This post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.
As our entrepreneurial son, Joshua, and I became more intertwined in business, issues began to arise regarding our communication as a family. Joshua and I talked about business frequently. Those conversations began to replace family conversations about school, friends, and how things were going with others in the family. Compounding this issue was the fact that we were speaking the language of business, a foreign language to my wife, our daughter, and many of our friends and family. Joshua and I had unintentionally isolated ourselves from people we loved and the world around us. This was clearly not sustainable and we had to make some changes.
To separate the worlds of family and business, we took three clear steps. If you’re looking to smooth communications in your entrepreneurial family, here’s what we’d recommend, based on our own experiences.
1. Schedule business conversations.
Joshua and I found ourselves mixing many of our normal family conversations with business conversations. It all came to a head one day when I praised him for doing a great job at an investor pitch and then proceeded to chew him out for not picking up his room and getting his school work done. Those kinds of surprise twists and turns that could happen in almost any conversation put us both on edge.
Gwen – my wife and Joshua’s mom – was inadvertently thrust into the role of peace maker. At that point, we all knew we had to do something different. Joshua and I began to plan our business conversations just like any other business meeting. We did our best not to discuss business at other times and especially avoided talking about business during family meals or when we were around extended family and friends.
2. Educate those closest to you in the language of business.
If entrepreneurship is a major part of your life and who you are, you owe it to those closest to you to involve them in conversations about what you are doing.
Unfortunately, most people aren’t familiar with the language of business. Even if they have a traditional business background, they may not be familiar with the language of the startup community. This lack of a common language made Gwen, a great elementary school teacher, feel isolated from the entrepreneurial life. Had she and Joshua been working together on an education project, I would have had the same struggle. She felt embarrassed when she couldn’t explain to her friends and coworkers exactly what Joshua was doing. Joshua and I had to be intentional about involving Gwen in some of the casual business discussions that popped up in normal conversation. We also made sure that we either explained the terminology we were using or used more common terms to help Gwen be more engaged in what we were talking about.
Once we did a better job of involving her in the entrepreneurial life, she felt more comfortable talking to others about it and we found that she contributed great insight from time to time regarding people, relationships and communication. Her insight was, and still is, very valuable.
3. Provide routine updates.
In the fast paced world of a startup, events and transactions occurred daily about which Joshua and I neglected to inform his mom. There was no daily briefing so when she dipped into the startup world every few days she felt lost. “So when did that happen?” she would ask in frustration.
As if that trend was not enough to make a mother feel sad and out of touch, because Joshua and I spoke multiple times a day on business topics, I was also the parent that he informed about everything else that was going on with school, friends, where he was and where he was going. It was up to me to keep Gwen informed, and I did a poor job of this and, at times, still do.
This had the effect of putting a strain on the relationship between Joshua and his mother and also on my relationship with my wife. Not good. As the saying goes, “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Other than my relationship with God, my relationship with Gwen is the most important one in my life. If it’s bumpy, everything else just gets harder. That’s why, when we realized how this journey was changing all of our relationships, we made a point of doing a better job of involving everyone in routine updates on business and family matters.
THE TAKEAWAY – Many books have been written and studies done on how important good communication is to being successful in business. It is equally important with young entrepreneurs and their families. Raising an entrepreneur is a bit like running a startup company. It takes a team to be successful and if that team isn’t engaged and communicating with one another, the journey will be unpleasant and the odds of success will be significantly diminished.