One Book Every Entrepreneur Should Own

Posted on Jan 20, 2013 | 54 comments


Brad Feld seems to write books faster than I can read and write about them.

This time he has written a book that is far more important than most management books you will read.  He teamed up with his wife, Amy Batchelor, to write about about the impact that entrepreneurship has on relationships and what to do about it.

It’s called Startup Life and you can order it here. You won’t regret it. It’s an enjoyable read and one I’ll bet you refer back to rather than read once and file away.

Why do I think this is a “must own” book? Because it talks about one of the most important topics you will need to consider in your life and the one topic nobody else in entrepreneurial tech circles seems to address – how to manage successful relationships.

Nothing you do at your startup and no amount of financial success will ever make you truly happy unless you manage to learn how to build meaningful and fulfilling personal relationships.

The single best book ever written on this topic is Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It is also one of the books that most influenced me early in my adult life. Heck you can buy both books together for $20.

And all of our tech toys, cheap travel, social networks and real-time communications will never replace true human relationships.

Please do yourself a favor and watch this 3 minute video by Marshall Davis Jones, which makes to point far more succinctly  eloquently and artistically than I could ever hope to do so.

I’ll give you a brief overview of the video above

“iPod, iMac, iPhone, iChat … I can do all of these things without making eyeContact.”

I have long thought about and written about the personal toll that being an entrepreneur places on your life.

My first was about the impact that the hours, lifestyle and stress have on health. And I sort of did a many-years-on remembrance of the impact of that lifestyle even for VCs but more so for entrepreneneurs called Entrepreneurshit.

These were amongst some of the most read blog posts I have written, which shows me that the stress, pressures and loneliness of being and entrepreneur resonates.

But Brad & Amy take it one step further than I have – they talk about the impact on your personal relationships – most notably with your spouse or partner.

It was a huge personal leap of faith for them to open up so much. It takes openness for others to learn that we’re all on the same journey and dealing with the same difficult issues in life.  They talk about the destructive nature that the all-consuming and at times narcissistic entrepreneur journey can place on your personal relationship.

They start with their own journey. Brad was married and divorced in his early 20’s. He then got remarried (with Amy) and hit a point so low in their relationship that she actually considered calling it quits. That was more than 10 years ago. How’s that for being open.

The book starts with the story of the end of yet another crazy work week where at the end Brad met Amy for dinner with some friends. But his phone rang and he ended up spending much of the dinner on his mobile phone dealing with a company issue.

How many of us haven’t been there? You KNOW you need to take the call – it’s too time sensitive and crucial. But you know you’re going to upset your wife or partner but hoping she’ll understand and that you can smooth it over later. But deep down you know you can’t really make up for it.

‘The Call.”  We all do it. And we know deep down that it has a destructive impact on our friendships and relationships.

Quoting Amy

“I’m done. Not with the week. But with living this way. You aren’t even a good roommate anymore. I love you, but I just don’t want to live this way. I’m done.”

Gulp.

The book is an overview of what Brad & Amy have learned in stitching back together their marriage and building a healthy relationship that will endure through their lifetimes. They describe how to make relationships work in a modern tech life filled with travel, odd hours and stress.

Their low point should serve as a warning to the rest of us.

And the book actually had me in tears. Literally.

It came when I was reading the sidebar story about Paul & Renée Berberian.

Nearly a decade ago they were in Hawaii with their daughter when they were hit head on by another drive – it is implied that the driver had been intoxicated. Renée nearly died and has dealt with debilitating injuries and pain for years. They were both hospitalized with brutal injuries and Renée took more than 3 years of hard physical therapy to recover. And the story implies that the impact is still felt nearly 10 years on.

But the story was about the impact on their relationship.

Paul

” … my idea of success and happiness has changed. Before the accident I aspired to run a bigger company  with more power, money and responsibilities.

After the accident  I resigned as CEO of a public company  put our house on the market, and set in motion a plan to take a year off and travel the world with my family once we all recovered (which we did in 2006)”

In the past, I wanted more things. Now I want fewer but higher-quality things. In the past, I dreaded vacation. Not I long for it. I simply want less.”

If you could learn anything from somebody else’s misfortunes let the words of Paul Berberian ring through your ears.

Renée’s discussions of the events that she survived were equally (if not more) profound for me. You need to read the story for yourself to get a true appreciation for just how harrowing their post accident experience was but the lessons learned after years of reflect are worth really absorbing:

“I appreciate kindness more. I recognize kindness more often. I do stop to smell the roses. I give people a break. I give people the benfit of the doubt.

I ask more questions. I forgive more. I am more open to ideas. I have more faith in mankind. I am more tolerant. I make an effort to understsnd a situation or what someone is trying to tell me.

I am more more sensitive to others who are in pain. I want less responsibility. I want less materialistically. I enjoy purging and freeing our lives of stuff.”

I’ve never met Paul & Renée but felt connected to them after reading their story.

It just so happens that my wife was in a head-on car accident in December last year. A driver lost control of her car in the rain and hit her head-on with my son in the back seat. We have no idea if she was texting or talking on the phone but something clearly distracted this other driver to have lost control like this.

We are so fortunate for modern technology in luxury cars as the air bags deployed successfully and saved my wife from the worst of what she might have faced but the car was totalled, my wife spent a lot of time in pain over the next 6 weeks but the emotional trauma lives on.

And of course it happened while I was on the road and unavailable. I was home before the end of the week but it wasn’t there like I should have been. And I was only home for a week before heading back out again.

It was a difficult December to say the least and I reflect back and think I could have been a more supportive husband.  I wish I would have had Brad and Amy’s book then. Just as a reminder.

I am fortunate enough to have married up and a to have married a wonderful, truly compassionate person.

Brad & Amy’s book is not only an opening up of their own personal situations but also profiles many other tech couples and even some who are single and have struggled to hold on to relationships.

And they do so with surprising candor.

They cover communication strategies, romance, making connections while on the road and … gulp … even sex.

On Communications

I loved how much they focused on communications since this is key to all relationships – sexual or otherwise. I have always been a voracious reader on the topic of communications.

One of the most influential books on the topic – “You Just Don’t Understand – Men & Women in Conversation” I read back in college. Brad & Amy refer to it (and many other influential works) in their book.

What it made me realize was that genders have different communication strategies. It says that men are largely information gatherers and problem solvers. They gain satisfaction and status from knowing “stuff” and one-upping other men in sharing and debating facts. Men are generally chest beaters and competitive. They want to win.

According to the book, women generally want to connect with others and have everybody get along. They aren’t big on “one upping” as men generally are.

It profiles a very common marital discussion. Man sitting on couch reading newspaper (to gather facts!), woman annoyed tries to get him to talk. As soon as he puts down the paper she goes back to her household chores. She didn’t necessarily feel the need to talk with him so much as to feel like they were together – that he wasn’t in his own world.

And this story was written pre Internet, pre smartphone, pre social networks.

From Brad & Amy’s book

“boys play to win and care about rules, and girls play to include everyone and care about taking turns.”

Frankly just knowing this can be a huge eye opener in how to build better relationships.

I had to laugh when I read in Brad & Amy’s book about their low point and the discussion of Amy being “done”

“Even though Brad is a guy, he knew that at moments like this the goal should not be to solve the problem. As uncomfortable as it was, he let the silence sit in the air”

Boy, how many times have I had this conversation with my male friends. We shake our heads at our own stupidity of not realizing that our wives are often looking for emotional support and acknowledgment – not a solution for their problems. That quote was SO spot on.

On Happiness

I also really enjoyed their discussion about happiness, a theme that I revert back to often. If you’re interested I have several posts on the topic of happiness

You can see that it’s a theme that’s important to me. Brad & Amy’s book even quotes one of the same blogs on the topic – Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project.

One quote I really liked from their book

“Creating habits of kindness and automatically linking cues about your partner with actions that show your affection, respect, and love can go a long way toward building long-term relationship satisfaction.” 

So true.

I’m not going to say I’m perfect [I'm not] but one thing that I’ve always tried to do with Tania is to make sure I do little actions to remind her that I care and that she’s important to me. Often it will be something like booking her a trip to a spa with a girlfriend and pre-arranging with the other husband to watch the kids together.

Or bringing home flowers … just because. I hate buying flowers on Valentine’s Day because it’s expected and therefore less special. I think it matters more when there are no expectations.

Sometimes I’ll call a couple she’s been wanting to see and arrange for them to meet us at dinner as a surprise.

I think it’s the small things that matter. I’ve often said it’s the little note in the birthday card that matters more than the money spent on a gift. And I always prefer getting something that took thought (a framed picture, a playlist of songs) than something expensive.

On Honesty

There’s a wonderful chapter on honesty & respect. It gets into the sticky areas of how much honesty is the right amount with people.

Words, once said, can never be taken back and form the basis of how we see each other and how we feel about ourselves.

They had the perfect words to describe the different approaches, “Kind honesty vs. brutal honesty.”

Again, so true. When I debate with my partners at work I prefer brutal honesty and with our personalities it works. Brad acknowledged the same about his partnership at Foundry Group.

But personal relationships and especially spousal relationships are not always like that. “Kind honesty” will always stick with me.

And one of the things my wife tells me that she appreciates most about me is that I never hold a grudge. Really. My mom instilled this in me as a kid.

From Startup Life

“[don't] hold a grudge or stay mad long after [an argument]. Several happiness studies indicate that deep-seated resentments and grudges are some of the most corrosive emotions in a relationship.”

I believe it.

Some Final Nuggets

As you can see, I can go on-an-on with great lessons from the book. But you should just read it yourself. I thought I’d list some brief last nuggets from the book

  • Never bring up charged topics that you want to discuss at bedtime [hallelujah!]
  • In the case of travel, especially international travel, at least one meltdown per partner should be expected [frankly, just reminding yourself of this before the trip should help when you see the inevitable early signs of travel stress]
  • Many men are very bad at time management – particularly of the “I will be home in X minutes” type. You need to develop systems to deal with this [Tania will often ask me, "is that a real 20 minutes or a Suster 20 minutes? Either is okay but I need to know for real."]
  • Never talk disparagingly about your partner in front of other people – whether they’re with you or not. It’s the most disrespectful thing you can do to your partner.

And last I thought I’d leave you with a thought from my wife that seemed also to resonate with how Amy might feel about Brad. She told me, “I didn’t marry you for your potential.”

And what she meant is that she didn’t want to change me. She married me for me. She knew my flaws and idiosyncrasies coming into marriage. And I know that I’m a lucky man for it [ok, secretly she wishes I wasn't always late and that I'd sleep more.]

That thought of marrying one for exactly who they are and not who you want them to be always stuck with me since before we were married. Tania, I love you for exactly who you are, too.

And thank you for loving me. And for knowing not to take off your jacket at a restaurant until I’ve found the perfect table.

  • http://utekkare.tumblr.com/ Pranay Srinivasan

    Hi Mark,
    I have been a reader at your blog as well as Brad’s. Im an entrepreneur from India. I ‘married up’ as well to my lovely wife Chitra. While she’s never been an entrepreneur, she completely supports me in my crazed pursuits.

    I’ve been through some really rough financial times because of issues with partners and employees, and for our age (mid 30s) we are NOWHERE near our financial goals and we have ageing parents to take care of.

    And while I am headstrong about getting back on track soon, this past year has taken huge toll on our relationship. We still love each other, and we respect and support each others goals, the financial aspects of running a startup are often very unpredictable and can play havoc with life goals.

    Thanks,
    Pranay

  • nannasin smith

    Thanks for helping get the secret out.
    ULN2003

  • http://twitter.com/arteeninLA arteen arabshahi

    Love the honesty in this post and Brad’s book(s). As an entrepreneur by day and slam poet by night, I was especially thrilled to see Marshall Jones’ piece in there- one of the best, glad you are spreading it to a new audience that may not be used to seeing it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/majorsten Lawrence Yu

    Gotta say this hit home on every point. I just had a few minutes to fully read this post now (its been in the open tab backlog…however, i bought the book a week ago). man o man I got a long way to go to achieve this in my relationship. This give me great hope tho! Just gotta do it now! Thanks for the openness and honesty Mr Suster.

    PS – Sending random flowers to the wifey now.