In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk through five guidelines for balancing learning and doing. They help define when learning and consuming too much information can actually impede the progression of your business.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy
- The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life
- How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise
Rob [00:00:00]: In this episode of ‘Startups For the Rest of Us’ Mike and I talk through five guidelines for balancing learning and doing. This is ‘Startups For the Rest of Us’, episode 286. Welcome to ‘Startups For the Rest of Us’, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products. Whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike [00:00:27]: And I’m Mike.
Rob [00:00:28]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, sir?
Mike [00:00:32]: Not too much going on. I took a mini vacation last weekend with the family and left around noon or so on Friday. And just got back last night. So I have not been doing very much this past week. Although getting out the door on Friday was a little bit rough because there’s all these things that were happening early in the morning. There were a couple of issues with my build server in the background. And I’m just like ‘Okay, you guys got to handle this.” Some things busted that probably shouldn’t have gone in when they did. But I couldn’t deal with it and I just threw it back at them and said, “You guys need to fix this.” Took them a couple days, but they got through it. That’s good to see
Rob [00:01:06]: Did the team make any progress while you were gone?
Mike [00:01:09]: They did. But I think I had mentioned this last week. One of the developers I have was getting married. He got married on this past Sunday. So he was out of commission. And then the other one was sick this past week. So that’s limited the progress. But there are things that are getting done. It’s just about two-thirds slower than it usually is.
Rob [00:01:26]: Right. And onboarding new early access customers is on your plate, right? So you didn’t get anybody new in the past week?
Mike [00:01:33]: Well I got that on Wednesday and Thursday of last week. I’ve turned people loose a little bit and then, of course, promptly left on vacation.
Rob [00:01:41]: Right. But you’re back in the saddle now?
Mike [00:01:43]: Yes. Things are going well.
Rob [00:01:44]: Cool.
Mike [00:01:45]: How about you?
Rob [00:01:46]: Well I finally pulled the trigger and switched email providers. We had been using just an old Web host—DreamHost. I’ve had an account with them for like a decade, and still use them for some less critical stuff. And for those who aren’t familiar with DreamHost, it’s a big shared host. And they’re massive. And over time a lot of their servers get slower and slower, and since they are so big they just have load balancing issues at times. So what we’d noticed is that over—it’s probably been on and off for like six months, we would see emails taking a while to be delivered to our inboxes. And so someone might reply and instead of getting it in the matter of seconds that you should, it might take an hour or two hours to come through. It was so intermittent though, and we figured a way around it with using POP to check our accounts instead of waiting for them to forward because I guess there’s some throttling going on that Gmail does with forwarding. We had worked around it but in the end, over the past several weeks, there’s been some massive delays within that POP hasn’t fixed. And it was really within the DreamHost servers themselves. Something about the spam filtering was just taking literally hours to run through emails. All that to say, it was just time to move. I’ve resisted it so long because it was quite a pain in the butt. The actual switchover was not a big deal, but I could not find a good email provider. I tried to work with Zoho and I got halfway through setting up all the emails and the domain and all this stuff, and it didn’t have several things we needed and the UI was bad. Google apps, I find to be catastrophically hard to use. It was hours and hours. It was very buggy. I would click save and it would say you saved. And then I would literally go away, come back and it wasn’t saved. And I had to do all [?] work arounds to get it to work. I don’t know of an ideal solution for this. But I do know Google apps has tended to be really solid. And since a lot of use Gmail as the natural client, it seems like the natural fit. But what a time suck that just did nothing for us. I probably, all told, spent 16 hours trying to configure it and then doing the switchover, and having bugs. It probably should have taken four to six. But there were so many rough edges that it is what it is. But I guess I feel good about finally being moved over and everything’s good as of this morning. Cross my fingers that that continues.
Mike [00:03:57]: That’s one of the downsides of all the different mail servers that are out there. There’s no universal mechanism for just saying I’m going to export everything here and import all my settings over to here. Then just toggle a switch and everything switches over. It just doesn’t happen that way. There’s all these little knobs and dials you need to fiddle with and make sure that everything works. And it sucks because you can’t test it quickly either. You have to make a change and then you have to usually wait a little while. And that little while might be as little as 10 or 20 minutes, and then there’s also times where it could take just hours. It sucks.
Rob [00:04:31]: You know one other thing on that email, the bummer is that DreamHost’s administration, the Web based administration of their email accounts is really, really good. The UI is good and they allow you to bulk update stuff. And they allow you to have a bunch of forwarding addresses just in a text area. And it makes it really easy and simple to administer. You see everything on one screen. And I couldn’t find another system that does it the same way. While learning a UI typically isn’t a challenge, when the UI is actually substandard and means you have to do four or five clicks to do what you could do with one click in your existing account, that was really the reason that I hadn’t wanted to switch away. It’s a bummer to take a step down and knowing that anytime I go in to administer it, if there’s multiple clicks with all this front end Java script code running and taking several seconds before the next page loads, it really is a drag that there’s not a better way to do this.
Mike [00:05:20]: So what’s on the schedule for today?
Rob [00:05:21]: Well we put out a call for podcast topics within Founder Café, which is our membership community, and we received a bunch of them a few months ago. And this is one of them. And the question was in essence, how do you balance learning and doing? And so I thought through it and I started pouring out all my thoughts, almost in essay format, which is not conducive to a podcast, right, because you don’t just want to read an essay. But I started seeing that there were these clusters emerging. And so I pulled them out into these distinct guidelines. I have five guidelines that we want to talk through today. I think the first thing that I want to clarify is the question was asked, how do you balance learning and doing, and what you and I realized pretty quickly as we discussed this in preparation for the podcast, is that learning and doing are not opposite things. They’re not mutually exclusive. I think what the person who asked the question was really asking how do you balance consumption, reading books, listening to podcast, learning from classwork, and that kind of stuff, with actual execution. And launching and getting features out the door and talking to customers, and that kind of stuff. How do you balance those because while you’re doing you’re still going to be learning, right? So while we do use the phrase learning a lot in here, what we actually mean is more like book learning or really consumption of material that’s going to educate you. And then doing is the actual execution of that and putting that into play and moving your business forward. And so with that in mind, the first guideline I want to talk about is to remember that learning is the fun part. So for probably everyone listening to this podcast, learning is like a siren song. It’s the fun part that you want to do. It’s the easy part. And the actual doing or the execution is where the rubber meets the road and that’s really hard to do. Especially since these days you can learn via audio when you’re driving, mowing the lawn, you’re doing the dishes, etc. So it feels like a good use of your time. You shouldn’t let that fool you. Learning can easily become a major time suck that masks itself as productivity.
Mike [00:07:13]: And I think that’s a really important thing to keep in mind, just because of the fact that when you are learning you’re going through the process of either reading blogs or you go out and buy an eBook or you listen to a podcast on a particular topic, it’s definitely fun and interesting, but at the same time it doesn’t actually do anything for you. At least not in and of itself. It’s very difficult to measure your progress when you’re sitting there learning stuff because you’re not moving the ball forward on your product, or getting new customers, or anything like that. And it feels like you’re doing stuff. It’s very similar to a lot of the launch activities that we talk about in the past, about getting business cards and a Web site set up, and things like that. None of those things really truly do anything for your business, but it feels like you’re being productive. So it’s very much a trap that you can fall into. And it’s especially true because of the fact that many of us are driven to learn new things and do new things. That’s what most people find enjoyable about being an entrepreneur. You get to learn and do new things. And it can be very much a distraction if you’re not careful.
Rob [00:08:15]: And I think we both say this, not as people speaking down from Mount Olympus who never fall into this trap. I think I say it as a person who falls into this trap way too much. And overconsumes and overlearns, and I have to remind myself to step back and focus on what is it that I’m trying to accomplish with this learning. And that actually brings us into the second guideline, which is to embrace ‘just in time learning’. Jeremy Frandsen, from the Internet Business Mastery podcast, has this phrase that he uses. And he calls it ‘just in time learning’. And in essence it means pick the task at hand. So if you’re running a marketing experiment and you want to try Facebook ads, then go out and learn everything you can about Facebook ads and run it. But don’t learn about those back when you’re still trying to generate an idea or to validate and idea, unless you really need Facebook ads to do it. And so live by this. Embrace ‘just in time learning’ because it is the way to keep your mind from filling up with all this information that A, clogs your mind, confuses you, distracts you, but it also fills it up with stuff that may or may not be valid in six or 12 months. By the time you get to the point where you do need to learn SEO or where you do need to find product market fit, or whatever, all of this advice is not evergreen. A lot of this changes fairly frequently. And the stuff that I think about in terms of the cutting edge learning, I think it’s good for between six and 18 months as a rule. And after that, things will often just be different enough that anything you learned before that, you’re either going to have to learn by experience or you’re going to have to relearn it from someone else.
Mike [00:09:48]: It’s not like when you go back to mathematical equations that you’re learning in college or even high school, where those things, you learn them once and they will never change. The reality is that when you’re sitting there and you’re working on stuff, you deal with so many different things that they will change often enough that it will bite you and you have to go back and relearn them. It’s certainly not that you have to learn them from scratch. But they, as Rob said, they’re different enough that it makes you sit down and dedicate additional time to it. So getting to the point where you know 95% of all the different things about a particular topic, it almost doesn’t matter. And the fact of the matter is that most of those things that you do learn, the practice of those things and the execution is a little bit different than what you’re going to read about. In terms of Facebook ads, for example, you can learn a lot about Facebook ads and general practices, and how to structure and arrange things, but the reality is once you sit down and do them, you’re going to find that there are things that are different enough for your particular business that you need to make some adjustments. So you can do all the learning you want from a book or from a blog or a podcast, and the reality of your product itself is going to be different enough that you need to make those adjustment. Those books are just simply not going to take that into account.
Rob [00:11:00]: And an aside here to compliment this ‘just in time learning’ idea, specifically for you, listening to this podcast, if you’re launching products, it actually depends on whether you’re prelaunch or post launch what you need to be learning about. So if you’re prelaunch what do you need to know? Well there’s kind of a nice little sequence of events that needs to happen. You need to generate an idea, you need to validate the idea. You need to build the product or architect the service if you’re going to do more of a product type service. And then you probably need to start learning marketing. Maybe one or two channels at the most to generate that interest list. And you need to be talking to customers in advance. So those things, in that order, that’s the framework that I used for prelaunch. And then post launch, I think about it as finding enough customers in the space to get feedback. And you do that via maybe one or two marketing channels at most. And you do it with a lot of hustle and by talking to a lot of people. And then you’re going to need to find product market fit based on their feedback. And then that means build something people want. If you’re not a fan or the product market fit terminology or don’t know what it is, it just means you build something that people are really willing to pay for and are willing to stick around if you’re a subscription service. And then, after that is marketing and growth. I feel like everybody focuses on the marketing and growth piece, but it’s like the sixth, seventh, eighth step down the line. And I think take this ‘just in time learning’ to think about focusing on this learning step that you’re at. And really focus on the people talking about that, giving advice on that that’s fairly current, the current market conditions, and devour that. And then execute. Change it up and execute. I mean there’s a recent example I have where I’ve had to do some negotiations. A couple different instances. And I am not trained in that. I don’t have a ton of knowledge in it or experience. I mean there’s all the trite advice people give you. Don’t name the first number, and always do this and do that. But I really wanted to dive into it. So I got two separate audiobooks on it that were highly recommended. And there’s podcasts about a similar topic and I went through and I listened. I took a bunch of notes and I thought through, and then I made real action notes that weren’t just the notes from the thing but it actually related to the specifics of the situations that I was in. And then I looked at those and then I dove in. So that was an example. I didn’t learn negotiating five years ago. And if I had I probably would have forgotten it, might have been out of date. But the fact that I’ve done that just recently has helped keep it fresh and it’s something I’ll know for the time being that I can refresh in the future.
Mike [00:13:16]: And what you’re really doing here is you’re optimizing both for your time and for your performance. Because if you sit down and you are just about to do, as Rob said, for example, negotiation, then you sit down, you read about it and you learn as much as you possibly can, and then you put it into use. Versus if you did it five years ago or you studied up on it. Even in just 12 months ago, you will have had a lot of things that have happened between then and now, and you’re going to forget a lot of those things. So you’re still going to have to go back and brush up on it. And if you didn’t use it back then because it wasn’t necessarily a need, then essentially what you’ve done is you’ve spent a lot of time learning something that maybe you get your skills to 80 or 90%, and then over the course of the next 12 months they taper off and you’ll have to relearn a bunch of stuff. You’ll have to refresh your memory. And it’s simply not a good use of your time. And then, in addition to that, the fact of the matter is that when you go through that your skills are going to get rusty because you haven’t put them to use over that time. So those are essentially two different things that are in play at the same time. You are optimizing not just for your time, but also for your performance in performing whatever that activity is that you’re learning about.
Rob [00:14:23]: And the third guideline is that learning will only get you halfway. That basically, at some point, you have to execute in order to A, actually get anything done. And B, get the full amount of learning. And halfway is an estimate. It’s not exactly 50%. Maybe it’s 40, maybe it’s 65 or 70. But it will only get you part of the way there. What you have to realize is that learning is the easy part, it keeps you in your basement or in the nice comfort of just consuming information. Fires those parts of the brain that probably makes you feel like you’re doing something. But once you start executing you’re going to crash and burn, you’re going to make mistakes. And you’re going to learn more in a couple weeks that you can in months and months of sitting there and consuming material.
Mike [00:15:02]: I think it’s really easy to fall into the trap of trying to consume as much information as you possible can to the point that you’re overconsuming and you’re not putting it into practice. And I know that historically, the reason that I’ve done that is because I didn’t want to make mistakes. So I felt like if I learned more than I would not make certain mistakes. Oh if I had only read that particular book, or if I had only seen that blog post and read it before I got this started, then I would have not made this mistake over here or that mistake over there. But the problem with that line of thinking is that there’s no line in the sand or guideline that says, oh, if you consume all of these things you won’t make that mistake. It’s very easy to forget some of those things or to only realize after you’ve made the mistakes that that particular lesson was going to be applicable to you. So just the fact that you’re sitting there learning, it can be very difficult and frustrating to dive into it when you don’t necessarily feel like you’re ready. I think that, myself included in this, a lot of people just don’t like to make mistakes. So you feel like if you’re going to learn more then you won’t make those mistakes. And I would say that that’s probably not always the case. In fact, it’s probably rarely the case that you’re going to learn enough to make no mistakes.
Rob [00:16:14]: Another thing to keep in mind with this one, tying back into bootstrapping a product, is that realize that learning will be different depending on the phase of your product. So learning’s going to get you halfway and it’s actually going to be a lot harder in the early days, unfortunately. And the reason is because when you haven’t yet built something people want, so you’re pre product market fit, there’s a lot of art, there’s a lot of mistakes, there’s a lot of flailing around, and there’s not nearly as much concrete advice for these steps because there really isn’t a path to finding it. As much as [?] startup, try to lay out a framework, it’s so much trial and error, and even people who’ve done it multiple times, meaning found product market fit and actually started to scale an app, really don’t have the exact formula for it because there just can’t be one. There’s so much trial and error. Which means that consuming more about it isn’t actually going to get you any closer to it. You just have to get to the trial and error. And this is interesting to think about. Back to the negotiation stuff that I was learning about, once I had listened to an audiobook and a half on it, I started to see a lot of overlap. And I actually had a third audiobook that I got, which was too much. And as soon as I started listening I realized I am overconsuming and I am hearing the same things. And I’m being overwhelmed with information. Which of these frameworks and paths should I use because now I’ve heard three different ones? And that’s where you need to step back and say, “Wow, I’ve made it halfway. I’ve made it to pretty much the extent of what I’m going to learn. I’m starting to see diminishing returns from that learning. Now I have to basically stop doing this, and I need to sack up and really kind of get out there and make some mistakes.” I got to be honest, I feel like it’s so much easier to learn about specific tactics after you have product market fit. Because this is where you have to line up marketing tactics, you experiment, you double down on what works. And that’s really the fun part. And there’s a ton of information out there about it. And it’s just so much more of a methodical approach. I won’t say it’s easy. I won’t say it’s fun for everyone. But it is a lot more well-defined than trying to learn before product market fit. And I think people spend too much time trying to get all their ducks in a row in that phase when, I’ll say, it’s impossible to do that at that point because there just is so much art involved in getting to product market fit. And the fourth guideline is to consciously cap your consumption. So keeping in mind this ‘just in time learning’ concept, if you’re focused on a problem, like validating an idea, I typically focus all of my efforts on learning as much as I can about that. I spend a few days. Sometimes up to one to two weeks. Then you have to stop and you have to execute.
Mike [00:18:40]: To me, this is really hard to do sometimes just because there’s so much that you can learn. And some of it’s going to be applicable to where you are right now. And some of it’s going to be applicable to you after you get to a certain point. So back to Rob’s point about the last one, about finding the product market fit for your product, some of the marketing and stuff that you learn and implement is going to be before you get to that point, and some of it’s going to be afterwards. And a lot of the learning is, I’ll say, somewhat generalized. Some of it is going to be applicable before you get the product market fit, and some’s applicable afterwards. And it’s not always clear when you’re learning it which is which. So, sometimes you have to tendency to overlearn because you think that it might be applicable, and it’s simply not. Consciously capping your consumption is a really wise idea because it allows you to learn enough, especially at a cursory level, so that you can start to recognize some of the patterns. And if you find that you are at a point where you’re implementing something and you realize hey, I actually haven’t learned enough to be able to implement this, you can always go back and learn more. You don’t have to continue plodding forward knowing that you’re going to be making these huge mistakes that maybe if you just learned a few more things then it would be better executed. You can always go back and learn more. But you can’t get back that time if you are learning things that are simply not applicable. So make sure that you’re putting a cap on your time that you’re spending on consuming this information. And I’ll be honest, I’m terrible at this. I have a hard time sitting down and scoping out I’m only going to spend X number of hours or days or weeks trying to learn how to do this. And it’s just difficult to do. And it’s partly because some of it’s time management and some of it’s also the fact that it feels nice to learn some of these things and to be able to talk to other people about it. But it’s simply not always relevant to you. So make sure that you’re capping that time so that you are optimizing for the things that you’re doing.
Rob [00:20:34]: And my fifth guideline for balancing learning and doing is to balance learning with inspiration. I feel like you need to strike a balance between these two things. You can only learn and focus on so many things at once. And so if you’re really focused on getting idea validation or whatever, when you stop learning, if you still want to consume things, you can turn your heads towards inspirational content. As an example, recently I’ve listened to a book called “Song Machine” that is about the hit factory that’s developed over the past 20, 30 years, of how all of our pop songs don’t tend to be written by the artist. They’re actually written by these factories. It’s this group of people that are manufacturing hits. There’s this great book called ;We Don’t Need Roads,” about the making of “Back to the Future,” that’s just really well told. “How Star Wars Conquered the Universe,” is a book I’ve read a few times. “The Snowball,” which is the biography of Warren Buffett. “Masters of Doom,” I’ve mentioned. They border that line between really inspiration and just kind of fun listening. They’re really isn’t a ton of this hardcore learning. You’re not learning tactics from these. And I really believe in this idea of getting more motivation, or this extradisciplinary learning that I think you need to get from broader sources. It’s not going to help you directly, but A, it takes your mind off of this focused problem, and it allows you to not get oversaturated with different ideas and confuse you. But it also provides inspiration. It can kill time if you really want to listen to audiobooks, podcasts in the car or while you’re doing the dishes or whatever. I tend to switch over to this once I’m oversaturated on a certain topic and I don’t want to get any more content in my mind. And the other bonus is it often gets me thinking about my business in a way that I normally would not consider. Hearing “Snowball,” hearing “Masters of Doom,” even hearing “How Star Wars Conquered the Universe,” it’s extradisciplinary. So it gets your juices flowing. And I find that little ideas and thoughts will sometimes resurface themselves later on that tie into that experience, that will help me in my business in ways that I couldn’t possibly have predicted.
Mike [00:22:28]: I think this is more of a focus on trying to figure out what sorts of things are going to help you without knowing what questions to ask. Let’s say that you have gotten product market fit and you’re trying to figure out what ways you can grow, you can certainly say, “Well, I’m going to do some paid advertising,” and you dig in and you learn about paid advertising. But what Rob’s really talking about here is that you are learning about lots of other things that are generally applicable to business versus solving a particular problem. So when you start doing that you’re able to get a wider view. And it’s much shallower, but it’s a wider view of business in general, and how different people have gone around solving different problems that they have encountered. And all it does is it gives you that hook that you can use later on in order to come back to later. For example, for “Masters of Doom,” or “The Snowball,” there’s a bunch of different data points that are in there, that if you were to go through and read those books, you’re probably going to remember bits and pieces but you’re not going to remember everything. And that’s not the point. The point is to anchor your brain to certain things where if you’re working on a problem later on in your business, if you remember that oh, I remember reading about this. Where did I read about it? And you can go back into maybe Amazon if you buy all of your books through there or through iTunes and their bookstore there. The point is to be able to go back and use those hooks to figure out where did I hear about that and where can I learn more about it? Versus I have this very ultra-specific problem that I need to solve right now. And that’s a very easy issue to deal with, it’s much more difficult when you don’t have that broad base of knowledge. And this is about enhancing your broad base of knowledge.
Rob [00:24:07]: And there’s a caveat to all this. You can’t just wander off into inspiration land when you only have five, 10, 15 hours a week to work on your product and you’re trying to get to launch. That’s where you have to be disciplined about getting work done and not using inspiration as a crutch or a feeling of productivity. Because it’s really not. If you only have those few hours then you have to focus on that problem at hand and just taking the next step towards getting your product out the door or growing it, depending on the phase you’re at. Mike [00:24:36]: So to recap, the five guidelines are, number one, remember that learning is the fun part. Number two, embrace ‘just in time learning’. Number three, remember that learning will only get you halfway. Number four, consciously cap your consumption. And number five, balance your learning with inspiration. If you have a question for us you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690. Or you can email it to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control,” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups. And visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks you listening and we’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Sherry Walling and Ali Taber discuss what it’s like being married to a founder and share their experiences on how they balance work and family life.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Sherry [00:00:22]: In this episode of “Startups for the Rest of Us,” Ali Taber and I discuss what it’s like to be married to a founder. This is “Startups for the Rest of Us,” episode 230, the five-year anniversary edition.
Welcome to “Startups for the Rest of Us,” the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Sherry.
Ali [00:00:34]: And I’m Ali.
Sherry [00:00:35]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we and our husbands have made. So, what’s the word this week, Ali?
Ali [00:00:44]: Well, my name is Ali Taber, and I’m married to Mr. Mike Taber, and I am currently a group exercise fitness instructor, a personal trainer, and a small fitness studio owner. And we have two boys, six and-a-half and eight, and Mike and I just celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary in October.
Sherry [00:01:08]: Woo-hoo. Congratulations.
Ali [00:01:09]: Yeah. Yeah, we made it ten years. Whoo. A decade.
Sherry [00:01:11]: Double digits.
Ali [00:01:13]: Yeah.
Sherry [00:01:15]: And I am Sherry Walling. I am married to Mr. Rob Walling. I’m a clinical psychologist, and I have a private practice and teach. I’m at a couple of different graduate-level programs. I’m the mother of two sons as well, and Rob and I are coming up on our fifteenth anniversary in about a month.
Ali [00:01:38]: Wow.
Sherry [00:01:39]: I think –
Ali [00:01:39]: Congratulations.
Sherry [00:01:40]: – hopefully, he listens to this, and it reminds him to begin shopping now.
Ali [00:02:01]: MicroConf Europe has been in October the last two years, and he was looking at dates or whatever, and he’s like, “How about this weekend,” and I’m like, “You know that’s our anniversary weekend, right?” And he’s got that look like, “Oh, right. Right. Ten years. Okay. So, looking for different dates now.”
Sherry [00:02:06]: I’m surprised he just didn’t roll over and say, “But I’m giving you a trip to Europe”
Ali [00:02:12]: Yeah. I’ve never been to a MicroConf, and that is something I hope to remedy soon, but we shall see.
Sherry [00:02:20]: Yeah. What’s the story with that? I wasn’t quite sure I really believed that Mike was married.
Ali [00:02:26]: It just doesn’t seem to work out with our schedules and with the kids’ schedules, and we don’t really have family nearby. His parents are in Upstate New York, and my mom’s not that far way, but she works full-time, still. It’s either been a scheduling conflict or a “I really can’t afford to fly the whole family to Europe for a week,” or whatever, “or two weeks,” or what have you. And there’s always a huge time difference. I mean even the Vegas, it’s a three-hour time –
Sherry [00:03:00]: Yeah, it’s a –
Ali [00:03:00]: – difference for us.
Sherry [00:03:01]: – pretty big disruption with your family.
Ali [00:03:03]: Yeah, and it’s a ten-hour travel. Between the connecting flights and the time difference, it just never really has seemed to work out.
Sherry [00:03:11]: Well, maybe someday.
Ali [00:03:30]: Someday. I’m hoping someday. He really wants me to come. He was really disappointed a few years ago, and he was like, “I want you to come.” And I’m like, “What am I supposed to do with the kids?” It’s just like leave them with a cell phone and say, “Call us if you need anything. We’ll be back in three days.” It doesn’t really work that way when they’re four and five. They’re older now, so it’s a little bit easier. But someday.
Sherry [00:03:33]: I bet they’d have a lot of fun in Vegas.
Ali [00:04:01]: We were trying to do it this year. We talked about bringing both of the kids out to Vegas and making it a family vacation, trying to do it the week of spring break so I wouldn’t have to get the phone call from the principal like, “Hey, you know you’re not supposed to take your kids out for vacation other than school vacation weeks.” But so much goes into booking the hotel and which hotel they can get and which week they can get, and nothing seemed to match up in our favor. So, that was kind of a bummer. Whatever.
Sherry [00:04:009]: Yeah, there should be some perks. Since you’re the wife, you should be able to schedule MicroConf around your schedule, but it doesn’t really work that way. Does it?
Ali [00:04:11]: Yeah, it doesn’t really work that way.
Sherry [00:04:12]: We’re not that powerful.
Ali [00:04:19]: No. No. I’m like, “Just schedule it this week.” He’s like, “It doesn’t work that way.” Why not? It should.
Sherry [00:04:19]: Make it work.
Ali [00:04:25]: Make it work. Tell those Vegas hotel people they need to make this work because you have an angry wife.
Sherry [00:04:50]: That’s sort of a nice commentary on what it’s like to be married to a founder, though. In a sense, you’re married to somebody who has a lot of autonomy and flexibility in their life, but it doesn’t always translate to being that simple and easy once you add in the other dynamics of family and other commitments that you have.
What have you enjoyed about being married to a founder, or, to Mike, specifically?
Ali [00:05:42]: Well, I never probably would’ve started my own fitness studio if Mike wasn’t involved in being a founder and being an entrepreneur and starting his own business and coming up with product ideas. He really kind of gave me that confidence to do it, not to be afraid of failure, because I never wanted to be a business owner. I never thought I was going to be a business owner. It wasn’t something like, “Yeah, I want to own my own business someday.” I was like, “No. I don’t want to own my own business.” Both sides of my family had had family businesses, and I’m just like, “Ugh. I’ve seen what that looks like, and I don’t want anything to do with it. I want to show up to work. I want to do my job. I want to get my paycheck, and I want to go home and leave office at the office.” And that was fine when I was a graphic designer. That’s what I did before motherhood. I was a graphic designer, and I had a career before graphic design, too. I’m on my third career.
Sherry [00:05:44]: You’re more advanced than the rest of us.
Ali [00:05:53]: Well, I don’t know about that. Some people would call it being fickle. I don’t know. Life keeps changing, so I keep trying to change with life, I guess, and my interests.
Sherry [00:05:58]: Well, you’re sort of a serial founder, too, in that way. You’re founding different careers.
Ali [00:06:04]: I guess. Yeah, I guess that’s one way to look at it. My student loans don’t really look at it that way; but, you know. Whatever.
Sherry [00:06:21]: Well, I think you were talking about how the fact that Mike is a founder and has started a number of different things has made it more easy, or has allowed you to be more supported in your ability to start your own studio.
Ali [00:06:50]: Yeah, absolutely, because I know if I ever have any questions, and even though it’s so different than what he does in that it’s a brick-and-mortar, and I’m dealing directly with customers as opposed to developing a product that’s going to be sold to a business. So, the dynamic is a little bit different, but a lot of the same kind of marketing applies, and the time that you have to put into building a business is all relevant.
Sherry [00:07:02]: Yeah. I mean he sort of understands the process of making something and being the one who is holding all the pieces together. And so it’s helpful to have him as a partner in that, I would imagine.
Ali [00:07:06]: Yeah, it’s been really good to have him on my side. That’s for sure.
Sherry [00:08:04]: I think we’ve kind of experienced that in our family. And I think me, personally, like you, I’ve done some career shifting and started as a traditional, tenure-track professor and just really didn’t like it. I think it was because Rob had had a couple of really great jobs. High-paying, really fabulous jobs, that he left simply because he really just didn’t like them. I know that sounds sort of obvious, like, “Oh, you don’t like your job? Leave it.” But when you get a Ph.D. and do all of this work and plan to be a professor, it was a really big shift and really hard to make that decision. But because I had seen someone else do it, someone else walk away from something that on paper looks good, but in reality it wasn’t right for Rob, and in this case wasn’t right for me, it made it less scary to take that leap into a less traditional job structure. And I think we’ve –
Ali [00:08:05]: Yes.
Sherry [00:08:31]: – seen it with our kids, too. Once you step off that 9-to-5, someone-else-pays-your-paycheck path, all number of things become possible when you’re more flexible. And so we’ve done some different things educationally with our kids, and I think it’s really affected the way that we’ve structured our family, including taking them out of school for a month to go to Thailand last year.
Ali [00:08:34]: Right, yeah. Were you guys homeschooling then? I know you were doing that for a while.
Sherry [00:08:42]: We homeschooled for two years, and now, actually, my oldest son returned to traditional school. And my youngest son is going to kinder next year. He’s only four.
Ali [00:08:43]: Ah.
Sherry [00:09:13]: No, he was in school, and we just made an independent study arrangement. We kind of said, “We have these tickets, and we’re going. So, if you want him to be a student, we’ll have him do his homework.” We apologized. We didn’t ask permission. We just did it.
So, how do you two work out taking care of kids and both running very separate businesses? And Mike, he’s no longer consulting, but he was for a long time consulting and traveling a lot, right?
Ali [00:10:00]: Yes, he was. That was really tough. I didn’t really do much professionally when he was traveling a lot simply because I couldn’t with the type of business that I was in, where I had to be present for classes, or present for clients. It was really hard. He basically traveled, and I did the family stuff. I was basically a stay-at-home mom. I did all the cooking, all the cleaning, all the laundry, all the stuff that made it possible for him to just get on a plane Sunday night, be in a different city, fly home Friday night and then be home for a day and-a-half and then get on a plane. I mean there were months that it was back-to-back weeks of traveling, and he saw the kids a day and-a-half before he was back out on the road. It was really, really tough. So, I’m really –
Sherry [00:10:01]: Wow.
Ali [00:10:13]: – glad that he’s not traveling anymore. And it’s really allowed me to start to work more outside the home and develop a business for myself and for us as a family, too.
Sherry [00:10:20]: Yeah. Of the ten years that you-all have been married, how many years was he traveling like that, keeping that kind of schedule?
Ali [00:10:27]: He started traveling right after I got pregnant with Luke, and Luke’s just turned eight. So –
Sherry [00:10:28]: Wow.
Ali [00:10:42]: – I mean it wasn’t always back-to-back like that. And there were definitely some years where his travel was less than years. There was at least one year where he was gone 42 weeks of 52.
Sherry [00:10:43]: Whoa.
Ali [00:10:43]: Yeah, he was travelling. Yeah.
Sherry [00:10:56]: [For] him [to] make the transition from doing side businesses to making those his primary vocation sounds like it’s probably a game changer for your family.
Ali [00:10:58]: Moving away from the consulting and doing –
Sherry [00:11:03]: Yeah, where he’s making money and has products out at Shark and those kinds of things.
Ali [00:11:32]: – yeah, it’s really changed how our family dynamic is. He’s home. He sees the kids. We’re all more involved in each other’s lives now as opposed to being a weekend parent. It’s been a huge shift for him, too, because there’s so much more he’s involved with. He’s like, “Homework? What’s homework? I don’t know what these kids have to do for homework.” I’m like, “It’s this, this, this, this and this.” And he’s like, “How do you know all this stuff?” I’m like, “Well, I’ve been doing it forever.” So, that’s been a huge shift for him, having to be more involved as well.
Sherry [00:11:36]: It sounds like a lot of the dynamics have probably changed with that transition.
Ali [00:11:38]: Yeah, it has, but in a good way.
Sherry [00:11:42]: Yeah, and it’s allowed you to have the time and support to start your own business. Are you enjoying that?
Ali [00:12:17]: I am enjoying it. It’s been a little scary, but also really rewarding just to see progress in clients and having them tell you, “You’ve completely changed my life.” “You’ve saved my life.” I had a client who, he was on his way to a grave: high blood pressure, high cholesterol. He’s off all his meds. He’s perfectly healthy now. I was like, “See? Diet and exercise. Pretty amazing stuff.” So, just seeing that transformation for people, being able to work with them more one-on-one and being a part of that has been really amazing.
Sherry [00:12:20]: That’s great. It sounds like it’s really rewarding.
Ali [00:12:24]: It is really rewarding. It’s exhausting, too, because they can also be very needy.
Sherry [00:12:26]: Yes. Yes.
Ali [00:12:49]: “Should I eat this?” “Should I not eat this?” “What do I do with this?” “How do I do this?” But it’s good. It’s really good. And then just figuring out how to make the studio run, how to get the schedules. Do I need to bring in more instructors to help me with all of this? What can I outsource? What do I need to do myself? How do I market this? Mike’s been really helpful with giving me some ideas about how to really grow the business.
Sherry [00:13:12]: It sounds like there’s a lot of parallel process, though, in that scAling-up process that I know that Mike and Rob talk about a lot. Like, how do you decide when to hire contractors? How do you decide when you need more employees? And the pros and cons of that, and then, of course, marketing is a big conversation always. Sounds like you and Mike probably have a lot to talk about at night after the kids go to bed.
Ali [00:13:48]: Yes. Yes, we do bounce ideas off each other. He’ll help me with stuff. He’s been writing this book, too, and he needed to get the cover done. And he got it back, and I’m just like, “Do you want me to just get this done for you so you can be done,” and was able to just whip out my graphic design skills from my back pocket, from my previous life. And we stayed up one night after the kids went to bed and got that out the door. And I’m sure you and Rob go through this, too. You really have to work not just as a partnership in your marriage, but there’s a partnership with your businesses, too.
Sherry [00:13:50]: Sure, yeah.
Ali [00:13:52]: You’ve spoke at MicroConf, right?
Sherry [00:14:30]: Yeah. Yeah, and we’re doing a podcast together now called “Zen Founder,” where we talk about actually a lot of the things that you and I are talking about today, kind of work-life balance issues and mental health, managing anxiety, all of the kind of human side of doing a startup. And so that has actually been really fun for he and I to join forces and work together in a more formal way. Our fields, of course, are very different. Although we certainly have a lot of things in common. We both supervise people, manage people. So, no, there’s a lot that we talk about that’s sort of overlapping in our two work lives, but to be able to really do something together is really fun.
Ali [00:14:35] And so how do you guys balance the family and the professional life?
Sherry [00:14:44]: It’s like playing Tetris. It’s like figuring out where all of those little boxes can go and find a little spot.
Ali [00:14:46]: Like Google Calendar on crack, right?
Sherry [00:14:48]: Exactly what it is.
Ali [00:14:55]: Who’s in charge of this? Yeah, and everything’s color-coded, and “You’re picking up, and you’re dropping off.” “And here’s the bus.” And, “Who’s making dinner tonight?”
Sherry [00:14:57]: Right. No, it is –
Ali [00:14:58]: [Crosstalk].
Sherry [00:15:38]: – very much like that. Yes, and we have this Sunday night meeting. We work on our Tetris board. We just figure out who’s going where and what help we need and what babysitters need to come when and where. Some weeks, it’s kind of crazy, like we’re both going 18 different places in a day. But it’s another way, though, that’s fun to be partners because we’re both pretty invested in the well-being of our kids, and we’re invested in each other. And so we just figure out as best we can to make sure that everybody’s getting what they need at a given day. And sometimes that’s really challenging, but mostly we problem-solve together.
Ali [00:15:41]: I like your idea about the Sunday meetings. I’m going to write that down.
Sherry [00:15:41]: Yeah.
Ali [00:15:45]: “Have Sunday meeting.” “Need Sunday meeting.”
Sherry [00:15:47]: That’s when the Google Calendar magic happens.
Ali [00:16:09]: Yeah. Usually, I just slap stuff on there and share it with him. But he doesn’t always see it, and sometimes it doesn’t always sync up. I’m like, “I put it on the calendar.” And he’s like, “Well, it’s not on my calendar,” and then that’s a whole other, like, when technology fails you. And then you’re yelling at your spouse, because it was on the calendar but they didn’t see it because it didn’t sync right, or whatever. So, it’s good to have an actual face-to-face meeting –
Sherry [00:16:10]: Totally, especially in –
Ali [00:16:12]: – to work that stuff out.
Sherry [00:16:24] – highly technology dependent families. I think if Google Calendar somehow went away, I would just wander around in circles, really unsure of where I was supposed to be and what was going on.
Ali [00:16:27]: I’d cry. I’d just be like, “I don’t know what to do.”
Sherry [00:16:28]: “I’m lost.”
Ali [00:16:34]: “I don’t have my list of my appointments and what I’m supposed to do right now.” Oh, man.
Sherry [00:16:53]: I guess since this is the five-year anniversary episode of “Startups for the Rest of Us,” maybe we could do a little bit of reflecting back about what the last five years have looked like. One thing that Mike has talked about at MicroConf and in a couple of other places is that he’s had some pretty significant health issues over the past couple of years.
Ali [00:17:57]: Yeah, he has. He’s had back issues since I met him in 2001. That’s always been an ongoing issue with him. And then more recently was his low testosterone diagnosis, which was the most recent health issue, which actually was kind of trying for both of us because he just wasn’t himself, and he didn’t know what was going on with him. He didn’t feel right, but he didn’t know what was wrong. So, I think he really struggled. He was really unmotivated, and a lot of the symptoms of depression are similar to those for low testosterone. So, I think he tried to do a lot of things to get him out of this, quote, unquote, “funk,” and none of it was working, and it was really stressful on our marriage. And when he finally went to see the doctor, the first thing she did was treat him for depression, like, “All right. I’m going to put you on antidepressants.” You know, they give you that mental health questionnaire when you go see your general practitioner. I don’t need to tell you. You know what they are.
Sherry [00:18:09]: Yeah, yeah. “Do you ever feel listless? No motivation? Tired? Like you have no appetite, or to much appetite?” Yeah. So, there was some screening, and he just marked them all because that’s what he was experiencing, but it wasn’t depression.
Ali [00:18:27]: Right. So, big, red flags when you mark “yes” to everything on there. So, she put him on antidepressants, and he took them for a while. And then he was just like, “These aren’t helping. I’m not depressed.” Of course, he just took himself off of them, which that’s another thing. You can’t just take yourself off that stuff. You need to go see your doctor. People do that kind of stuff. That must drive you [crosstalk] –
Sherry [00:18:29]: I don’t prescribe medicine, no.
Ali [00:18:29]: – okay.
Sherry [00:18:40]: No. But I work in a pretty integrated clinic, so I work very closely with psychiatrists. So, I have those same conversations with people about like, “Oh, you can’t just stop your medicine. You have to” –
Ali [00:18:40]: Yeah.
Sherry [00:18:43]: – “talk to us first. You’ll get sick.”
Ali [00:18:47]: Right. Yeah, you can’t just stop taking it. You’re supposed to wean yourself down and this and that.
Sherry [00:18:47]: Yeah.
Ali [00:19:01]: But anyway, she’s like, “All right.” She had sent him for some more tests and discovered the low testosterone and put him on a testosterone treatment, which is a gel he’s got to rub on his body.
Sherry [00:19:03]: And he’s doing much better now, right?
Ali [00:19:09]: He’s doing so much better. And it was almost like a relief. It was like, “Ah. Thank God there’s a reason I’m feeling this way.”
Sherry [00:19:27]: Oh, sure. Once there’s a problem, then you can work on figuring out what to do about it. That’s fantastic that he’s doing better.
And so the last five years, with all of the travel and the illness, there’s been a lot that’s been going on while Mike has been working on this podcast.
Ali [00:19:40]: Yeah, I guess so. It all seems kind of a blur. I mean we said, like, “God. They’ve been doing this for five years.” I’m like “It feels like a blur.” I don’t even know. It’s just so much has happened in the last five years. I’m sure everybody feels that way.
Sherry [00:19:43]: Yeah, we’re just in a time of life when time moves really fast, I think.
Ali [00:19:50]: Yeah, and you turn around and you’re like, “How’d the kids get so big?” Another year’s gone by, and –
Sherry [00:20:25]: I think the last five years, we’ve moved across the country, had a child. I changed jobs. Rob has bought and sold a couple of apps and companies and things. Started Drip. Maybe he started HitTail. No, I think we had HitTail, or, he had HitTail before then. But, yeah. So, life looks phenomenally different now than it did five years ago, both for him and for us as a family. And I guess the podcast listeners have probably walked alongside that process with Mike and Rob as their lives have changed.
Ali [00:20:30]: – absolutely. So, how do you feel about Rob’s latest product, Drip?
Sherry [00:21:53]: I think it’s cool. So, Rob and I have a little bit of an interesting arrangement. Even though we’re very connected and we do a lot of things together, even professionally, I’m pretty separate from the day-to-day running of what’s going on with the apps. So, I know that he has said over and over that he will never do this again. He will never start an app from scratch and do all of the design and architecture. I kind of ignore those statements, because I feel like I’ve heard them before. But, generally, I think Drip is kind of his mistress a little bit.
I think that’s a little bit how it is. He’s got HitTail. He’s got Drip. He’s got a couple of other things going on, and I sometimes have to vie for some attention from them. Generally, it’s gone fairly smoothly. There was a time about six months ago when he was really worried about the revenue flow, because he’d just hired several people, but, Drip wasn’t quite having the momentum that he needed it to have for the number of folks that he had hired. And he was sweating it. And it was really filtering over into our family life and our relationship, and I was getting a little Drip-angry. Like, “Get this app out of my life. This is causing too much trouble.” But since then, I’ve had more love for Drip. Drip is pulling its weight a little bit more.
Ali [00:22:19]: Yeah. That is true, though, how the stress of the business can really change the dynamic of your marriage and your family. Like you said, “Ugh. I hate Drip.” or, “I hate that product, because it’s ruining my life right now.” But it’s one of those things that kind of goes with being married to an entrepreneur. It’s interesting to hear you talk about it like that, because I’m like, “Oh, all too familiar with all of what you just said.”
Sherry [00:22:28]: Yeah, like the emotional quality of your relationship rises and falls along with the AuditShark, or the Drip growth curve line.
Ali [00:22:28]: Yeah.
Sherry [00:22:34]: How are you feeling about AuditShark? Do you and AuditShark need any couples therapy?
Ali [00:23:06]: Oh, yeah. I mean Mike’s been working on AuditShark for a really long time. It’s a very complicated product, and I remember when he first told me about it, he had that little-kid gleam in his eye about how amazing it was and this and that and everything he wanted it to be able to do. And of course, I just glaze over because I’m still not tech-savvy. I’m so far from any of this stuff. So, he gets all excited and tells me stuff, and I just glaze over. My eyes just glaze over, and he’s like, “You’re not even listening to me, are you?” And I’m like, “I’m listening. I’m listening.”
Sherry [00:23:09]: “I’m trying. If I understood the words you were saying.”
Ali [00:23:34]: Yeah. I’m just like, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” I’ve learned more about HIPAA Laws and all this security software stuff. I’m like, “You’re speaking a different language right now, but I’m doing my best to keep up.” But he’s put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it, so it’s hard to be “Down with AuditShark.” because I know how much nurturing of the product that he’s done.
Sherry [00:24:10]: And I think that is what’s really hard about being married to a founder. It’s not just that they have an intense or demanding job, it’s that so much of themselves is wrapped up in it. And so, really, if AuditShark, or if Drip is suffering or not doing well, I just feel like their souls or their psyche is going along with the product. I think it is, like you said, so much of them is tied up in that product, that it’s a different dynamic, even, than someone who’s a physician or a fireman and has a job that requires them to be really intense and focused. It just takes a piece of them in a different way.
Ali [00:24:26]: Absolutely. So, you mentioned earlier how Rob had left these great, salaried jobs. And was there any point at which [you] hoped he would go back to a salaried job and left all this founders stuff behind?
Sherry [00:25:34]: Not really, to be honest. Rob has done a pretty good job of, I think, assessing risk pretty well. He’s always stepped down, so when he first moved from having a salaried position to contracting, he went half-time at his salary job and did half-time consulting. And then when he moved from consulting to products, he just did this sort of slow shift. And so by the time he was all the way a consultant, or all the way an entrepreneur who was doing products, there’d been enough build-up process that I wasn’t worried about it. And I had seen that it was working before he made the leap. I think because we are so addicted to our flexible schedules, like, taking off on Fridays often, or being gone for a month when we want to, it’s been such a benefit that I enjoy so much, that I think it has helped buffer any anxiety that I might have about an instable income source or anything like that.
Ali [00:25:50]: What do you do with your patients that you see when you’re like, “Okay. I’m going away for,” because you have a very face-to-face, people rely on you, like, “Help me. I’m having an anxiety attack, and I need to talk to you right this second.” So, how do you take off time like that?
Sherry [00:25:52]: How do I abandon them?
Ali [00:25:53]: Yeah.
Sherry [00:25:53]: Yeah.
Ali [00:25:55]: Well, I didn’t mean it like that.
Sherry [00:27:02]: But they probably would think that. I try to do a really good job of just saying up front, “This is how I live my life.” I’m really committed to my work, and I’m really committed to taking care of my patients, but I am gone for four weeks, usually in the fall. And I’ve gone for a couple weeks in the summer and usually gone between Christmas and New Year’s. And I just try to tell people that when I begin to work with them, so that it’s not shocking or surprising. I also work with a really great team. I work in a clinic where there’re other therapists and other physicians, so generally the people I work with individually have at least another point of contact. So, they either have a psychiatrist, or they’re in a group therapy session, or something like that. So, I have people that help cover for me when I’m away.
Yeah, it’s hard on them. It’s hard on my patients, and it’s kind of messy. But they have consistently told me, and I believe them, I think, that they know that this is part of who I am and that they like working with me. So, they’ll deal with it.
Ali [00:27:06]: They’ll deal with it. They’ll suck it up for the month they have to talk to somebody else. Then –
Sherry [00:27:07]: Right.
Ali [00:27:09]: – as soon as you come back, they’re like, “Oh, thank God you’re back.”
Sherry [00:27:14]: It hasn’t really hurt my practice. I’ll say that. It hasn’t really hurt it.
Ali [00:27:23]: That’s good, though. That’s kind of where I’m at now. My psychologist might take two weeks off, or take a month off. We’re just like, I can’t just –
Sherry [00:27:24] I committed to these people.
Ali [00:27:33]: – Yeah. I’m like I don’t have anybody else to rely on. If I’m not there, then classes and sessions don’t run, and there’s no revenue. That’s –
Sherry [00:27:33]: Yeah.
Ali [00:27:43]: – the scary thing about being a sole proprietor. And there’s no one but me right now, so it’s all or nothing. So I’m either there making money, or I’m not.
Sherry [00:27:45]: And if you’re not there, there’s no money.
Ali [00:27:49]: There’s no money to be made. That’s kind of scary.
Sherry [00:28:30]: And it’s been interesting to see Rob and Mike do that to some extent, in that they have decided to be partners in some of these ventures. Sharing MicroConf, sharing the podcast. And I think that has been really beneficial to Rob, because he has somebody to talk nuts and bolts with that’s not me, and he has a partner in it. So, it doesn’t feel as isolating, or as scary when you have two brains. Maybe someday you’ll take on a partner or something like that, but that’s one thing that I’ve enjoyed about watching them develop over the last five years, is that they have a system of getting each other’s back and sharing the labor, certainly of planning MicroConf and things like that.
Ali [00:28:44]: Absolutely. It’s finding the right partner, too, because you just don’t want to find a partner. You want to find the right partner. I’m really thankful, too, that Mike has Rob who he can talk about all this nerd stuff with that I’m not like just “I don’t know what you’re saying.”
Sherry [00:28:45]: They speak the same language.
Ali [00:29:19]: Exactly. And I’m like, “Go talk to Rob about this stuff, because you’re speaking a different language, and I don’t know what you’re saying.” I try to do my best, but he knows I have limitations in that department. But you’re right, though. It’s nice that they have a different sounding board besides us, and it’s great that they even have built this community with MicroConf and the podcast so that there is, it’s not like a partnership in the sense that it’s two people working together, but it’s this, I don’t want to say “support group,” but it is basically a support group: “Where can I go to ask a question?” “How do I find out more about X, Y or Z?”
Sherry [00:29:35]: Both MicroConf and the Founder Café, I think, exist because people are married to people like us who are like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” They have filled that need and, thankfully, not had to go outside the marriage but just figured out where to find a spot to talk about these things.
You know, given that you are ten years into this relationship and so many years into being married to a founder, are there any words of wisdom that you have for other founders or their families about how to figure this life out? How to do it well?
Ali [00:30:36]: As long as I’ve known Mike, even when I first met him, he was already working on a side project. He had a full-time job, was going to grad school and was working on a product. So, I always just kind of accepted from the get-go that that was who he was. That was a part of him. That was kind of his deal. So, I think for it to work, you have to accept that about your spouse, that this isn’t just like they woke up one day and said, “Hey, I’m going to start a business today.” It’s almost ingrained in them. It’s part of who they are.
Sherry [00:30:50]: Yeah. This is who they are. And whatever business they’re working on, or dreaming up, or scheming, or doing the marketing for is like another appendage. It’s pretty intimately attached to who they are.
Ali [00:31:19]: Yeah. And asking, or expecting, or wanting them to be anything other than that is just not going to make the relationship work. And being really supportive and listening and, like you said, get that Google Calendar out and start planning how you’re going to balance everything. And communication is definitely key, because if you don’t have a good communication pattern with the person, it’s just not going to mesh. It’s not going to work, for either person –
Sherry [00:31:19]: Right.
Ali [00:31:31]: – because it isn’t going to do well, and your marriage and your family isn’t going to do well because you’re shut down from interacting or letting the other person know what you need, or what they need.
Sherry [00:32:16]: And I think, to add to that, one of the things that sounds like both Rob and Mike have done pretty well is that they have done a good job of listening to our dreams, of also using their entrepreneurial skills and their spheres of influence and investing in us the way that we have invested in them. At least in our marriage, it’s never felt one-sided. Like, Rob’s doing really cool, amazing things and has this interesting entrepreneurial life, and I’m schlepping kids around. I think both of us are really committed to the growth and well-being of each other and that my dreams are really important to him. And if I say I want to do something, he’s like, “Okay. How can I make this happen for you?”
Ali [00:32:17]: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Sherry [00:32:31]: That’s been really important, and I think that might be a little bit exceptional in the founder world, especially because the apps and starting these businesses can be so all-consuming if people aren’t doing a good job of paying attention to what’s going on with their partner.
Ali [00:32:59]: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. I would agree with everything you just said, because Mike’s been very supportive, too, of everything that I’ve wanted accomplish outside of raising kids and making dinner. Yeah, it definitely has to be a real partnership.
So, I was wondering. I know that you and Rob each take a personal retreat at least once a year each, sometimes twice a year. Is that right?
Sherry [00:32:59]: Yeah.
Ali [00:33:11]: And I was wondering how you both came up with the idea to take a personal retreat. What was the catalyst for that idea? And maybe what you guys consider a, quote, unquote, “personal retreat”?
Sherry [00:34:18]: Yeah. It’s a great question. It’s something that has been so significant in our lives. In our other podcast, on “Zen Founder,” we jus recorded, I think it’s episode 2, but it’s a whole episode about this, so you can check that out, or people can check that out if they’re interested. But, basically, we have just benefited so much from the time away from normal life. I think we started doing it when I realized that I was really unhappy in my job, and I just thought, “Oh, my gosh. I have spent years preparing for this job, and I just need to get away and sort out how am I feeling, what am I thinking and what do I want to do about it.”
So, the first retreat that was one that I went on, and it was really all about “What’s going to be my direction,” and it was so helpful, because getting away from home and stepping outside of the routine really allowed me to think pretty clearly.
We didn’t come up with this. There’s lots of material about how to do retreats. And –
Ali [00:34:22]: Yeah, I grew up Catholic, and going on retreat was just what you did.
Sherry [00:34:24]: – yeah, it’s a regular process.
Ali [00:34:24]: Yeah, yeah. But you go and pray. So, the whole idea of a personal retreat, I was just like, “Hmm. What’s that like?”
Sherry [00:34:34]: So, I go and go on walks, or –
Ali [00:34:37]: Think.
Sherry [00:34:51]: – right. But it’s the same kind of process. It’s that silence, a more quiet, subdued environment to look inside. So, it’s probably similar to your retreats as a child, but maybe less guilt-ridden.
Ali [00:34:54]: Less time on your knees, praying, maybe more of reflection.
Sherry [00:34:56]: More time drinking wine on the beach.
Ali [00:34:58]: Now you’re speaking [crosstalk].
Sherry [00:35:06]: Like that. Check out that episode. You might like it. It talks about how both of us have used them in slightly different ways.
Ali [00:35:19]: Okay. Yeah, I definitely will. So, do you have a special place that you go to do those retreats? Or, do you change the location of the retreats depending on what you need for the retreat, or what you’re looking for out of it?
Sherry [00:36:03]: Yeah. We have done different things. We live about a little over two hours from the Central Coast of California, which is a really beautiful, lovely area. So, we generally go there. The last one I went on, I went to the Santa Cruz Mountains. So, I wasn’t on the beach, I was just in the mountains in a cabin. Other times, I have just stayed in a nice hotel by myself, because I wanted a bubble bath in front of the fireplace, things I don’t get to do at home. We set aside some money and plan to do something that is really in line with whatever either of us is feeling like our vibe is at that time.
But, you certainly don’t have to spend a lot of money. You could go camping, if you like to go camping. I don’t like to go camping. That’s not restful to me.
Ali [00:36:04]: I don’t like to go camping either.
Sherry [00:36:05]: – so, no camping for us.
Ali [00:36:08]: No camping. That is not my idea of vacation or fun.
Sherry [00:36:10]: It’s a lot of work.
Ali [00:36:15]: It is a lot of work. I’m like, “This quest sucks. I’m not doing this anymore.”
Sherry [00:36:23]: Yeah. Send me to the hotel that has the wine bar and the nacho bar, and that’s pretty much what I do.
Ali [00:37:06]: That’s an awesome retreat. I can get down with that. You know, Mike and I have talked about it, and he had suggested it. I actually did one. I just checked myself into a hotel for a weekend. And Mike started doing a couple. He’s done, I think, one or two. But they really are nice. They’re just a nice break from reality, almost. I can just go and be alone and focus on what is it I want out of life, or to pursue next. Or, how am I going to build out from here? Would you say that that is really an important component to being a[n] entrepreneur, having that time?
Sherry [00:39:04]: I really think so because no one is telling you what to do. Right? No one is telling you whether to sell your app or grow your app. No one is telling you what to launch or not launch, or what features to add. And no one is telling you what kind of life you’re going to have. You’re not working for a corporation that says, “This is what’s possible for you.” Everything is possible. And so much of your life is determined by what you want, but I think the frenetic nature of doing a startup makes it very difficult to really check in and ask the question “What do I want?” “What’s going on in my life?” “What are my goals,” beyond just responding to bug fixes and customer complaints. Especially once you’ve got something going that has some momentum, you can just sort of coast on that for a long time.
And so I feel like taking a retreat as a founder is foundational. It’s essential, because how else do you know what the hell you’re doing? Like, how else do you know what your life is going to be like? And I think people who don’t have any mechanism for introspection can easily drift really far away from who they want to be and how they want to be living. And the retreats, for me, just totally reset me.
Well, we should, I guess, probably move to wrapping it up. But maybe if this isn’t too weird, I can actually say something to Rob and Mike, and that’s that we are really proud of you and really impressed with what you’ve done with the last five years and really proud of the community that you two have built together and proud of the way that you’ve handled yourselves and grateful for the good partners that you’ve been to both Ali and I.
So, congratulations on five years. We are very excited for what the next five years will bring, and whatever it brings, you know that you have partners who are super supportive and love you both very much.
Ali [00:39:07]: And we’ll, hopefully, make it to MicroConf someday.
Sherry [00:39:12]: And maybe all four of us will meet at some point in person.
Ali [00:39:13]: That’d be nice.
Sherry [00:39:15]: That could be your five-year goal, Ali.
Ali [00:39:28]: That is my five-year goal. You know? That’s my five-year goal is to make it to MicroConf and actually meet Rob and Sherry face-to-face so I have some faces to go with the names that I hear so much about.
Sherry [00:39:33]: That would be fun. Cool. Well, you want to
Ali [00:39:39]: And then we can all tell embarrassing stories about what Rob and Mike were like in their younger years, and that’s always a good time.
Sherry [00:39:46]: If we come on again in the next five years, we’ll just make it a total roast, like, all of the embarrassing stories that we don’t want to say yet.
Ali [00:39:49]: Oh, so fun. So fun. I’m in.
Sherry [00:39:52]: Sounds good.
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