Editor’s Note: Dan and Gina Schmidt agreed to share their experience of how startup life has changed their relationship and family. This is Gina’s perspective; see Dan’s here. Opinions expressed this commentary are the author’s alone.
A little over six years ago, my husband, Dan, approached me with a business idea.
“Emerging Business CFO. That’s what I would call my business. I think there is a hole in accounting, and I think I could help people by communicating what numbers mean as they are starting and growing a business.”
I didn’t give it a lot of thought and — to be honest — probably didn’t even give a full listen. I had learned in our few years of marriage that to him, talking was sometimes just that — talking. Not to mention I was months away from having our first baby and we didn’t have a concrete plan for a place to live. I wasn’t working full-time either, so the conversation didn’t go far.
Now here we are, and Emerging Business CFO is real. He started a business, providing a valuable, much-needed service.
“Startup life has to be a journey that is ours together. I have to be all in just as much as he is.”
– Gina Schmidt
To say that entrepreneurship and starting this business has not had an impact on our marriage or our family would be a lie. We had three babies and started a new business all within four years. As a family, it’s meant early mornings, late nights, weeknights, weekends, blurred lines between work and home, unstable income from month to month, phone calls at all hours of the day and night, disappointments when prospective clients choose another firm and much more.
We are far from perfect, but in these few years I have learned some lessons that may benefit other spouses out there. Here are four lessons I’ve learned that may help.
Going to some of the events and being involved in planning has changed the way I view the business. I’ve heard about what’s happening in the business from the beginning, but standing in a room with others who are hearing the vision and also sharing it has changed the way I feel about the company. I feel like it’s my thing too — like I have a place.
That really hit home when EBCFO opened the new office in Omaha last year. My main excitement for the grand opening celebration was that it was a rare adults-only trip for Dan and I — promoting the business was probably No. 347 on my “get out the door” to-do list.
Standing in a room full of people, feeling the energy and sharing goals, vision and strategy, I was like, “This is what it’s about. This is why it’s worth it.”
It is not going to be a cookie-cutter, fits-in-a-box kind of life. I like cookie-cutters, clear lines, definition and stability. This has not been our experience, but the flexibility is pretty nice when I give myself the freedom to enjoy it. Although Dan sometimes works a lot of hours, he also is able to make events that would be difficult with a traditional schedule.
The other side of that coin is that setting your own hours does sometimes mean that you need to draw some boundaries or encourage some screen-free evenings or weekends.
When you have a founder in the household, boundaries are what keeps the family going. It’s so easy for Dan — I imagine it’s the same for any driven founder — to become engrossed in his work that he forgets to breathe. I realized that one of my jobs was to remind him that life won’t fall apart if he ignores email for three hours in the evening or if he leaves the laptop at the office overnight. It’s hard, but necessary, for the sake of our family and the business.
Be on the same team.
This has been my greatest place of challenge and growth. I thought that I was doing enough by simply taking on some extra responsibilities with the kids or by fixing a lunch or mowing the lawn.
While those things were probably helpful, what he really needed and still needs from me is to know that I believe in him. To know I am on his team and support him no matter his success or failure. To know I am his greatest advocate and that I am fighting with and for him, not against him.
Buy into the idea.
I’m going to get a little real here. Startup life is a crazy whirlwind, for founders and employees, but oftentimes even more so for family. It feels like there’s so much at stake for our future and family, but it can also sometimes feel like I’m just along for the ride.
I had that epiphany during the open house for Think Big’s new downtown office space. When people asked what I did, I said what I always say: “I’m just Dan’s wife.” I was floored by one response I got back, “Don’t say that. Don’t ever say that.” I was a little taken aback at first, but that brief, two-minute conversation made me understand the gravity and importance of my role. I’m not just along for the ride.
Fully understanding this concept has been a long road, and it still continues. Dan and I have struggled with the challenges of what support means, and there have been long, painful conversations trying to figure it out. I clearly remember one conversation and realizing I had a choice to make. I could hold on to my fears or trust him and move passionately into this endeavor. Support is knowing, really knowing and believing that despite the struggle and worry, I can trust the direction we are headed. Even more, startup life has to be a journey that is ours together. I have to be all in just as much as he is.
It didn’t turn pretty overnight and still requires that conscious choice, but this is a journey that I can now say is ours together. I am all in.
At the end of the day, would I do it again? Absolutely. Every time.
Gina spends her days chasing three small boys while keeping all parts of the Schmidt household running smoothly. In past life, she was an ESL and Mandarin Chinese teacher and spent four years living overseas, which of course looked nothing like entrepreneur life.