Taking time to get the balance of work, rest and play right
A new business can be all consuming with no time for anything else, but it doesn’t have to be like that
Brad Feld: "The long-term highest priority is to have a good life, with room for both love and work"
The pressures associated with starting and growing a business often put huge strains on personal relationships, including marriages. The enterprise can be all consuming with limited opportunities for quality time and romance.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way is the message from US couple, Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor whose book Start-up Life shows how relationships can not only thrive alongside entrepreneurship, they can actually have positive effects on the business. It does require work and discipline but if you apply the principles in their book, they say, the rewards are a richer and more fulfilled life.
Feld and Batchelor each have successful entrepreneurial careers. Brad has been an early stage investor and entrepreneur for over 20 years.
He cofounded Foundry Group, a Boulder, Colorado-based early stage venture capital fund that invests in US IT companies. Amy is involved in a number of social business ventures and heads the Anchor Point Fund which makes grants to a wide range of non-profit organisations.
Feld (47) said that he followed a traditional workaholic regime up until 12 years ago when he realised he was exhausted. “I was suffering from burnout and knew something had to change. I observed that many of the more successful and happier entrepreneurs I knew were the ones who had the capacity to step back from their businesses and that they were leading fuller lives,” he tells The Irish Times .
Too often, people make zero-sum game trade-offs between their business and their personal lives. According to Feld, you need to balance three elements: your business, your own health and wellbeing and your relationships.
In terms of relationships, communication is key as it builds trust, connection and intimacy as well as establishing common goals and agreeing values. Consideration of the other person and actively acknowledging how important they are is vital. Feld says that no matter how busy you are, you should, wherever possible, answer your partner’s phone call, albeit to offer to return it later.
An early riser, his own regime involves spending a few minutes in the morning talking to his wife as soon as she wakes. He regularly practices switching his IT devices off from Friday evening to late Sunday which he recommends as a great way of recharging your batteries. “I find it very liberating. Taking time out makes me a better investor and a better entrepreneur,” he maintains.
Feld believes that any important information about his business life that will impact on either of their lives should be shared. “If you don’t, you are excluding your partner and that’s dumb,” he says.
The couple offer lots of very practical advice for entrepreneurs, both from themselves and a range of successful business types whose views and experiences are inserted throughout the book. If possible, try not to schedule stressful business activity for Friday afternoons is one suggestion, for example. This may create a scenario that drifts into Friday night and through the weekend. You should be realistic about the ebb and flow of work and makes sure there is actually an ebb.
The nature of entrepreneurial life means that the unexpected happens, they acknowledge, and there may be days, weeks or even months when intense work dominates the agenda. Again, the advice is to communicate when this is the case but there should be limits to this constant hectic activity nonetheless.
“If your company has no cycles of lower intensity or you feel like you can never take a week away, that’s an indicator that you have work to do to grow your company structure to support healthier lives for you as well as your employees. The long-term highest priority is to have a good life, with room for both love and work.”
At the heart of many relationship problems is time. Our culture is one in which ‘busyness’ is often perceived as meaningful and important rather than valuing people who chose to do valuable things, Feld notes.
Being an adrenaline junkie and getting a high that comes from fighting fires at work or feeding the ego by being in constant crisis mode, can both give an entrepreneur an inflated sense of self-worth and the idea that they are indispensable to the success of the company. “It can be thrilling to solve big problems all day and sitting quietly with your partner and a book can feel boring in comparison,” he acknowledges.
In the book, they have some colourful advice, based on their own experiences, on what do if you are fortunate enough to receive a tidy windfall from exiting a business. The ‘how much is enough’ conversation involves looking at two elements: ‘sleep at night money’ and ‘f*** you money’.
“Once we had some money, it became valuable for us to clearly define these numbers. We exceeded the ‘f*** you’ number a long time ago and it was liberating but it didn’t keep escalating as we had more success. Once we had passed it we could shift our thinking towards using any incremental money that we had made as a tool for what we wanted to do in life, rather than a measure of our success.”
Start-up Life by Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor is published in hardback by Wiley. €24.99