When Ned Tozun and I married, he vowed during the ceremony that our life together would always be an adventure. I assure you he has over-delivered on that promise, thanks to his entrepreneurial career and his startup, d.light. The business has been like the child no one wants: helpless yet uncontrollable, demanding yet insatiable, and remarkably adept at coming between mom and dad.
A startup is always a family affair—the good news is your business and your relationship can flourish together. Tweet This Quote
In the last decade, the effort required to grow d.light led to countless missed holidays and broken appointments; it has contributed to physical illness and emotional meltdowns for both of us; it moved us to China for three-and-a-half years; it delayed our timeline for starting a family and upended my own career.
Unsurprisingly, Ned and I have had years-long disagreements about work-life balance, time management, and our family’s quality of life. We all know entrepreneurs whose marriages have suffered, even fallen apart, because of the stress and intensity of the startup journey. Even in the most resilient relationships, the ongoing instability and resulting resentment can take a significant toll.
But instead of driving Ned and me apart, the process of growing a multinational company like d.light has actually brought us closer together and deepened the level of trust and respect we have for one another.
Your partner’s behind-the-scenes contributions to your well-being and startup are paramount. Tweet This Quote
Whenever I feel discouraged by the sacrifices that have been asked of me, Ned reminds me that d.light’s successes are as much mine as his. My behind-the-scenes contributions to his well-being and the work of d.light are paramount. My emotional support gives Ned a safe place to share his deepest concerns, ask for advice, and try out new ideas. My logistical support, especially in caring for our three-year-old son and our household affairs, allows him to travel and focus his best energies on the business.
All of this has been possible only because Ned has engaged me as a partner in the business from the day it was founded. Here are five things entrepreneurs can do to meaningfully engage their spouses and grow their partnership along the way:
1. Take time to share your vision with your partner. Share not just the what, but the why and how. Why is this startup so important to you? Why now? How will the world be better? Approach this pitch with as much care and attention as you would an investor pitch.
Share your startup vision with your partner using as much care as you would when pitching an investor. Tweet This Quote
2. Set realistic expectations for what the startup will require of both of you, particularly in terms of time, effort, and finances. Decide together how to make this work as a family. What other forms of support do you need? When will you set aside time for your relationship? What are your limits?
3. Acknowledge the important role your partner plays in supporting you and the business. Regularly express appreciation for the specific things he or she does that allow you to be an entrepreneur. Let your partner know that he or she is as much a part of the team as anyone else.
Regularly express appreciation for the specific things your partner does that allow you to be an entrepreneur. Tweet This Quote
4. Commit to proactively communicating with one another as much as possible, especially when there are major questions, changes or decisions to be made in the business that affect you both. The more your spouse knows, the more he or she will feel empowered to balance the needs of the family and the business. Agree to tell one another when you are feeling resentful, burned out, or need more support.
5. Set specific deadlines for evaluating how things are going. Knowing that this level of stress and uncertainty will not continue indefinitely will help stave off resentment in your spouse. Be willing to adapt your work demands and schedule as your family’s priorities and circumstances change.
Let your partner know they are as much a part of the startup team as anyone else. Tweet This Quote
The level of partnership Ned and I have today didn’t come easily, nor did it happen overnight. We have talked and argued and negotiated over what’s worked and what hasn’t for more than ten years.
In the end, though, we’ve returned again and again to the realization that we need one another, and d.light needs us as a team. Whether we like it or not, a startup is always a family affair. The good news is that your business and your relationship can flourish together, so long as you are willing to invest the work to make that happen.