True Story: Relationship vs. New Business 4

I’ve been thinking about an e-mail I got last summer, related to this post on Planning Startups Stories, about how I had left a good job to start out on my own. This was from a man who was one of the most likable students I’ve ever taught, a hard worker, an achiever whom I expect to be running for public office some day (and in this case I mean that in a good way). He asked:

I was wondering, would you have still left your job and ventured out on your own if your wife were absolutely unsupportive and opposed to the idea?  And how did her words help you? I hope I am not asking questions that are too personal, but my situation is similar to yours, except my wife is the exact opposite of yours.

That e-mail came a couple of days ago, but I had to think about it. And I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have left that job back then if my wife had objected. But then these are strange times; lots of people have fewer choices. And that might actually help.

I know, my answer sort of spoils the story and the rah-rah of entrepreneurship, the idea that we follow our passion and overcome all obstacles. But it’s the truth. Businesses fail, and it’s naive of us to forget that sometimes they fail despite our best efforts. Sometimes the reluctant spouse is just plain right. Sometimes the failure to get investment, the obstacles that accumulate, are a message.

Unless you don’t have a choice. That has to help with the spouse, partner or significant other who isn’t as on board with the startup idea as you would like. It might be your best option. Tip the scale.

I have a very good friend who moved from the San Francisco Bay area to Atlanta when she got her lifetime dream job. It was exactly what she’d prepared for, in the segment she’d worked in, but with much more responsibility and a lot more money.

When she was back six months later, the obvious question was: “What happened?”

“Well,” she answered, “I guess the thing is that it’s much easier to get a new job than a new husband.” (And of course you can substitute the word “wife” or “partner” and the meaning will hold.)

And looking at it realistically, there’s no denying, like it or not, that a spouse who doesn’t buy into the dream adds to the risk. You don’t want to throw the family into the mix. Plan more, research more, and either answer the objections or accept that the world is sending you a clue. Keep your job. Gulp: if you still have one.

This is a tough question, obviously. Every case is different. But we do glorify the entrepreneurial a bit too much, and we glaze over some of the risks involved. Sometimes.

Here’s a true story: Before I left a good job to strike out on my own, my wife said “go for it; you can do it.” And she meant it. At several key points along the way, she made it clear that we would take the risk together. There was never the threat of “I told you so; why did you leave a good job, you idiot!” What she said was “if you fail, we’ll fail together, and then we’ll figure it out. We’ll be OK.”

That was in 1983.  Failures, dark times, three mortgages and $65,000 in credit card debt at one point didn’t help our relationship. But what we started back then survived, and so did we; we’re still married.

If you’re starting a business and living a relationship, then think about that one. Call it a “make or break” factor.

About the Author Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry. Follow Tim on Google+ Read more »

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  • Drew Schiller

    I agree with you completely, Tim. If I didn’t have my wife’s support, it would be much more difficult for me to deal with setbacks in my business (and much less joyful to celebrate the successes).

    In response to the email you received, I was fortunate to already be in the startup phase of my business when my wife and I started dating, so she’s never known anything other than the entrepreneurial me. While we have gone through some rough financial times together, her support of me and my dream has never wavered. I guess if you don’t feel you can get unconditional support from your spouse, starting a business may not be the right decision for your relationship. But I have to ask: how rewarding is your relationship when your spouse doesn’t encourage you to go after your dreams?

  • Stefanie Hartman

    Having a support of a spouse can make chasing the entrepreneur dream so much easier.

  • Ron Katz

    Tim, You are so right. Ten years ago I left a job as a VP at a major financial institution (and one that is still doing well today!) to “follow my passion” and go out on my own. I have never regretted this and could never have done what I have without the encouragement and support of my wife. She is my life partner, business partner (even though she has a full time job now) and greatest ally. She was not working when I started up my practice, but she still said go for it.

    I don’t think I would have tried it without her encouragement and I know I wouldn’t’ have made it thru the tough times without her. My wife said many of the same things yours did. Having your spouse’s support and agreement is a critical aspect of the decision to go out on your own.

  • Jill Heisterkamp

    I’ve actually been on both sides of this. Years ago, I thought about and researched starting my own copywriting/editing business and was married at the time. My then-husband appeared supportive but was always giving me those doubtful comments…”are you sure you can do this?”, “have you thought about this?”, etc. I did not take the venture into starting my own business and kind of felt foolish for even thinking about it.

    Flash forward six years. About six months into my current relationship, I was encouraged by an industry contact to start my business part-time. As my significant other said, “If you have the chance to keep your full-time job and make this other work, go for it!” Another six months later I was laid off from my job of three years. He then said, “Why don’t you launch your side-business into a full-time one.” I moved in with him to cut down on overhead costs, and it’s been the best decision I ever made. With him on my side, offering helpful comments and input, I actually feel like I can make this work.

    So, in short, a supportive spouse/partner makes all the difference in the business world.