This is a guest post by entrepreneur Alex Laats
In the early 1990’s, I attended a startup conference, where the speaker emphasized that a large percentage of entrepreneurs end up getting divorced. Forgetting what the rest of the presentation was about, I left with the idea that starting a company had the potential to ruin my marriage.
At the time, I was working for MIT, with dreams of starting a business. By 1996, I was ready to pull the trigger and start a company — but the alarming divorce statistics had left their mark. My wife, Laura, and I had a baby with visions of expanding the family, and an old home with a mortgage requiring extensive repair.
There’s never a perfect time to get married, have a baby, move in to a new home, and start a company. However, the dream of launching a tech startup had overtaken me, and I discussed the idea frequently with my wife. Laura had the patience and tolerance to listen. Shortly before starting my company, she gave me a coffee mug that said, ‘Carpe Diem,’ which changed to ‘Seize the Day’ when hot coffee was poured into the mug. I knew she was on board.
Because of the warnings from the presentation, I knew we had to start the company with the clear knowledge that our marriage would be put at risk, and we needed to be realistic about what it would require from both of us. An incredibly lopsided deal was made: I would work long hours out of the house. Work would come first, and Laura would bear the brunt of the taking care of our home, baby and finances. On top of that, she would continue working because we needed the income. My household responsibilities were minimal and manageable. We called it “The Deal.”
My startup “NBX” was one year old when we learned Laura was pregnant with our second child. When our son was born, it was clear the original arrangement wouldn’t work. There were plenty of moments when we didn’t have answers. We developed a new deal, and we made it work. It was a year later that 3Com bought NBX for $90 million.
This immediately and meaningfully changed our lives — money and personal time were suddenly in the equation. Happiest when working to build an exciting new business with a great team of dynamic and creative people, I immersed myself in another startup. Over the last 10 years, I’ve been involved with four start-ups, three of which were successful.
There have been plenty of rocky times along the way. At one particularly bad moment, I recall telling Laura to shoot me if I got involved with another startup. Thankfully, she understood my frustration but ignored my request.
I recently met a new company with a great business model, super-creative team and profitable growth, and couldn’t turn down the opportunity. It was time for another Deal, but this time it was with Laura, my two teenage boys and middle-school daughter. We’ve worked together to set expectations, and with everyone’s help we’ve found a comfortable balance.
When making these deals, it’s necessary to remember others are making sacrifices for your benefit. It’s important not to forget the little things. As cliché as it sounds, I remember my Dad starting my Mom’s car to warm it up before she headed to work. I make the morning coffee every day for Laura. I’m a bit obsessive about it, I confess.
Even when I’m up and out the door before anyone else is awake, Laura can turn on the coffee and know I’m thinking of her, and I appreciate the fact that she holds it all together.
Alex Laats brings 20 years of experience as a high-tech entrepreneur, business operator and team builder to ZeroTurnaround. Most recently, Alex created three businesses (Boomerang, RAMP, and AVOKE) and acquired one (Digital Force Technologies) while serving as president of BBN Technologies’ Delta Division. BBN is legendary in the geek world for many things including the development of the early Internet nodes and the invention of e-mail. BBN was successfully acquired by Raytheon.
Prior to BBN, Alex co-founded two business, including NBX, which was one of the first successful enterprise VoIP businesses. NBX was successfully acquired by 3Com.
Alex walks a fine line of geek and businessman; all the while still maintaining his title as four square (the schoolyard game) legend in the short-guy, over-40 category.