, and you have reached a place in your career or life where starting your own company is the next step. Great! But before you start pitching your idea to potential investors, partners or employees there is vital step you can’t skip: How do you get your spouse and family to accept the risk, uncertainty and lifestyle that lies ahead as an entrepreneur?
Starting your own company is not another job; it becomes a member of your family. It’s difficult to stop thinking about your company. It will be with you at the dinner table, at your kid’s soccer game and on vacation. Your family has to be willing to accept, welcome and maybe even discipline this new family member from time to time if it’s going to work for your life.
Based on my experiences launching my own company two years ago, here is some advice on what it takes to introduce - and live with - this new member of your family.
Leap from the top (not the bottom) of your career.
The first time I tried to launch my own company, it failed. I had stayed too long at a dying company and it looked like I was starting a company, because I had no other choice -- not because I had a good idea. Conversely, when I left Salesforce in 2011 to start my new company, Tactile, I had just come off of the best year of my career. I was still growing and the company was at its height.
Being at the top provided a safety net -- and a bargaining chip at home. I told my wife that if I fail as an entrepreneur, I had good re-entry options because of the reputation I had achieved.
Be fundable before you leave your day job.
Whether it’s based on the success of your career or feedback you’ve received from investors on your idea, you should be confident that you can secure funding before you leave your job.
While some people believe you need to leave your job to be serious about something, most of us have mortgages and bills to pay. If you’re really serious about it, you’ll pull double duty for a while and figure it out. Talk to venture capitalists in advance and get feedback.
In my case, I was lucky enough to get a term sheet for a seed round before I even left my job, making the decision with my family a lot easier.
Achieving this fundability safety net also means you also need to be realistic. Your idea should be related to your domain of expertise. I’ve launched a company that investors know is right in my wheelhouse. I am playing in a ballpark I know well and in which I have a proven track record. That makes me a safe bet for investors.
Know your family’s burn rate.
In addition to knowing your company’s burn rate, you also need to know your family’s. When I launched my company, I was 41 years old with a wife and two young kids. We were used to my executive salary at my previous job and the perks that went along with it. And there was no way we were going to go back to living like college students. We agreed to make certain cuts, but we would not let it completely change our lifestyle or affect the experiences of our children. Once you figure out a realistic family burn rate, have six to nine months of savings set aside before you get funding and can start drawing a salary.
Don’t put your life on hold.
No matter when you decide to launch a company, it should never mean that you press pause on the rest of your life. Decide what is important to you and commit to it.
For me, I still leave at 5 pm on Mondays to coach my son’s soccer team, volunteer at school, attend school meetings with my wife and commit to small things like leaving the phone off during family dinners. Yes, a startup is all consuming, but don’t let your life pass by. You don’t get a second chance with many of life’s important moments.
Lastly, as much as my wife and I prepared and had multiple conversations about the logistical and financial aspects of this decision, nothing could prepare me for both the invigorating and all-consuming nature of running a startup. In many ways, I like to think I’m a better person to be around. I’m living my dream, my passion and it carries through in my personal life.