It’s kind of like announcing that you’re pregnant with triplets – the look on people’s faces when you tell them your partner quit his job and is now working from home. You can’t use the word ‘start-up’ because most non-tech people don’t really get it, so you say ‘entrepreneur’ or self-employed. Most people say encouraging things, many people ask you to describe the product/service (here comes the elevator pitch!) but almost no-one asks “Why?”.
It has been two years since my husband found a business partner and created several social media products. The last one was successful enough to be acquired a year ago, bringing us all to the Silicon Valley on a new adventure. We are still on the fringes of the start-up network from Australia, and I have recently been talking with other start-up wives.
Here’s my advice.
Don’t get too involved. It’s fun hearing the discussions on Skype, and witnessing the highs and lows of product development, getting investors, and user feedback. But you also have to keep your day job, and run the household too, so don’t get involved in the day-to-day activities. You are far more useful as a sounding board because you have perspective. So, hold your tongue, wait for him to finish, and come up with some considered words. I did plenty of nodding and smiling too, letting him ramble and vent while I got on with other things.
Embrace poverty. You’ll be a lot happier if you avoid shopping malls. Don’t buy the school photos, tickets to the trivia night or birthday presents for anyone except yourselves and the kids. Cancel your subscriptions, stop eating out, no more movies or books. Don’t complain or nag about the lack of cash too much. Try to see the positives and you’ll be amazed at how you can make do with so little. Your true friends and family will step up and help you out – let them do it. Simplifying is liberating.
Make joint decisions. Well, the big ones anyway. When you’re negotiating a term sheet with investors, or deciding to take on small contracts to keep some cash flow coming into the household, it’s important that both of you are committed. You (hopefully) decided to start a risky start-up life together, so you need to speak up when you and the family will be affected. Agree on what success looks like and decide how much money you’re prepared to blow. You are the first investor in the ‘family and friends’ round, so agree on the terms, including when to call it quits. Don’t be a doormat.
Prepare the kids. The kids won’t be getting new clothes anymore, and they will notice the changes you make to your lifestyle. Mostly they won’t really care, but being ‘poor’ has a stigma attached to it in the playground. Tell them not to be ashamed, and that it’s not their fault. This can lead into a discussion of consumerism and the poverty gap in society, or you can just try and reassure them that they will always have a home. The hardest part was answering the “What is Dad’s job now?” question. Our 10 year old knew the elevator pitch off by heart, but the 8 year old resorted to ‘he works with computers’.
Karina Rook has survived a start-up birth and death by acquisition. Her husband Tim Bull and his partner Alex Dong created trunk.ly, a link saving site, which was bought by Delicious in October 2011. Karina has moved to Silicon Valley with her family, and is posting relocation advice on her blog at: http://resettleus.com/