The Unheralded Startup Co-Founders: Friends and Family

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The story of the entrepreneur is an almost mythological one in American society. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are rightly revered by many because of their ingenuity, tenacity and ability to succeed despite the odds. Less known are their friends and family, who bear a tremendous amount of the burden to allow these visionaries to succeed.

Want to be an entrepreneur? Your most important early conversations should not be with your co-founder or investors but rather your significant other. As a profession, entrepreneurship can bring out the absolute worst in a person. There are the material challenges -- I know very few “startup folks” who haven’t worried about making a rent or mortgage payment. But, more challenging than material concerns are the time and emotional considerations. Running an early stage company takes tremendous amounts of work, with weeks of 70 to 90 hours not being terribly uncommon. Oftentimes the work includes the obligatory cocktail parties, dinners and networking events that may not seem like traditional “work”, but are still both required and exhausting.

Unfortunately, all of that time takes a significant emotional toll. After the blood, sweat and tears, you may end up feeling further behind than at the beginning. I’ll admit to feeling occasional pangs of envy for folks who delivered pizzas to my apartment, because at least they knew they were getting paid for their time. There are many moments in the life of an entrepreneur when we have no such certainty.

So who has to deal with those challenges and carry that burden? Well, first and foremost the entrepreneur. But, at least as the entrepreneur, you have some sense of control and direction. Those who love you must first deal with seeing much less of you, and when you do get to enjoy time together the entrepreneur may very well be stressed, irritable, or exhausted.

My advice? Be as open and transparent with those who are closest to you before and during the process. Let them know this will be hard, that you’ll be less available, and that it will undoubtedly take its toll. Make sure they’re prepared for what’s ahead, and do your best to help them understand what’s happening in your life. The difference between being able to survive and iterate long enough to make your company successful and the runway ending before your exit may very well be the help and support that they offer you.

Erik Severinghaus is a Chicago-based serial entrepreneur and business leader. Erik was part of the founding team for iContact (a leader in email marketing) and spent six years as a consultant in IBM’s IT Optimization Practice before founding his current company, SimpleRelevance. SimpleRelevance specializes in marketing personalization and helps companies easily send the right email content to the right person at the right time, leading to revenue increases of 30-300 percent per email campaign. Learn more at, Find Erik on Google+ and follow him on Twitter.

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