Finding Balance in Startups

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For most people, work is a means to an end. It provides them the money they need to have a life. They work to live, in other words.

Entrepreneurs are not most people.

For them, work isn’t all about the money or fantastic benefits. It’s about working on something they have a passion for.

“We’re the only people who work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week,” said Jeff Hall, media specialist at KiLife Tech, which produces child safety wristbands.

Startups are notorious for requiring long hours and even longer commitment from their founders. 50 hour work weeks are considered the norm. 60-70 hour weeks aren’t uncommon. 80 hours or more? Not a surprise to anyone who has started their own business. But maintaining healthy relationships with spouses, children, or even just friends isn’t easy when building a company from the ground up.

KiLife Tech founder Spencer Behrend is married and a father of four, with another one on the way. On top of that, he’s a full-time MBA student at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management. Starting his own business wasn’t just about making money (though he readily admits it’s a large factor), but about being happy with his work.

“I find that I work more now than I ever have, but I’m happier with it,” he said. “If I had to do a corporate job this much and balance work and life, forget it! My marriage would probably be over already.”

Behrend credits his wife with making what he does possible.

“You have to have a spouse who believes in you as much as you believe in what you’re doing,” he said. “You need to bring everyone on board.”

However, getting everyone on board isn’t as much of an issue for some startup founders.
Unlike Behrend, Zack Oates, KiLite Tech’s marketing strategist, doesn’t have a wife or family to coordinate schedules with. Instead, he focuses on committing completely to whatever it is he’s doing at the moment.

“I think the balance comes in by being present,” he said. “When I’m in the hot tub, I’m not worried about the business. When I’m in the business, I’m not worried about the hot tub.”

Beyond that, though, Oates has found planning to be the tool that makes his life doable.

“That’s been my biggest thing: setting plans so I don’t have to worry about it during the day,” he said. “I try to set plans at the end of the day. I will work-work-work until that time. Now, sometimes I’ve had to call dates right beforehand and say, ‘Hey, listen, I’m running too behind. I’m going have to cancel.’ I feel badly about that. But if she’s not the type of person who can’t handle a canceled date because stuff came up, then obviously that’s not my kind of girl. I need to find someone who’s ok with that. Because that’s the story of my life.”

The age-old adage “no plan survives contact with the enemy” could easily be amended to “no plan survives contact with reality.” Meetings fall through, personal matters come up, projects take longer than expected to complete – life happens, in other words. Prioritizing tasks becomes an essential skill in a startup.

Giuseppe Vinci, founder of collegiate statistical analysis startup Volleymetrics (think Moneyball for volleyball), knows this all too well. When he’s not busy being director of volleyball operations at BYU or running his company, he juggles keeping in touch with relatives in his native Italy and girlfriend in California.

“I have two-and-a-half jobs,” he said with a laugh. “I had to learn that I’m human, and sometimes I have to really prioritize.”

To keep up with everything on his plate, Vinci has found technology to be an irreplaceable tool.
“To me, Google Calendar and Google Tasks probably have been the biggest friends I have because I usually forget a lot of things. I look at my schedule and I know what’s coming up,” he said. “It allows me to not worry about what’s coming up next throughout the day.”

McKay Perry, who handles marketing communications at Volleymetrics, believes finding success in balancing life in a startup ultimately comes down to running your own schedule and holding yourself accountable.

“You just have to plan out your time. I think anybody can do a lot of things with their time. It just takes some planning,” he said. “You can’t be one of those people that has to be followed up with. You have to impose deadlines on yourself.”

Young people flock to startups for a very simple reason: the chance to make a difference. It’s a feeling most people don’t get from being a grunt in a large corporation.

As Derik Strauss attended BYU the past few years, he stressed a lot about what he would do and where he would go upon graduation. Now the CEO of job matching startup JobPiper, he believes he’s found what he was looking for.

“I needed to do something that involved a cause that I really believe in,” he said. “I’m waking up every day wanting to do this because I think I’m going to make a difference in the world.”
When it comes to balancing work and life, Strauss doesn’t see a line between his personal life and his startup.

“I don’t see it as separate from my life,” he said. “I see it as very much a part of my life.”
Ryan Harmon, his chief marketing officer for JobPiper, agrees.

“Here’s the truth: there is no balance,” he said. “The key is make it one.”

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About Author

Marty Twelves fell in love with writing once he figured out how to keep his words on the same line. Startups, blogging, and social media are his current obsessions, mostly because there's always something new to grab his attention. He also spends quite a bit of his time helping people figure out what SEO and PPC means for their businesses. He's written for the New York Daily News, but got tired of chasing gossip day after day. Instead, he writes occasionally about technology on his blog, MartyTwelves.com.

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