The Lone Ranger persona is a common attribute of an entrepreneur. But is it accurate? Or even helpful?
I will argue yes, and no.
Yes, most entrepreneurs acknowledge feeling alone with the weight of decisions when starting a new venture. Ultimately, they are pulling the trigger, if you will, on all the decisions until the venture grows enough to bring on other team members. Their shoulders carry the bulk of the weight.
No, I don’t believe it is helpful to maintain a Lone Ranger belief. There is an important stakeholder that is often undervalued or overlooked: the spouse of the entrepreneur. Sharing the journey can be life-giving, and a source of support that can provide resilience when the startup faces challenges.
You are “copreneurs”
Some will say they don’t want their spouse to worry or burden them with the challenges of the startup. Newsflash: one would have to be in a coma to miss the inevitable stress that comes with a startup. So better to be open and find ways to support each other, than to pretend it doesn’t impact the relationship.
Surprisingly little has been researched about the impact of the spouse, or “copreneur”, on the success of a new venture (see footnote). So I’ll share what I know, and let the researchers catch up.
Pushing the ball
In the early years of the business, Mark (my husband) often verbalized how alone he felt running the company. It was several years before he was able to hire team members to share the load. He likened the effort of growing the company to pushing a huge ball, trying to get it to make one revolution that might lead to sustainability.
While it was hard sometimes to hear the challenges he faced, I wanted him to know that he wasn’t entirely alone. I supported his decision to start the business and did my best to be a team player. When we couldn’t afford a gardener at the newest facility, I trimmed bushes myself. (Ended up injuring my rotator cuff–so much for good deeds!)
But, I’m human. Sometimes my need for security and some sense of control over our future got the best of me. Heated discussions (ok, arguments) when finances were tight left Mark feeling more alone, I’m sure. But we would find ways to get back on the same side of the line. This was our life and future, so we’d better be on the same team.
I wish I could say that we always practiced what I’m about to preach, but much of what we know NOW was learned the hard way. I share these thoughts, hoping our experience will benefit your marriage and increase your resilience as “copreneurs”.
5 ways to stay on the same team
- Create ways to make shared decisions—most spouses want to be included in the decision-making process, even if the final call is yours (the entrepreneur) to make. Ask for their thoughts and opinions. They may have a perspective you haven’t considered.
- Regularly review financials together—quarterly and monthly catch-ups are a good way to stay on the same page financially. I know of situations where the spouse doesn’t want to know how the company is doing, only what’s in their bank account. That increases the isolation of the entrepreneur. You don’t necessarily need an in-depth company report, but updating at least quarterly helps to know how the company is doing. Is this a growth time, or are there some market factors impacting profits? If the family income is fluctuating, update more often so household obligations can remain current. No one likes surprises.
- Resist blaming each other—startups are fraught with ups and downs. It’s our human nature to want to blame someone when things don’t turn out as we had hoped. Get on the same side of the line, and name the problem, then brainstorm together how to meet the challenge. If you have shared the decision-making process (see #2!), there’s little room for “I told you so”.
- Focus on “us”, even as you pursue individual goals. Make your marriage a priority. Regular date nights, even if it’s just a walk and coffee, will go a long way in reminding you what you love about each other. Check-in with each other to see what support each of you needs. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to sacrifice your family to build your business.
- Review family goals regularly. Remind each other why you’re doing this. There are goals you want to accomplish together. The business may take much longer or have more challenges than you anticipated, so celebrating small achievements allows you to maintain resilience as a couple.
Lean into each other as you build this life together. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.
Footnote: Danes, Sharon M.
Entrepreneurship Success: “The Lone Ranger” Versus “It Takes a Village” Approach?
Entrepreneurship Research Journal, Volume 3, Issue 3. Pages 277-286