In her new book, Start, Love, Repeat (2017, Center Street, a division of Hachette Book Group) Inc. columnist Dorcas Cheng-Tozun explores how the startup life affects entrepreneurs and their long-term partners. In this edited excerpt, she discusses the importance of work-life balance and how entrepreneurs can set boundaries to achieve it.
The conversation about work-life balance has been happening in corporate America for years, but the reality is that many of us don’t actually believe in it. A global study of supervisors, managers, and executives found that half of them believed that “men who are highly committed to their personal/family lives cannot be highly committed to their work.” An even higher percentage thought this of women. Those who don’t like feeling pressured to be on call for work all the time still expect their colleagues to be available 24/7.
Thankfully, some in the start-up world are looking seriously at this and trying to find different ways to work.
When Eric Kim cofounded Goodwater Capital after working in venture capital for seven years, he and his business partner wanted to remake the investor-entrepreneur relationship. While most venture capitalists focus only on professional performance, Goodwater Capital takes a more holistic approach. “We want our entrepreneurs to be holistically empowered,” Kim explained. “We want them to be great leaders and great spouses.” For investees with families, Kim and his colleagues see a close relationship between the personal and professional: for someone to be the best entrepreneur and manager he can be, he also needs to be the best spouse and parent he can be.
Kim’s team has direct conversations with entrepreneurs about their personal lives and the importance of balancing work and family. And they model this in practical terms. “We don’t do email between five thirty and eight thirty each night,” he told me.
“That’s family time.” In other words, if the investor isn’t going to be sending emails during a certain time period each night, then entrepreneurs will hopefully feel freer to focus that same time at home instead of work.
Andy Kuper, founder and CEO of LeapFrog Investments, a private equity firm headquartered in London, makes a point of meeting with his investees and saying to them, “I’ve sat in your chair. Tell me about your challenges, and maybe I can be helpful.”
He makes sure to discuss far more than valuation and leverage, but to also cover “the human struggle” of building a company and how that impacts their personal lives and families. Kuper models the prioritization of family in his own life: he has based himself near relatives in Sydney, Australia, which allows his wife to pursue her own career as a human rights lawyer and his children to see their grandparents regularly.
But even if an investment firm isn’t explicitly family-friendly, it’s still possible to incorporate some boundaries into the working relationship. “Every savvy investor knows that an unhappy founder is an unproductive founder,” explained investor Bill Reichert. “Whenever I’m interviewing a founder or new executive, family life will inevitably come up.” Once he understands an entrepreneur’s family circumstances, Reichert can work with him or her to develop reasonable expectations for work.
Investors want their entrepreneurs to succeed. If the founder’s personal life falls apart because of the business, it doesn’t do the investors any good either. Not all will be as supportive as the investors mentioned above, but more investors than you’d expect are open to the conversation.
Regardless of where investors stand, though, your entrepreneur has more power in pursuing work-life balance than she may realize.
She can set the tone for the company’s work culture. She can model a way of working that is not health destroying, relationship harming, or generally crazy making. You may remember that one of the top reasons people give for starting a new business is to have more say over their lives. Creating a workplace culture in which boundary-setting is possible is one of the most meaningful ways entrepreneurs can exert that control.