Entrepreneurship's Hidden Secret

510px-Sisyphus_by_von_StuckEntrepreneurship can be rewarding, and even glamorous at times. And of course most will tell you that it is hard work being an entrepreneur, and that the risks can be difficult to bear.   Perhaps this is why entrepreneurship seems like the purview of the prototypical young 20-somethings, fresh out of college with no strings attached and nothing to lose.
But this is patently wrong:

…  data from the Kauffman Foundation indicates the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America has shifted to the 55-64 age group, with people over 55 almost twice as likely to found successful companies than those between 20 and 34.
Harvard Business Review

And …

The average and median age of company founders when they started their current companies was 40.
Kauffman Foundation – Anatomy of An Entrepreneur

What this means is that life for most entrepreneurs is more complicated than the frat-culture caricature portrayed in magazines and movies.   Modern entrepreneurs have more to lose – careers, life-savings and their relationships.  Most can foresee the risk to their bank accounts and even their careers, but few are prepared for the stress that starting a new company places on a marriage or similar relationship.  No school teaches this, nor does any short course or acceleration program.
Recently, entrepreneur friendly venture capitalist and author Brad Feld  released a book, Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur  that finally addressed this secret pain.  But it takes an experienced, repeat-entrepreneur to truly understand what’s in store for he and his wife as he embarks on his next venture.
Entrepreneur Emad Ibrahim cleverly proposed this Pre-Startup Contract  to his wife, to try to preempt some of the inevitable hardships, pain and strain on their marriage:

We are about to embark on a very very rough journey.  We will be BROKE.  We will not have money to dine out.  We will not have money to travel.  We will not have money to go out.  We will not have money for shopping.  We will not have money for pretty much anything except FOOD AND BILLS.  Although this journey is rough, it will be fun and full of adventure.  Although the destination is unknown, there is great optimism and hope that it will be a fantastic one.

Ibrahim outlines some roles and responsibilities each for he and his wife:

Laura’s Roles & Responsibilities

  1. Must NOT interrupt Emad while office door is closed unless matter is urgent.
  2. A funny youtube video is NOT urgent.
  3. Nothing on CNN is urgent (unless life threatening to us or family)
  4. Must EMAIL Emad instead of calling him on the phone
  5. If phone must be used, she shall keep phone conversations UNDER ONE MINUTE.


Emad’s Roles & Responsibilities

  1. Must put Laura’s needs ahead of EVERYTHING else
  2. Must allocate ONE NIGHT of quality time per week for Laura – Can be used to hang out, watch a movie, relax, go out, or do WHATEVER LAURA WANTS etc…
  3. Must be PRESENT in the moment when hanging out with Laura and/or friends
  4. Must have dinner with Laura 5 times a week
  5. Must NOT use phone or any device during dinner or whenever Laura is present

For entrepreneurs getting ready to make the leap, it make sense to get your financial affairs in order. But even more important is to prepare your family and your partner for what’s about to come.  They may understand that there will be sacrifices in return for all the riches and glory they see successful entrepreneurs receive – but most, including the entrepreneur, never appreciate the emotional strain the startup process takes on the whole family.   Entrepreneurs write product plans, financial plans and business plans.  Maybe listing out the ‘relationship plan’ in a contract isn’t such a crazy idea.
(Read Pre-Startup Contract  for the complete contract.)

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