The Sidechick: Spousal Approval
The Sidechick: Spousal Approval
Entrepreneurship is never a walk in the park. But starting a business while maintaining a relationship is a challenge unto itself.
For example, what do you do when your spouse isn’t on board with your business idea?
Committing to a business without buy-in from your significant other can be a liability to your success. Your significant other is like a stakeholder in your business, sharing everything from finances to emotional energy and time. The obstacles you face in the beginning will only grow as your business grows. If your partner feels you spend too much time working on your business, how are they going to feel during periods of expansion when even more of your energy is devoted to working?
If your spouse isn’t fully on board with your startup, resentment can grow as they are unwilling to shoulder the stress that comes with tough business situations. At worst, the troubles can compound into divorce.
The challenge becomes: if you’re going to start a business while closely linked to a partner or other family member (such as a parent you’re dependent upon), there has to be a ton of buy-in in order to overcome the inevitable difficult periods.
So what’s the solution? Treat your significant other like a valuable stakeholder: Explain the business model. Explain the financial strain this business may cause. Describe the plan for cash flow and how you’ll be able to pay yourself. Don’t seek COMPLETE buy-in (that is not realistic), but your significant other should at least not hate or fully doubt your idea and your business goals.
Keep communication open. Knowing both the good and bad things that are going on with the business can help your partner understand the repercussions occurring within your relationship.
Take their feedback seriously. Your significant other has a zoomed-out view of what’s going on and can provide valuable guidance that may benefit both your business AND your relationship.
Do you have any tips, tricks, or stories about maintaining both a relationship and a new business? We’d love to hear from you! Find Andrew Hong on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Andrew: Welcome to Entrepreneurship Sucks, the podcast where we talk about the mindset, tactics, and skills that entrepreneurs need to succeed, but most suck at. Today is our inaugural episode of Entrepreneurship Sucks, and if you want to get some background on how we started this thing, check out the show trailer, which was released prior to this episode. Now, this is the topic that I think is a little bit awkward to talk about, right? It's not something that, I don't know, in all the typical startup books and talks and TED Talks and all those things out there, there's not a lot of talk about your relationships in entrepreneurship, and more specifically, personal relationships in entrepreneurship, so let's start out with this, with this idea, right? You think your idea is awesome, your friends think your idea's awesome, but your spouse or your significant other thinks your idea sucks. Okay, maybe not that harsh. Let's just say they're not that into it, right, or they're not that enthusiastic about it, right? I want to use this as an example because I think a lot of entrepreneurs fail to realize that this is a big risk in your business model, right? If you're going into a situation where you're about to commit yourself to starting a business or scaling a business or dumping money into a business and you're not getting the buy- in or the support from your significant other or spouse that maybe you expected, that you think you should, and it's a really tough situation to be in, right? But I think a lot of people charge forward with their idea and I think a lot of entrepreneurs fail at realizing that this is an area that can make entrepreneurship really sucky for you, because I always see your significant other, and again, it could be a boyfriend, girlfriend, a spouse, whoever, right? I think a lot of entrepreneurs fail to see these people as stakeholders in your business, almost like an investor in your business, right? In fact, at this really early stage in your business, they're probably one of the most important stakeholders in your business, considering that you probably don't have a lot in them right now, right? The reality of it is is that your significant other is going to share your emotions, and in a lot of cases, you're linked together physically, you live together, or financially, right? Just like an investor who puts his or her money or time into your business, your significant other is also putting their emotional energy, their time, right, and obviously sharing you with another, I guess, significant other, which would be your business. We treat it like our baby, and it really is. It's kind of like the mistress that you go to as an entrepreneur. Dude, I'll tell you, I remember there were times when we first started Tobe Agency, the company that I'm currently running right now, where I would literally wake up at 5:00 in the morning because I needed to get some work done, and at the time, my wife and I were arguing. She's like," You work too much, you work too much, you work too much," and I had to sneak out of bed at 5: 00 in the morning to go to Starbucks to post up and work at and I literally felt like I was cheating on my wife, right, with my laptop. This business, it is kind of the other chick, right, or the other dude, right? That's a weird place for your significant other to be in, right? You may not realize this at the beginning, but as you grow and your business grows, the problems get bigger, the challenges get bigger, and what that means is that your spouse is going to experience a lot more of those problems, right, or your significant other. The reality is that even if you try to shield your spouse from the daily things of running a company, how many of you out there can say," Shit, I barely made payroll this month," right, or," Shit, my employee is going to go on leave and I don't have this employee for three months"? You're not going to be very happy coming home, right? You're going to have a lot of stress and you bring that stress home with you and that stress just gets shoved onto your significant other, right? These problems get bigger and bigger and bigger as you grow and if your significant other doesn't know why they're in it, or they don't buy into it, you're going to have this dichotomy where you're going to grow further and further and further apart, right, as things get more and more and more complicated. I found this quote, and I'll get Ho, our production guy to find out where this was, because I didn't bookmark it, but this is a really good quote from the Internet on an article that I read about startups, and again, I'm sorry for whoever I'm not attributing this, but we will find this quote and we'll put it in the show notes. The quote is" A startup requires so much time that if your spouse is resentful or not fully on board, it affects the likelihood of a venture success. It's also easier to hold a lot of ambiguity if you're home and basic spending needs are taken care of for a while. If they're not, your spouse may be bearing significant risk and less available to help psychologically with the risk of the office. It can even lead to divorce as risks compound and you get into a negative feedback loop." Right? It's a really good description of what actually in these sorts of situations, right? I was looking for stories about things that went wrong with entrepreneurs and their spouses and I found this article from Inc about this exact topic and we'll link the article in the show notes, then I'll just read from the article. It says here that" Launching a startup often requires headlong financial risk investing everything you have in more to get the business up and running, and your family is taken along for the ride, like it or not.'I basically jeopardized the family's finances to fund my startup,' said Penelope Trunk of her third company, Brazen Careerist, which hosted virtual job recruiting events.'We cashed out our 401ks. We ran out of money twice. We had the electricity turned off.' At one point, the family was living in a 400 square foot New York City, apartment and Trunk, her husband, and two young sons all slept on the floor.'If 23- year- old guys are sleeping on the floor in Cambridge, no one even cares, right? The Reddit guys slept on the floor,' she says,'But I made my family sleep on the floor so I could get my company off the ground and when I think about that, dot, dot, dot, dot.'" The article says her voice trails off." By the time Trunk and her father of her children divorced after 14 years together, she had ruined both of their credit scores." That's obviously a pretty extreme example. Holy shit. This woman actually made their family sleep on the floor? What? Look, man, if you're going to take those kinds of extreme measures, in then this case put your family through those extreme measures, you've got to get their buy- in, right? If you get their buy- in and you fail, you should also be willing to walk away from the idea, too, right? There's a lot of things to unpack in that and I think the reality of it is is that if you don't get that buy- in from your significant other, there's going to be a lot of hell to pay down the road in terms of your relationship, your finances, your own mental health, and your family, if you started a family together, right? I guess the challenge for entrepreneurs really is if you're going to build a company and you're going to jump into it headfirst, and you're in a serious relationship with someone where you're affecting each other's lives, and that takes the form of many different forms, you could be a boyfriend and girlfriend living together, you could be married with kids, you could be married without kids, right? There's a lot of situations out there where you could call someone your significant other, so it doesn't need to be someone you're romantically even linked to, right, but it's someone that's in your sphere of your life, a partner, right? I think that it's something that most people don't talk about when they first start the business and it sucks for both of you if you don't talk about this and the other significant other is nervous or missing a piece of you as you're working on this business and that's where resentment grows and then that's a whole nother podcast about relationships and things like that, right? You got to know that there's going to be times where you choose to spend time with your other business or your other relationship over your significant other, and again, if your significant other hasn't boughten in and understands why you're with this other side chick, right, it's very easy to develop resentment, right? They're going to develop resentment even if they know that's the reason why they've bought in, right? That's something that is something you got to take into account, right? Maybe the biggest challenge I think for entrepreneurs is that, yeah, let's say you both disagree on your idea and you decide to move forward on it and you're still together, but if you were right and your idea was successful, you just proved your significant other wrong on a pretty big thing, right, and that's not really a win- win situation, right? You're kind of setting yourself up for failure. What does this mean for you as an entrepreneur if you have a significant other? Hey, if you're single and you don't have anyone, more power to you. I will definitely tell you that the time and attention and hustle, I guess, that I had building businesses was very different from when I was single from when I was married, and then when I had a kid, right? If you're single right now, go out there and maximize your time. Don't waste time, mkay? But if you do have a significant other, treat that person, like they're a stakeholder in your business. They're going to be sharing your time and emotions. That means that you should sit down with them and almost treat them like an investor, right? Explain the business model. Explain the strain that you think this will have on your personal finances. Explain your path to cash flow and paying yourself a salary. By the way, if you're an entrepreneur and you have no plan to pay yourself a salary, you do not have a successful business. You need to be paid as an employee of your company. Now, you can be paid in distributions or WTU salaries, or however you want to do it, but you've got to factor in that you got to pay yourself, right, so you got to tell your significant other," Hey, this is what I think we're going to cashflow, and more importantly, this is what I think I can start paying myself," right? I think you should be honest with your significant other about the challenges you think you're going to face and why this thing might not succeed. You got to explain the exit strategy, right? How are you going to get out of this thing and what's your payday and how are you going to monetize this idea? If they're interested, dig into the financials with them. Some of them don't care, right? They're like,"I don't care. I don't care about the financials," but if they want to know about the financials, you should share them with them. Now, I'm not saying all this to say that you need to get full buy- in or support because that's never going to happen. I think even when you start your own idea, you're questioning your own idea too, right? But the reality is they shouldn't be working against you. They shouldn't always be questioning you. They shouldn't hate your idea. They shouldn't think it's stupid. They shouldn't doubt it to no end, right? If you start getting into those kinds of conversations with your significant other, it's probably a red flag that you're going to have some bigger problems down the road, especially as things get more crazy, right? I'll share a personal story with you about how my wife and I dealt with this, because I've started multiple businesses, right? Most of them have failed. Some of them have succeeded. Luckily, I've known my wife for, God, for over 15 years now. We went to college together, we didn't date in college. We dated after college and we got married, right, so luckily, we have a very strong foundation for a relationship. We've seen each other grow up, right, when we were in our 20s and when we were in our 30s and now going into our 40s, right? I'm extremely lucky that my wife has always believed in my abilities as an entrepreneur. She's a smart person. She's a no- bullshit person. She knows how to read people, right, and so I think she's always known that my superhero strength, right, has been being an entrepreneur. I'd never be happy working for anybody else, right, and so she's always supported me in getting my ideas off the ground, but we have the relationship where when she feels like something not going right, she raises the issue with me, right? She knows when things aren't going right in the business because I'm always communicating to her what's going on in the business. She knows that this thing went wrong with the client. She knows that I'm having issues with this contractor or employee, right, and so she knows a lot of things that are happening within the businesses, so I think communication about what's going on is important, not just when things are going bad, but when things are going good and bad, right? One company I started and was growing, there were a lot of issues around scaling the company, hiring people, and ultimately, the partner that I was working with, and not to mention that there wasn't a very clear exit plan, right? I loved this business. It was a passion of mine and I believed in it, maybe I believed a little bit too much in it, and so it got to the point where things weren't going well, right? There was a bunch of red flags and the people that I was working with and the results that we were getting where she basically told me that" I know you love what you're doing, I know it's your passion, but this business is not going to be able to support our family, right? This business is not going to help us establish the life that I know we want to live, so I want you to divest yourself of the business." She literally told me," I want you out. I don't care if you walk away with nothing. I want you out of the business." My first reaction was obviously," Fuck no. I want to keep doing this. We can turn this around. We can figure it out. We can build this thing," and so we talked through it more, and I don't think we ever got into a huge argument about it, but there were definitely some contentious discussions about it. It was a really tough and emotional decision for me because this business was my baby and I thought that we actually got it to a point where we had an opportunity to grow it, but I agreed with her and I ended up separating from the business and I dumped all my shares in the business. I basically walked away with nothing. In fact, I actually walked away with a huge debt on the business, so I actually walked away with less than I started with, but I never resented her for asking me to do that because she shared in all the crap that I had to deal with in getting that business off the ground and we were both unsuccessful in getting that business to be successful, right, so she was the voice of reason that said," Andrew, your skills are better used somewhere else." After that company, I started Tobe Agency, right? There was a lot of lessons learned that I gathered from that company, and I want to say it was probably two or three months after I divested myself from that company that I went to her and said," I've got another business idea. I want to start an agency," so I explained to her the business model, the growth potential, the trends that I saw and why this lined up and she bought in, right? She's like," Yeah, this makes sense," and she supported me to start another business after the one that I had failed at, right? In Tobe Agency, I've always seen her as my partner in this business. She's always helped me really think objectives really about the challenges that we face as an agency. She's not a business person, but she's a person with a lot of common sense, and I think a lot of times, running a business is a lot of common sense, and I'll honestly say that common sense is not very common. There's a lot of stupid people out there who just have no common sense whatsoever, and sometimes your best advisor is just someone who's got a lot of common sense, right? Look, the story that I just told you about my wife, and look, I've got an amazing wife who's always supported me and checked me on my crap and kept me honest on things, and it's not going to be true for all of your significant others, right? Some really may not care and they just want to support you and it doesn't make them anxious to know that your business, or maybe you've got a good financial situation, you can take that risk, but in the end, I think to recap everything, it's really important to get on the same page with your significant other about your business, because your business is your number one... Sorry. Your significant other is your number one stakeholder in the business and it's going to go a long way to keeping your relationship strong as you inevitably are going to face a lot of the challenges that your business is going to go through. So again, explaining the business model, walking through the financials, if they care about it, being clear on what your exit plan is, being clear on how you're going to grow, being clear on how you're going to pay yourself, right, all of these things are important things that you would tell any investor, so why not tell the other person that has been so emotionally, financially, whatever invested in your life, which tends to be that significant other, right? If any of you are out there and you're an entrepreneur with a significant other and have any tips or tricks that you use to try to manage explaining your business model or the stresses that come along with dealing with running a business but also being in a relationship, I'd love to hear them. Get at me at LinkedIn or at my Twitter handle at @ andrewnhong. I'd love to hear those stories, because this is something that I don't think a lot of couples, for lack of a better term, do well. I've definitely seen multiple instances of businesses that have gone down the tubes. In fact, one was with my father that happened in a business partner that he had that got a divorce and that ended up causing major issues for the business, and then one, for me personally where I had a friend who basically got divorced because they were misaligned with their significant other on the business, right? This is the first episode for a reason, because I think this is a really weird aspect of entrepreneurship that most people don't talk about, like I said, in the beginning, but it's certainly one that's important. Thanks for listening. Entrepreneurship Sucks is brought to you by Token Agency Podcast Network. Please subscribe, rate, review, and share this podcast, and don't forget, if you ever want to talk about entrepreneurship, please connect with me on LinkedIn or at my Twitter handle at @ andrewnhong. Thanks, and we'll see you on the next one.