I recently had a conversation with somebody I know, and when they learned about what I did, they started to talk about their son, who is an entrepreneur working on his own startup. They started to tell me about their concern for their son, who after two years of hacking code, still did not have a single client, and hadn’t had any income of his own in that time. And then came the pain, they were draining their retirement savings paying for their son’s car, covering his overdrafts, and other expenses to keep him afloat. All the while their son kept telling them if things didn’t change next month, he would “get a job, wife, and mortgage, and settle down.”
Jeff Stibel wrote a wonderful article (blogs.hbr.org/2010/09/entrepreneurship-as-disease/) that frames the response I gave to the person. Entrepreneurship should be viewed as something of a disease for the vast majority of us that take on the challenge. And those that love us should approach it as being similar to a disease or a drug addiction. Offer support and sympathy, be our cheerleader and our voice of reason when we need each, be the emotional rock that we can turn to when the roller coaster of entrepreneurship throws us for a loop, but don’t allow a dependency to develop. Like with drug use, if we’re enabled to continue in unproductive behaviours, the day of reckoning is forestalled, but so is the self-learning and being forced to make productive decisions. I’m not saying a loved one shouldn’t help an entrepreneur financially, but do so with healthy boundaries; only provide an amount that you can afford to with the expectation of 100% loss, place your financial goals in appropriate priority, ask for equity in the company or structure the financial help as corporate debt. Ruining your own future to allow a loved one to take a low hit probability gamble, as entrepreneurship typically is, is the way to breed resentment and hostility in a relationship more certainly as saying, “I love you, and want to support you emotionally, but I don’t think I can give you money right now.” It is our choice; let us find our own way through it.