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Understanding the Startup Life

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There's an ugly secret in the startup world. You may not know it by the news. We all see the reports of 20-something kids making it huge and having glamorous events like an Initial Public Offering or a launch party.

But that doesn't tell us the truth: the grind of entrepreneurship takes a toll on human relationship, on balance and on life itself. It's an ugly secret, but depression, divorce and other compulsions are as much a part of the life of an entrepreneur as trying to raise a round of funding.

I'm lucky enough to call Brad Feld my friend. As head of the Foundry Group, he has seen and experienced it all. In his over-20-year career as a tech entrepreneur and investor, he's experienced first hand the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial life. In his new book Starutp Life, written with his wife, Amy Batchelor, he offers a surprisingly candid look at the friction caused by being an entrepreneur, and its toll on life.

Why did you write this book?

My wife, Amy Batchelor, and I have been working hard on figuring out how to balance an entrepreneurial life with a deep relationship for 22 years. A dozen years ago we almost split up and, after we decided not to, doubled down on our effort to figure out how to combine the two into what we call a "Startup Life." We feel like we've figured out a lot of things and after many conversations with other entrepreneurial couples, decided to write this book.

Who would benefit most from the book?

While we've aimed it at entrepreneurs and their partners, we believe it applies broadly to any professionals in a relationship. You can be early in your relationship, or 20-plus years in -- we've tried to address the full spectrum of things we've encountered. We've also included stories from about 20 of our entrepreneurial friends to provide a diverse view that goes well beyond just ours.

What do you recommend to an entrepreneur who is really struggling to find a way?

Take a deep breath, pause, and spend real focused time with your partner. The first thing to do is turn off all the electronic stuff, eliminate all the distractions and just be together as a couple for focused periods of time -- an hour a day, a day a week. Start the process by slowing down. Communicating. Focusing on each other.

What do you recommend when things are grim in the business?

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Throughout the book we discuss the importance of communicating. It's at the essence of everything.

How do you keep your business and home lives separate?

We don't, although we have some tactical things that create separation. For example, I only have one phone in the house, and it's at my desk in my office. So -- if I want to talk on the phone for work, I have to go in my office. When I want to work, I ask if it's ok with Amy if I "go in the office and work for a while" -- sometimes this means that I've got my laptop on my lap, but it's a deliberate decision to work, rather than a continuous thing that interrupts everything.

What are the "early warning signs" that some stress is taking its toll?

All of the obvious relationship stuff -- anger, frustration, loneliness, lack of communication, lack of sex, and arguments over simple things. Again, communication is at the core of this -- most of these things can quickly be addressed at the surface by looking your partner in the eyes and saying "how are you doing?" or "how are you feeling?". If this generates fireballs or tears, you've got an issue.

How do you manage things?

I've developed daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual rhythms. For example, Amy and I spend four minutes in the morning every day -- just being together early in the day as we wake up. Whenever she calls during the day, I answer the phone, no matter what I'm doing. We have Life Dinner once a month -- one the first day of the month, and a Quarterly Week of the Grid once a quarter. We explain this, and more, in Startup Life.

What recommendations do you have for single entrepreneurs?

If you want to be in a healthy, long-term relationship, realize that it's as much a commitment as your business.

What recommendations do you have for couples?

Communicate. About everything. All the time.

Here's the book's trailer:

We see entrepreneurs as superhuman, but the truth is different: the stress and uncertainty surrounding a new business has a price. Startup Life tries to give real-world strategies and case studies for helping entrepreneurs live a meaningful life. Depression and despair may be part of this, but this is a start of a real conversation about what it is to be both a human being and an entrepreneur.