Five rules for startup + family happiness

I spend a lot of time out and about at startup events here in Boston/Cambridge.  The scene has really been picking up steam lately, to the point where there are at least two or three really great meetups per week.  Being a pretty outgoing guy, I do a lot of networking and answer a lot of questions about our company, mentors / advisors, TechStars and the like.  But this post isn’t about any of them, it’s about my family.  Or more specifically, the question I get asked more than just about about any other – how do you have a startup *and* a family?

Rule zero – Pick an amazing wife / husband

Seriously, the only way to do this is to have someone who will really step up and do way more than 50% of the family work.  Someone who understands that this is what you need, that you have the startup defect(1).   Not everyone can handle the serious ups and downs of being married to a “you”.  The term “startup widow” isn’t a joke.  Respect that.  Seriously.  If after laying out the deal (leaving a well paying job, living on savings, working way to much), your spouse isn’t into this, stick with your job until you can de-risk it for him/her more.  And understand that they may never be into this life.  That’s ok.  It’s certainly not for everyone.   If that’s the case, maybe you can join a funded startup and still keep your startup defect happy.

Rule one – Learn to juggle

I’m not kidding.  Really, do it now.  Why?  Cause you’ll quickly see that juggling isn’t about having everything precariously up in the air.  Juggling is about control.  It’s about keeping as many things under control as possible and realizing that you’re constantly going to be losing control of something (a bit), but that’s ok when you’re gaining control of something else and have full control (ie: it’s in your hand) of the last ball.  For me there’s my company, TempMine, my wife, and my son.   I will never be able to do everything I wish I could for everyone.  It’s ok to let your startup fly a bit, so you can keep your wife happy (and sane) and your son remembering what you look like.  Just keep the flight of the company in mind and realize that you have to toss something else before the company lands.

Rule two – Keep everyone in the loop

If I have something family that has to happen, I let my team know.  If I have something startup that has to happen, I let my family know.  Sure, there will always be surprises, but work really hard to make them the exception, not the rule.

Rule three – Over deliver

Your schedule is just plain insane when running a startup, but you make sure you over deliver often.  If this means cranking late in to the night to get something done for your team, do it.  If it means blowing out of work early so you are home for bath-time on a day when you normally wouldn’t, do it.  Realize that your role is hard on everyone, but they’ll forgive you for a lot of the not being around if you over deliver when they least expect it.  This stuff also goes a long way towards keeping you sane.

Rule four – Weekly something

Every Saturday we have a family breakfast.  It’s usually a little  more elaborate then a regular breakfast.   We sit at the table (something we don’t do together often enough) and eat and laugh and just enjoy each other.  I make it.  I clean up after it.  It’s one of my favorite times of the week.  I don’t think it matters what you do, but pick something and do it with everyone.  I wish we could eat together every night, but for now, Saturday breakfast will do.

Hash browns, scrambled eggs, and sausages? Oh yeah!

So, what works for you?    Leave a comment!

1. What’s the “startup defect”?  Well, it’s that thing that makes you *have* to do this.   Starting a company that has a little chance of success and a major chance of eating up your savings and retirement is a *not* the smart thing to do – even when you’re smart person (and I hope you are, because I hear it really helps to be smart when running a startup …)

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