Life after Startup – Planning startup life, with the wife

Negotiating for freedom

The picture of what the next 1,5 year might look like, is becoming more clear.

So recently, like the real adult that I have become, I decided to talk future plans with my wife. And not long long term future like what we do when we reach 80, but more next 2-3 years kinda stuff.

So I ask my wife: “What if in 2023 I suddenly need to accelerate on a new company?”

She says: “Then we will need more support. I am not planning on taking a step back from my career in the next few years”

To which I try to find a messy compromise: “Wait so how about you accelerate on your thing in 2023, then I go more in 2024, and then we see if we need the extra daycare days in 2025….”

Me and my wife pause for a moment, a long simultaneous sigh follows…We are negotiating for our freedoms where previously in our twenties we would take them for granted.

My previously empty calendar (see article) has already started to fill up again.
The activities, meetings and routines are still a bit chaotic, but i can feel them slowly focusing more toward a common set of goals.

This is exciting but it also brings the question: how are we going to organise our lives around this?

An unpredictable commitment

I already hinted at the challenges of starting a business after 30 with child before (see article).
But this time I want to zoom in more on how I actually try to make that all work.

A startup is a multi year commitment with extremely unpredictable hours in the first 2-3 years.

I believe the most important difference from a job is that as the captain of the ship, you cannot really decide to abandon or “switch jobs” especially once you have assembled a team.

A company typically takes 2-3 years to actually break even and until then, you are likely not going to be relaxing a lot.

A company in the early stages is absolutely unpredictable. Your dependence on every employee is simply too high, a few large customers still can make all the difference, and the founder is still the one that has to fill all the gaps.

Plan for buffers, strive for routine

One year ago a good friend of mine decided to grow his freelance business into a small company.

And together we talked about something that to me sounded like a very ambitious goal: no matter how much the company would grow, he wanted to work no more than 32-hours per week.

Basically he didn’t want to let the famous startup calendar “get to him”.

I remember being impressed with the ambition and immediately skeptical of the goal.
Even though the ambition is good to have, it is simply not realistic.

One year later, he had a team of 8 people, and indeed, the goal of working 32 hours didn’t really materialize.

The ambition was very good and healthy. The thing is you cannot really have control over the unpredictability of a small company, so instead I would put my hopes in planning for buffers.

For instance, by expanding the freelance capacity around the company or hiring more expensive senior employees earlier on.

Planning is everything, the plan is nothing

So back to me and wife. 2 weeks ago she came back from a weekend by herself. No kid, no husband, no work, just her, the birds and a tiny house.

She wrote down everything she wanted, what she didn’t mind as much as she thought, and where she saw herself and our family for the next years.

This led to one of the most productive conversations we have had in a while about our futures.

So even though the process of making a plan can be super disruptive, and frustrating it did help create a clear space for us to define and do what we want.

So amen to the words of Dwight Eisenhower and frequently of my previous business partner: “planning is everything, The plan is nothing”.

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