A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.
In their new book Startup Life, serial entrepreneur and venture investor Brad Feld, along with his wife Amy Batchelor, describe what has, and has not, worked for them during their 22-year relationship. Brad is in the midst of writing a series of startup-oriented books. Startup Life is the follow-up to Startup Communities, which I reviewed HERE.
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I caught up with Brad between promotional events for Startup Life. You can watch our 10-minute discussion below.
Don’t YARB Me Bro
One of the most appealing aspects of Startup Life is that Brad and Amy are not dogmatic. They offer various suggestions from their own lives, as well as vignettes provided by other startup couples, which Brad believes make the book more impactful and balanced. “I’m extraordinarily proud of the people who contributed. We had about 20 people who contributed to the book, and some of the stories, like Jenny Lawton’s and Paul and Renee Berberian’s, were not just heartfelt but incredible in terms of peeling off layers of their own personal experiences that really impacted them.”
When writing Startup Life, Brad noted that he and Amy’s primary goal was to avoid a YARB (Yet Another Relationship Book). Not surprisingly, the book’s overarching theme is that every couple must dedicate time and energy to find the path that works best for them, rather than expecting marital bliss by following a formula laid out in a self-help book.
According to Brad, “We also worked hard to make sure it wasn’t two things. One was we didn’t want it to be a memoir. We wanted it to be something somebody could interpret and make their own, but we believed it needed to be supported with real experiences that we had. And on the other end of that spectrum, we didn’t want it to be a ‘YARB,’ which we refer to as ‘Yet Another Relationship Book.’ You know, the book that you get in the bookstore that says, ‘if you follow these following nine steps you’ll have a perfect relationship and your sex will always be great, and your kids will grow up to be astronauts and presidents.’ Bullshit. It’s not true. It’s a good way to sell books, but it’s not true, and it’s also not that helpful.”
I shared with Brad that I often struggle with how much personal information I share in my public persona. In Startup Life, we learn about monkey sex and Brad’s toilet seat preferences. The intimacy of the book led me to ask Brad if it was difficult to decide what to include in the book and what to leave out. “I am more public than she (Amy) is and she’s always been pretty clear about what the boundary is. We have plenty of awkwardness in public together. In Boulder for example, we’ll be at dinner and people will just come up to us and just start talking to us. That’s kind of the way it goes. We’ve gotten used to it and sort of know how to deal with it… it’s never something where people are doing something that they realize is interfering.
The writing in the book and the boundaries and the context of that were interesting. There were probably a few things that we took out after writing it that Amy or I didn’t feel comfortable with. There was one particular (discussion) around sex that we took out. [LAUGHS]
But, we tried to let it all hang out… I think that was a commitment we made to each other when we started, which was, you know, if this is gonna be real, it has to be real.”
Although the book’s ideal audience is an entrepreneurial couple on the front-end of their relationship, even veteran entrepreneurs can learn something from Startup Life. In particular, I found the following thoughts to be impactful:
“Many entrepreneurs are high functioning introverts.” – Agreed. I generally enjoy professional interactions, but I am a relative recluse in my personal life.
“Pick the place you want to live and build your life around this choice.” – This is a recurring theme in Brad’s previous book, Startup Communities. It is also the advice my wife and I took 20 years ago when we moved to Santa Barbara, despite not knowing anyone in town at that time.
“Money is a tool – know how much is enough.” – In conjunction with this advice, Brad and Amy encourage entrepreneurs to take 10% of a windfall (e.g., the sale of a company or other liquidity event) and spend it on something fun and frivolous. Entrepreneurs who never splurge on themselves risk accumulating wealth that they never take the time to enjoy.
“Share a life philosophy, align your values, align your actions with values.” – One of the primary reasons my wife and I have had a harmonious marriage is our shared values, which have evolved in relative accord over the years.
“Be right or be happy.”– Each partner in an intimate relationship has to carefully select when it is important to be right and when it is more expeditious to be agreeable and not belabor insignificant points of disagreement. In Brad’s words, “In our relationship it’s really simple… I have no need to be right and Amy has a pretty strong need to be right. We both have a need to be happy and so we figured out that if she has a strong need to be right and I don’t, (then she’s right) unless she’s really not right.” [LAUGHS]
“Work on your romance – avoid a minimally viable relationship.” – Everyone who has experienced a fulfilling, long-term relationship knows that happiness is not effortless. Intimate relationships do not last without proactive and consistent care and feeding.
“Practice may not make perfect but it keeps the love alive.” – Striving to make your relationship better does not have to feel like work. “Working on your romance” can be fun and rewarding. For instance, taking the time to experience new things together, be it travel, food or a movie, is a great way to keep your love alive while building a lifetime of shared experiences.
In Startup Life, Brad and Amy describe the rules of their relationship. One such rule is that Brad always answers the phone when Amy calls. Apropos to the spirit of the book, Amy called during our interview. She needed help in the lobby of their hotel, which caused us to wrap up our conversation. Amy’s call serves as a healthy reminder that calls from your significant other should always rise to the top of your To Do list, without hesitation, delay or angst.
I used to believe that any couple that could survive wallpapering a room together is destined for a long marriage. However, as I told Brad, I have now expanded my predictor of a couple’s longevity to include, “couples who write a book together!”
Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I promise I will never Tweet about religion, politics or that killer burrito I just ate.