Bonding through struggle
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In this column, we often talk about the possible damage to relationships at the hands of entrepreneurship: friendships that break over partnership deeds or employment contracts, marriages pushed to the edge by anxiety, and bonds with parents that might fray when young people swap stability for uncertainty.
Yet a senior corporate professional recently told me that the column was being too pessimistic by focusing only on the cracks and fractures brought on by entrepreneurship. A “failed” entrepreneur twice over, he agrees that running a business often tests personal relationships. But the ones that survive the rough and tumble actually emerge stronger than before, he says.
He adds that even if a business venture doesn’t survive, the experience of trying to build something, and sharing that immersive journey with friends and families, can be deeply enriching. It can foster stronger bonds of empathy and purpose.
Twenty-six-year-old Kshitij Garg, founder of Healers At Home, a Delhi-based home healthcare service, set up his business in July 2014 after an 18-month stint at a media company in the Capital.
In the initial months, his social network shrank rapidly. He had not anticipated this. Spontaneous evenings with colleagues don’t happen as easily when you are working alone, says Garg. He found that much of his socializing was limited to attending alumni events.
The glamorous narrative around entrepreneurship made the situation even more challenging—especially in the months before he could raise funds from a clutch of angel investors in August last year. “Those who haven’t been entrepreneurs themselves, or ever worked in a start-up, expect you to report stories of explosive growth and hyper valuations. You tend to be battered by questions and unrealistic expectations,” says Garg.
A low phase around the summer of 2015, when Garg was trying to raise funds and was struggling to hire a good information technology candidate to build his platform, led to a surprising outcome—a renewed and closer bond with his family in Jaipur. “I’m not sure why—whether it was because I wasn’t surrounded by friends that much any more—but I did begin to talk to my parents much more. They got weekly, or even more frequent, updates about the company. They became co-participants in the journey. I barely used to talk to them about my previous media job,” says Garg, whose venture has been on a high over the past few months. The number of customers is growing briskly every month, and he has managed to get industry veterans to invest in his company.
Rohini Singh, a senior corporate banker in Gurgaon who, along with her husband, has invested in a close friend’s start-up, says doing so has made their friendship stronger. There are enough scary stories about the drawbacks of investing in a friend’s firm, and how the dynamic can be messy to manage, but in their case the bonds of affinity have certainly strengthened. Now, instead of just swapping travel stories, restaurant recommendations and arguing over politics, the shared purpose of seeing the start-up flourish has made their conversations richer and the friendship more robust, says Singh.
Another entrepreneur says that the relationships with team members have changed the most in her case. Being a founder has also made her appreciate her former bosses more, she says, adding that till you run your own company, you can never really understand how deeply emotional a good employer-employee relationship can be, especially in the first few years. She now understands why some managers and founders end up taking resignations so personally—almost as a test of loyalty.
While such behaviour might not make the “professional” cut, many founders say their connect with team members in a growing company can be stronger than their bonds of friendship with school and college friends. While these “work” relationships might not always be evident in a founder’s personal world, a kinship based on shared goals and aspirations can run deep.
Success, as they say, has many fathers (and friends). Success at entrepreneurship can be professionally rewarding and personally enriching. Few people on the other side of the founder’s fence realize that just as relationships can tear and stretch when it comes to being a founder, the flip side is often true as well—it can renew bonds and strengthen camaraderie.
Surviving Start-ups focuses on the stories of the people (parents, siblings, spouses and friends) who make up an entrepreneur’s world. The columnist is the spouse of a start-up entrepreneur and draws from real-life experience.