Entrepreneurship and the Family

April 25, 2019


It’s a sad reality of my journey through the entrepreneurial world: Families can sometimes suffer.

Of course, this happens both in and outside entrepreneurial circles. Couples sometimes grow apart.
Children sometimes don’t receive everything they need to feel loved, safe, happy, and successful. In
my worldview, however, these outcomes are even more tragic when they’re correlated with
entrepreneurship.

For many, entrepreneurship is an endeavor of passion that borders on addiction. Unmanaged, it can
lead to these same unfortunate outcomes that plague many families. In pursuing the work you love, you
may risk losing sight of the very people you love.

Feelings of independence, self-reliance, financial independence, and recognition can be an irresistible
force for certain personality types. Over-investment of time, priority, and wealth can be the source of
intense marital and familial disagreement, neglect, and blame. I’ve seen this in moments of both
entrepreneurial success and failure.

Even Marriages of True Minds Admit Impediments

When I see troubled marriages in the entrepreneurial community, they often seem related to a
divergence between the value and importance each partner places on entrepreneurship. One partner
— generally the entrepreneur — is comfortable with the entrepreneurial endeavor; the other is not. I’ve
also seen marital stress in the other direction, in which the non-entrepreneurial spouse desperately
wishes the entrepreneur would exert more effort, be more ambitious, and take more risks.

In many cases, the entrepreneurial spouse tries to shield his/her partner by concealing or
underestimating risks. Of course, this usually doesn’t play out well in the long run.

What can entrepreneurs do to bridge this divide? In my experience, consistently behaving in ways that
promote transparency, inclusion, and trust is crucial. Some of the healthiest marriages I’ve seen in the
entrepreneurial community are built on a foundation of information sharing, including painfully accurate
disclosure of risk. It can also help when couples work successfully together full-time, as a family
entrepreneurial business. I’ve seen spouses involved socially with team members, attending off-sites,
key meetings, and celebrations. Technology can help, too: I’ve seen some entrepreneurs who
automatically copy their spouses on every email, having assigned their spouses their own email
addresses in the businesses’ domain.

It’s true that some of these behaviors can be marginally unsettling to senior leaders and investors.
There’s a risk that some of these approaches may be viewed as nepotistic. Ultimately, within the
entrepreneurial community, only each married couple can determine which approach fits them, and
what level of optical awkwardness is worth the benefits.

Actually, Love Looks with Both Eyes and Mind

As children grow, they need their parents at key moments. I personally believe they thrive with
structure, attention, limits, goals, and — above all else — attention.

Unfortunately, entrepreneurship can seem so urgent and pressing that important moments with children
are sometimes missed. This means that big days in the eyes of a child — not only the vacations,
birthdays, and days they come home eager to tell you of their achievements, but also just the every day
happy days and sad days — are sometimes sacrificed on the altar of entrepreneurship. But children are
not adults. They don’t understand our world. They don’t see these sacrifices as tradeoffs, or as
prioritization. They just miss their mom, dad, or both.

Some entrepreneurs who have met my sons have asked me how I’ve balanced my entrepreneurship
with my family life. That’s not a simple question to answer.

First of all, I believe children come to us with readymade personalities. As parents, we simply do our
best not to mess them up. So my sons deserve a great deal of the credit for how they’ve turned out.

In addition, the question is rooted in a false choice. It assumes that the two parts of life to be balanced
are our entrepreneurial work, and our quality time with our kids. There is a third part: the clutter. The
clutter includes all the other activities, both large and small, that fill up the hours of our day while
advancing neither our entrepreneurial goals nor our children’s welfare. If we’re not mindful of it, the
clutter can quickly throw everything off balance.

All That Clutters Is Not Gold

How do we avoid letting the clutter take over? This answer, too, will vary from entrepreneur to
entrepreneur. But I will share that, for me, one answer has been to extend my family to include some
fairly amazing executive assistants. A fantastic executive assistant like mine can literally give you back
many hours in your day.

I have had many great executive assistants. Two, in particular, worked with me for more than 10 years
apiece. I kid you not, but working with them changed the course of both my entrepreneurial life and
family life. They are truly beloved members of the family now. They have both been able to read my
mind, accelerate my work, smooth over my mistakes, and help me think through the tight spots. As a
result, I haven’t washed a car, paid a bill, mailed a letter, shopped in a mall, arranged an appointment,
booked a hotel, packed for a family trip, or been much of a handyman in my own home for the past 20
years. I’ve also missed very few birthdays, basketball games, vacations, anniversaries, and so on. You
get the picture. Bottom line, accepting the right help in the right places can go a long way toward
clearing out the clutter.

One strength of entrepreneurs is they tend to be take-charge personalities, flexible minds, and creative
problem solvers. My recommendation is to simply extend that mindset into how you balance your time
with your family with your time at work: Take charge of the situation. Be flexible. Most importantly, get
creative in how you involve your spouse, prioritize your kids, and eliminate the clutter.

 

Greg Warnock is Managing Director at Mercato Partners


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