In bed with an entrepreneur

Running a start-up can take over your life, so what effect does that have on a relationship? Katie Derham reviews Start Up Life, a candid memoir about mixing love and work.

by Katie Derham
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

As long as I've known my husband, John Vincent, he's been running his own businesses. We were in our early 20s when we met, and he had a sensible blue-chip job by day and also ran his own events company.

My dates with John took me to many a glamorous ball and party - except I was helping to clear up at 4am, carrying flight cases to the lorries with blokes in Metallica T-shirts called Mo and Pig.

Later, the blue-chip jobs became more serious for both of us, but never a day went by when John didn't have a lightbulb moment, a genius plan that would mean he could run his own show.

Even within his grown-up world of consulting for Bain, he was the start-up guy, the turnaround guy, and ours was a life of late-night phone calls and meetings with excited dreamers.

When he and Henry Dimbleby founded Leon with their friend Allegra McEvedy in 2004, it was an all-consuming team effort. Our home was the happy scene of tastings, focus groups and heated discussions about the name of the company. Boundaries between home life and work life haven't been so much blurred as invisible.

I've never been concerned by this.

People get married for many reasons, but rarely, I hope, for their spouses' ability to compartmentalise their time.

I would much rather John was passionately engaged with what he does, even if he sometimes gets a bit stressed and is incapable of watching an episode of Homeland without checking emails. Which is why I wasn't sure I needed to read a book about how to manage life with my entrepreneurial other half.

But Brad Feld is clearly something of a start-up legend. He seems like a good guy and I suspect if you're in the tech world, he's actually a god.

This is a man who's either created or invested in a string of highly successful internet businesses, making multiple millions along the way, without, it seems, losing too many friends. So I was intrigued to learn what he and his wife, Amy, who has co-written the book, would reveal.

Feld fans: if you want to know how your idol lives, this is the dream read. Amy and Brad get personal. Really personal. We're talking money, fidelity, family, chores, dogwalking, choosing furniture, holidays, food, arguments, timekeeping, you name it.

By opening up about their private life, they're hoping to tackle that thorny issue: great entrepreneurs don't always make great life partners.

It's a brave approach. They've canvassed lots of entrepreneurial friends and colleagues, so the book is full of case studies, but basically this is an extremely candid memoir.

And after I'd stopped squirming with embarrassment about the revelation of pet names and way too much information about their sex life, I found it surprisingly practical.

The book is divided into sections on their philosophy about how they want to live their lives, their values, their experiences, skills, tactics and tools. Then there are chapters on kids, family, illness, money - and how that affects your life.

The relationship advice will be broadly familiar; it's sensible, warmly written and well backed up with examples, but probably summed up as 'don't forget to keep talking to each other'. And while I take my hat off to their romantic efforts, I had to wonder when I would ever find time to have a monthly 'life dinner' with John. To talk about our hopes and aspirations. With love gifts. Really.

But where this book comes into its own is in its honest discussion of the nuts and bolts of living with your own business. What happens if it doesn't work out? How to ensure your identity isn't too wrapped up in the success of your company?

If things go well and you make some money, what do you do with it? Amy and Brad, for example, decided to always splurge 10%. In their case, that used to be a new painting, and has subsequently been cars or houses.

They are incredibly up-front about where they choose to invest their considerable wealth - fascinating stuff. And then there's a revealing discussion on what is 'enough', in other words, what do you need in the bank to allow yourself to slow down - or is it not about the money at all?

Do you both have the same attitude to risk? What's it like if you both work for the company? The answers paint a mixed and realistic picture.

So if you've just started dating an entrepreneur, read this book.

I doubt it will make you change your mind about the object of your desire - but it might explain why he or she can't help taking calls during dinner.

For those of you who have been living with an entrepreneur for years, I bet it will provoke some interesting and useful chats.

In my house there has been one stand-out result. I've banned John from bringing his phone to bed.

- Katie Derham is a broadcaster, journalist and the face of the BBC Proms. John Vincent also leads the government's school food action plan.


Start Up Life: Surviving and thriving in a relationship with an entrepreneur
Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor
Wiley, £17.99

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