Hitched to a Startup Cowboy

Growing (read: growin’) up in Atlanta, Georgia, California was always a mysterious, far off place. They didn’t have the FULL BLOWN Disney World of Florida fame, their beaches were rocky and the water froze your toes, and a 6 hour plane ride was supposed to mean that you stepped off the plane in another country (oui!).

But 6 years since arriving, I’m firmly planted in the Bay Area, and what a journey it’s been.  So what do I do here? I wear many hats, all of which I’ll write about for this blog, but I’ll start with the hat that brought me to this fab locale – the hat of entrepreneurial wife.

Yes indeed, my husband is one of the many scrappy entrepreneurs that is taking their chances on starting The Next Big Thing here in Silicon Valley (more on his specific venture ). I’ve gotten to go along for the ride – the many, many ups and downs, the growth from 2 people in our kitchen to 15 in a real live office – and thought I’d share my story through the things that I’ve learned, for those who may find themselves in a similar circumstance some day, whether in the Bay Area or elsewhere…

  1. Know what you’re signing up for. I met my husband years ago when we were both living in NYC. We were both enjoying great careers at the time, but from the very beginning he was always candid about the fact that he wanted to own his own business some day. I knew that he would make this happen and that I would be there to support him (or at least try to…) in the adventure in whatever ways I could. In other words, the idea of entrepreneurship didn’t get sprung on me. We had had numerous and open conversations about how this would impact our lifestyle and future choices, and this was a choice that we were making.
  2. Manage expectations. Alot. As part of #1, we had to do a lot of managing and resetting of expectations – whether it was the hours he was working, the hours I was working, or how we would manage it all when we added to our family (that’s a future post!).  Without level setting from the get go, all sides are set up for disappointment, or worse, resentment.
  3. Accept the second wife/child.  For an entrepreneur, the company becomes like another spouse (or child, however you want to look at it). You often feel like you’re being cheated on, all those hours they’re spending together, intimately hunched over the laptop into the wee hours. She woos him with the promise of money and fame.  He sometimes responds to her email before responding to you, one foot away in the very same room [gasp!].  With great patience, I remind myself that our relationship is without a doubt a priority for both of us, we’re just a unique, special snowflake family with this extra, strange spouse/child to contend with.  And I’ve learned to be gentle with feedback on anything related to the company, knowing that he has so much invested (mentally, emotionally, financially) in it’s success and does indeed view it as a living breathing thing that his sense of self partially depends upon.
  4. Accept the third wife/child. For an entrepreneur with a co-founder, they, too, will become another part of your growing family. By some miracle, my husband convinced his co-founder to leave his cushy job in New York and move into our small rental while they got the company off the ground. Working from our kitchen table, this meant that there wasn’t a whole lotta work/life balancing going on in our home, but I look back fondly on our nightly dinners all together and forcing them to talk about random, non-work topics and laughing until it hurt.  Now departed from our nest and off on his own, The Co-Founder is still like a brother to us – sometimes a brother that you want to give a nuggie to, but one that you love unconditionally. So I will say this – if you don’t like the people your entrepreneur will be spending all of their time with, you’re in for a rough ride.
  5. Have YOUR thang. Not a thing, a thang.  Something that makes you cock your hip and swivel your neck, something that you own completely and that fulfills you, no strings attached.  Better yet, make it plural.  With the ups and downs of running a company, you’ll have plenty of solo time – even if said entrepreneur is in the same room.  For me, I was loving (usually) getting my career change off the ground (another post!), building a new circle of friends, and smothering our quickly adopted rescue dog (the famous Madi) with love. Now, a toddler and a full time job that I’m obsessed with do the trick. Did I ever feel resentful that he wasn’t always available? Yes, I’m human. But I would have been 10x more resentful and disappointed had I been waiting around for him to make time or read my mind.  See #2.
  6. Wear your pom poms, with pride. Sounds simple enough, right? Be an unabashed cheerleader for your entrepreneur, because there are many many days when it will feel like the world, nay, every potential customer and investor, is against them. But it’s harder than it sounds. We all have plenty on our plates, and know the challenge of mustering additional bandwidth to deal with the many curveballs that life lobs at you.  But I can say with full confidence that my husband could not have sanely persevered with his company if he didn’t have people (not just myself) pushing him on, rationalizing him through the fears, talking him off the occasional ledge, listening without judgment, and assuring him that no matter what happens, my pom poms will be raised high in the air (forgive the blatant cheese).  But, and this is an important ‘but,’ it HAS to work both ways.  Like all good relationships, it’s a give and a take. There’s no way I would be able to muster the energy to be his and his company’s cheerleader if he didn’t do the same for me in my own career or personal achievements. So I guess my advice on this final piece is that, whether it’s your spouse, a partner, a friend, a relative, no one has an endless capacity to give and support without getting anything in return. Be a good cheerleader, but make sure they’ve got your back too. Even non entrepreneurs need a good cheer squad.

I’m sure I’ve learned far more than this during this journey so far, but these are certainly the ones that bubble to the top, for better or worse.  I know there are many people out there in similar circumstances and would love to hear your own learnings! I keep saying I need to start an entrepreneur spouse’s support group, no time like the present…