They are spouses of entrepreneurs, sometimes parents, working and self-employed and live with an entrepreneur who has a heavy responsibility to carry on a daily basis. How do they live this role behind the mirror? Is it a priesthood or a shared emulation? What is the greatest adventure of their lives? Career or private life? We have dared to give a voice to those who are behind the scenes. Honey, are you listening to me? Sophie, Jean-Philippe, and Luiza have agreed to lift the curtain on what happens in the background, once the laptop is on standby (it’s never off, of course!).
It has often been written that behind every great man is a woman. Today, the opposite is also true, and the role played by these men and women is considerable if we believe their bosses’ halves… Being married to an entrepreneur means tacitly accepting to form the first chain of his or her team. Oftentimes, unofficially.
There are partner duos, iconic like Barack and Michele Obama, studious like Pierre and Marie Curie, “each his own universe” like Djamel Debbouze and Mélissa Theuriau, or sacerdotal like Sam Gamgee and Frodo? In the subject we are dealing with today, the ring is not magic, it is present on each ring finger, and the power is shared!
Many entrepreneurs have become entrepreneurs after a first professional life as a salaried employee. This sometimes implies a change of life that involves the whole family… In most cases, the decision to become an entrepreneur was taken jointly.
Luiza, whose husband is a hyperactive serial entrepreneur, is an exception: “He took it alone. We knew each other at the beginning of his activity. We had very different worlds: he was in marketing and I was in finance. He is a real extrovert, he goes for it while I need to think for a long time.”
Jean-Philippe, an executive in the financial sector has lived through all the stages with her since they have known each other since university. He remembers the impulse to start a business, 4 years ago: “We talked about it but nothing more. One day, she came home and told me she had resigned to start her own business. She made the decision alone. I wasn’t surprised, I was just happy for her.
Sophie, a legal advisor, who met her husband (with whom she now has three young children) ten years ago, married with full knowledge of the situation: “He always wanted to be an entrepreneur and started soon after we met. When he started his media company 7 years ago, I was a salaried lawyer with a stable job. This surely helped the decision, which was made together but initiated by a whim on his part; we went on a hunch because neither he nor I had any examples of entrepreneurs among our relatives.”
When to say stop…?
The main pitfall of the entrepreneur is to do too much. You could look at it this way: running a company means taking it with you like a little wheelbarrow chained to your arms, ready to receive a shovelful of ideas at any time. The principle of a wheelbarrow is to be loaded… Are we really designed to work day and night, Saturdays and Sundays included, even when we can’t take it anymore and those around us say STOP?
Luiza is one of them: “It happens a lot! The company is growing, but for the past two years, with two young children, we haven’t slept… I remind him that he has to slow down the pace because his health and family are the priorities. At the time, he’s the one who doesn’t listen to me, but I know that he takes it into account because he makes an effort.” Sophie doesn’t want to slow her husband down, “on the contrary, I think he sometimes slows himself down! But I share my thoughts with him: sometimes I aim right, sometimes I feel annoyed because he takes my advice as reproaches!”
Never alone in the downside
A company is an evening of champagne, as much as 300 nights of sleeplessness. It’s an unexpected budget that allows you to spend a week in the sun and sometimes a month “blank” where it’s good to be able to count on your spouse’s salary to pay the expenses!
“With two people, we have the choice” says Luiza. “If it’s financially risky, I tell him again that he can rely on me, I try to calm his fears. “When moments of crisis and doubt arrive, the role of the spouse is obviously essential. Soothing, relativizing, restoring motivation are among the tasks voluntarily and spontaneously accomplished by each of our interlocutors in this file.
It’s not easy to stay on course in the face of these changing curves? She was the one with the biggest salary,” explains Jean-Philippe, “we changed our lifestyle for simplicity and we don’t miss it because we concentrate on the essentials. For the moment, I am the one who ensures financial stability. The roller coaster ride never really stops in a startup!” Sophie recalls a frustrating period just before the birth of their second child: “We dreamed of buying a house. But financially it was not the right time for him. We temporarily put this desire aside despite our rapidly growing family (two children in 15 months).”
Family management: the balancing act
For a digital entrepreneur, the question of where to work doesn’t really matter, as long as the web connection is good. Working remotely has become the norm in recent months, which is a bit of a distortion. All of them have experienced the confinement well, despite homeschooling and video calls in the same room! This was proof (if any were needed) that work and private life could finally coexist.
The management of work/life time is however a question of personal organization. Sophie recognizes that she is lucky: “I admire the way he manages to divide his life between his different roles. When he’s a father, he’s 1000% a father. This is important to me because with three young children our daily lives are very busy and I need time for myself.”
If for each of them, taking a vacation is not a problem, to feel on vacation is a lot to ask. All three agree that the other never really picks up the phone… The phone keeps ringing at the beach, at the parents’ house, and even if they make an effort, they can’t completely relax. In everyday life too, living with a boss means living with a brain that never rests! Jean-Philippe enjoys it more than he suffers from it: “sometimes she has moments of absence… We lose her for a while” He shares as many tasks as possible with his wife, but he recognizes that with the status of Agile entrepreneur, she has more flexibility than he does, “especially on Tuesday afternoons, for the children”. Luiza and her husband made a novel decision: “Since we never have dinner together, we decided that the family time of the day was breakfast. Everyone is more relaxed. I take care of all the logistics during the day. He’s the one who takes care of the kids at night.”
The couple: a sanctuary to preserve
The husband or spouse must understand that his or her partner is fulfilling himself or herself on a daily basis in this professional project, and that this time given to the business is not time that is taken away from him or her. Whole personalities can sometimes develop a form of jealousy regarding the time spent “for” the business. Conversely, the entrepreneur’s expectations of his or her partner are often: “be strong, be patient, and remain financially independent. This is probably one of the keys to success for many couples! Luiza is convinced: “Yes, at the beginning I was jealous, when we were a young couple, it could bother me… With the arrival of the children, I don’t have time to think about it anymore! What is certain is that it would not have worked between us if I had not worked. While on parental leave, I enrolled in an MBA to further my career.” For Sophie this is not a problem: “No jealousy (but sometimes envy of his freedom). I am often the one who has to initiate a moment for the two of us, but that doesn’t weigh on me more than that because he is very attentive on a daily basis.”
Jean-Philippe is touchingly patient when he admits that he has to share his wife with a concept: “She is 110% focused on it. I can get her back a little when we spend time together, but she is never really all mine. Yes, I could be jealous of her, but not often, because I have a lot of admiration for what she does.”
Everyone has a lucid awareness that their most beautiful role is that of psychological and emotional support. Everyone agrees that it is useless to add pressure by asking questions. The most complicated thing sometimes is to know how to keep quiet, just be there and listen to them.
The partners are in the know, they know what we don’t tell our colleagues, our friends… A bit of a shrink, a bit of a coach, the touch of tenderness in addition that makes all the difference. Through their testimonies, the passion for entrepreneurship is at the heart of the subject: it justifies every compromise, it sublimates every effort made, it authorizes doubt and gives all its strength to mutual benevolence.
The little phrases that sum it all up
His/Her company for me is…
“An opening to an environment very different from my own, access to exciting profiles and projects from all sectors, the opportunity to have varied and stimulating conversations at home.” – Sophie
“This is our third child! I’m so proud of her, of how far she’s come, and especially that she’s engaged in something that makes sense to her, with real potential to impact people and lives. As a father of two daughters, this model she gives them is important to me.” – Jean-Philippe
“Freedom! I love that we have different worlds which opens up exciting conversations.” – Luiza
How does he/she see me?
“She sees me as the one who assures and calms the impulsiveness of her character. She can count on me. I am the one who motivates her and gives her the necessary distance.” – Jean-Philippe
“I bring her some distance and another point of view, more thoughtful. Thanks to me, he can have peace of mind because I take care of the logistics.” – Luiza
“I am his authentic ally. He’s a go-getter who gets things done, and he has an enormous capacity for work. I’m always coming up with new ideas for two people, but since I’m very cerebral, I tend to procrastinate in order to realize them. When I give him my ideas for his business, he sorts them out and also goes on instinct. I would say that our duo works in this complementary way and reassures him in a way.” – Sophie
This article was first published in Silicon Luxembourg magazine. Read our full Digital Entrepreneurship edition.