Entrepreneurship Is an Imbalancing Act of Business and Family. Here's How to Find What Works for You.
When my partners and I launched Finicity in 1999, Google was 2 years old, Uber was not yet a concept and the dotcom bubble was about to burst. Through sheer persistence and hard work, our company survived as one of the earliest fintech pioneers. When we started, I had visions of massive success followed by an early ride to retirement, but after 17 years of work, pain, success, failure and sheer persistence, we're finally starting to make serious strides in building a great business while helping people make better financial decisions daily.
I’m an engineer by trade and an entrepreneur at heart, so when we saw the opportunity to take an internal technology asset and turn it into a new business, I jumped at the chance to lead the effort. In 2014, I took a passionate internal team, recruited a handful of new strategic players and together we took our financial data aggregation platform and created Finicity Data Services. What a wild ride the past three years have been. In just the past year, we’ve announced a new round of funding, new products and multiple major partnerships with top-tier financial institutions and fintech partners.
I love what I do, and I’m happy with my path. Just know, if you want to start (and run) a business, grow a family, volunteer and pursue personal interests, you’re going to have to work hard to find the right formula for success in each domain. In the words of Leo Tolstoy, “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The same is true for companies, personal relationships and us individually. Success or failure in one domain does not necessarily translate into other domains. Each requires a customized approach.
Startup culture has led much of the tech community to believe that you can’t be both a businessman and a family man, but I beg to differ. In fact, you can be a lot of things in addition to the founder of your company. I’m an entrepreneur, but I’m first a husband and father of five, an active member of my congregation, a friend and a board member of a nonprofit with my wife.
Entrepreneurship is hard. It takes significant time away from family and friends because success requires you to be all in. It takes an abundance of time, passion, commitment, focus and brain power. Especially when your company is in a high growth stage and gaining significant momentum, it’s very challenging to strike a balance while working in overdrive.
However, it can be done, and while I’m no expert and am still learning every day, I can share the following tips for young entrepreneurs who are attempting to win at an integrated lifestyle -- particularly when their business is picking up speed.
Connect by listening.
I’m an engineer, and my first reaction when encountering a problem is to try to solve it. But, you can’t always go into “fix” mode, especially at home. You first have to listen. Listen to your spouse, listen to your children and be a good friend. Understand that while you’re paid to solve problems at work with best-in-class solutions, it is not your job to fix family and friends outside of the workplace. Your job is to listen, empathize and love. Ernest Hemingway said, “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
Create a multi-tiered support system.
My wife is amazing. With five kids between 16 and 6, our home is a den of fun activity, stressors and struggles. I lean heavily on her for support, yet her life is often crazier than mine. My youngest son has Down syndrome, and while there are always challenges when raising a family, attending to a child with special needs can prove especially demanding. There are times when we’re both tired, frustrated or empty and we need external help. Having parents, siblings, friends and therapists both individually and as a couple is invaluable when things are challenging. As an entrepreneur, you pride yourself on autonomy and independence, but when you’re living an integrated lifestyle, you need to open yourself to the help of others to traverse some of life's regular challenges.
Practice tactical imbalance.
Life is a balancing act, whether you’re an entrepreneur or not. However, the nature of our fast-moving world is that situations change and may require your unexpected attention. It’s OK to imbalance yourself in certain areas while still being committed to everything. If your company is requiring extra attention at the moment because of some recent business developments, you’ll need to throw balance to the side for a moment in order to address the situation. Be mindful of the imbalance and work hard to recover after the fire. Each domain requires regular attention to thrive but can withstand periodic withdrawals from time to time.
Combine commitment with prioritization.
In business and in life, there are always going to be sacrifices. Priority doesn’t reduce commitment, and family is always first. But, you have to put in a lot of time to grow a business and, in the beginning stages, it will take priority over many other aspects of your life. Ultimately recognize where your commitments lie and use that knowledge to prioritize where your presence and expertise is needed at any given moment.
Always look forward.
Don’t be regretful. Happiness and success are moving targets, and achieving total work-life balance all the time is an aspiration at best. I certainly haven’t figured out everything yet, and I don’t have all the answers. But, whether it’s with my wife and my children, with my church and my nonprofit, or with my company, I keep working hard to find the best solutions.
As long as you’re always looking to improve yourself, listen and maintain empathy while leaning on your support system and embracing imbalance, you’ll ultimately grow your business without sacrificing the people who are most important to you.