7 Tactics for Thriving in a Startup Relationship

Over the 18 months, I’ve traveled a lot for our startup.  This has provided me with lots of opportunities and air miles but it hasn’t always left my wife feeling like she has a partner who is available.  To make matter worse, I’m the kind of person who gets really absorbed in what they are doing and I’m notoriously bad at staying in touch when I’m away.

Brad Feld’s new book, Startup Life, is overflowing with good advice on how to survive and thrive within a crazy startup relationship.  Here are a few tactics from his book—along with one of my own thrown in—to help keep the connection strong when you’re traveling or simply working late:

Four minutes in the morning

Take four minutes each morning to just be together.  The time isn’t for conveying information or plans, it’s just to catch up and give undivided attention.  You may talk about your day, the weather, your dreams the night before, or nothing at all.  Why four minutes?  Because it’s an amount of time that should be able to spare no matter how busy your schedule is.  Do it in person or via a Skype/Hangout.  I’ve not yet been consistent at this one (especially when traveling) but when I’ve done it, the benefits have been tangible.

Schedule life dinners

Once a month schedule a life dinner and hand each other your muted cellphones at the beginning.  This is not a date night, though it can be full of dreamy eyes.  It’s about reflecting on how the last month went for both—and each of you.  Talk about your goals for your personal/professional lives and your relationship. This is a night to splurge at your favorite restaurant and linger well past dessert to reflect and dream together.  Want to go a step further?  Show up with a gift each time.

Take scheduled QX vacations (a.k.a. the mini-break)

Brad takes a full week off the grid every quarter to spend with his wife, Amy.  They call it a QX vacation.  For many entrepreneurs this much time is a non-starter but the idea is still solid.  My goal is to take a 3-day weekend each quarter—sans kids—to just be with my wife.  If you’re brave, you might try a 3-day weekend each month, it all depends on the stage of your company and life.  The key is that the break should be totally off the grid: no sneaking back to the hotel room to check your email, no phone calls, and no social media. The horrors!

Always answer when you partner calls

This is a ballsy move and one I’m going to try.  Regardless of where you are, answer the phone if your partner calls.  If that happens to happen during client meeting, investor pitch, maker mode, public speaking—or some other time when you would normally hush your ringtone—politely tell the people in the room that you make it a point to always answer your partners calls and answer with a quick “Hi Honey, I’m in the middle of something. Can I call you back?”.  I’m willing to bet that rather than annoy the folks in the room, you’ll actually gain respect and your partner will know that, if needed, they can always reach you.  Big win.

The computer is your friend, not your enemy

The Macbook can easily become a hated symbol in the minds of the parter of an entrepreneur, it’s the thing that competes most for his/her attention.  It can also be a helpful tool in your communicative arsenal.  Whenever possible, keep a chat window open if you’re both online, send random “I love you” emails, share an article that made you think of the other one, and start/end your travel days with a Skype/Hangout.  Which brings me to the next one…

Make goodnight and good morning calls

I suck at this.  When I’m traveling it seems the mornings and the evenings are the hardest time to tear myself away.  In the mornings, I’m prepping for a presentation or rushing to get emails done before the day of meetings begins.  In the evenings, I’m usually having dinner or drinks with a customer, partner or industry person or furiously catching up on things I couldn’t attend to during the day. The simple act of making a habitual call—even just 4 minutes—in the morning and at bedtime can  keep you both feeling connected and loved.  Pro tip: make it a video Skype or Google Hangout. I’m resolving here in public to be better at this.

Carve out weekend routines

This one is mine, not Brad’s.  On Saturday mornings, I used to gravitate to the computer thinking, “I’ll just do a quick check-in” and then I wouldn’t come up for air until lunch or late afternoon.  This stripped me of one of the few consistent opportunities I have for family time.  On Saturday mornings, I now get up with the kids around dawn, get them dressed and take them for breakfast at a local cafe, followed by a hike in a local nature park (If it’s below 40 degrees, we go to a kids cafe with an indoor play area).  After a few hours, the kiddos and I bring my wife back coffee and breakfast in bed for my wife.  This gives her one day each week to sleep in and relax. It gives me consistent, structured time with the kids.  It’s become one of our most loved times of the week and it’s held as sacred.  Whatever works for you, the key is to schedule rituals and build routines that ensure family/partner times happen.

As entrepreneurs we spend most of our days communicating and it’s often hard to continue that into the evenings with our partners.  Whether you use the tactics from Brad’s book, or from your own playbook, the key is to continually strive to improve communication and connection.

The overdue tl;dr: In order for your business to be successful, you spend lots of time strategizing and planning.  You need to do the same with your relationship.  Note to self.