When you start a company, you marry it. There's really no other way to describe the life of a founder. Now for folks who are just out of school, being in a 24/7 relationship with your new enterprise may not be that inconvenient. But as you get older, other considerations come in to play. I've spoke to lots of founders, and while there's nothing absolute about my exploration, I can tell you for me, the relationship between myself and my partner has been critical to our shared success.
Why does it matter how your life and work intersect? Because getting a company off the ground is an all consuming effort. And if you're married to work by day, and your wife or husband by night, effectively you're cheating on one with the other all the time. That's a recipe for disaster.
The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that there's a formula for having a successful startup partnership and marriage.
Here are the five key things that have worked for me. Goals, Communication, Support, Forgiveness and Joy.
Goals. From the day we started our first company, we knew we had shared goals we wanted to achieve. We were both grounded in storytelling and journalism, but also very engaged in leading edge technology. For us, how tech and media intersected was going to be critical to how the democratization of media evolved, and we wanted to be on the leading edge of that. I don't mean to suggest we had business plan with a twenty year time horizon, far from it. But we knew that media was changing - and that tools and tech would open doors. Those trends have fueled five companies we've built, and continue to open new doors every day.
Communication. Start-ups are roller coasters the ups and downs are intense. The wins demand celebration, the losses brief periods of sorrow and mourning (very brief, like 2 seconds). For us, being able to have time to compare notes, swap stories, brainstorm solutions, and explore trends has been both satisfying and strategically essential. While we've worked with lots of team members over the years, many amazing - a few not - our shared communication has kept our eye on the larger goals and the mission to create companies and products that can make a meaningful difference.
Support. There's no doubt that for some start-up entrepreneurs the idea of leaving your work at the office and coming home to another world with life/work balance is critical. I've heard that time and time again. Sounds great, but I just don't see how to make it work. Being able to know the ins and outs of the business, along with the drama and the love of the journey, has been critical for us. It also means understanding that at different parts of our lives, the roles and commitments will change. Kids need more parent time when they're younger, parents need more personal time for their own goals as they grow up. The roles and the efforts change, and supporting that is critical.
Forgiveness. We all make mistakes. The nature of start-ups in fast moving sectors is to make more of them, sometimes many of them in day. Some are harmless, some are costly, and some are painful. But no matter what, you need to deal with them and move one. Being able to share the big mistakes with someone, admit them, and have someone who will truly give you an honest appraisal of the costs and impact is critical. Then, you have to let it roll off your back and move on. The larger the mistake, the more you need to focus, fix, and progress forward.
Joy. Old saying, overused - life is a journey, enjoy the ride. The media often cites a financial exit as the goal of entrepreneurs. But anyone who knows us, knows we use dollars as the fuel to run our vision, and as a scorecard to calculate how the market values us. Founders don't start companies to get rich, they start companies to build things, make the world a better place, solve a complex problem. We're wired to be puzzle solvers. The more gnarly and complex the better. Which isn't to say that everyday is joyful, some days start-ups are damn hard. But if the overall arc of your adventure doesn't take you to cool places, keep your passion for innovation alive, or drive you to build great things that make the planet a better place, there are far easier ways to earn a living. Start-up teams are in it to feel the thrusters fire when you shoot for the moon - or beyond.
Now of course, being fully immersed in your start-up may not work for everyone. Maybe you've found another way to make it work? If so, I'd be interested in hearing how others balance this work life mix - but I have personally found the melding of the two to be a potent cocktail. And a recipe for success.