Founding a company is a roller coaster with a magnitude of ups and downs that can influence the mood and wellbeing of the entrepreneur. Behind the scenes, the founder is often being heavily supported by family members. Whether family members are directly or indirectly involved in the start-up, tension and stress often arise within the founder and/or their family members, and family relationships can be significantly affected. Being aware of the stress signs and adapting strategies can support founders in preventing and reducing personal stress that also affects their families.

Direct involvement

  1. Family as investors: Many first-time founders approach family members for initial funds to help them build their dream product and company. With an optimism that only entrepreneurs have, convincing skills and lots of passion, family members often agree to provide initial funding, at times ignoring the risks. However, if things take longer than expected (which is probably more often than not) or something goes wrong, the tension can begin. Of course, when starting their (ad)venture, founders do not plan to be in a position of risking their family members’ money, so they are rarely emotionally prepared for dealing with such a situation. Clear written agreements and regular and open communication can greatly assist to prevent the negative effects snowballing.
  2. Family as partners and employees: It can be even more stressful when family members work in the start-up. It is really difficult to maintain great relationships with family members you spend time with at work and outside of work. Therefore, it is important to work on building strong communication skills, establishing an agreed level of professionalism, and ensuring balance by allocating times for consultation regarding work-related matters. Even for those who do it well, there are obstacles. Strong relationships can negatively affect the management effectiveness. In addition, Venture Capitals (VCs) are less likely to invest in family start-ups, and top talent is more cautious to join these teams. Both can further contribute to stress levels.

Indirect involvement

  1. Leading a start-up: Establishing a start-up is a life venture. It starts with great hopes that “we can make it” and continues along a true roller coaster. It is hard to stop and take a break. Founders are not ‘working’ for their start-up, but leading it. This means that even at times when they make it home early, they often find it very difficult to disconnect from work. Even if they decide not to look at their emails and messages, or answer phone calls, they often still carry with them the emotional stress of leading the company and the responsibility for their team. This can have a major impact on other family members who feel their loved one is not being present or always thinking about or doing work. There are many evidence-based strategies to ensure your work and home lives are ‘compartmentalised’ and you are able to switch into the appropriate mode when moving between the two, so it can be really helpful to look into these or get advice if work-life balance is an issue.
  2. Managing employees and their stress: It is not just personal stress that founders need to deal with, but also the wellbeing of their team members. Carrying the teams’ stress adds another dimension of complexity for founders, and can add to stress on the family. This is true especially for solopreneurs that have not yet developed a strong executive team to support them. They have to deal with it all by themselves. Therefore, in addition to ensuring your own emotional wellbeing, it can also be helpful to get support and advice regarding increasing employees’ emotional well-being and identifying ‘red flags’ signifying stress in employees and ways to manage this.

With stress typically coming from multiple angles for a founder, it is no surprise that some of that stress can be transferred onto their families and influence their relationships and well-being. Being aware of the typical causes of stress listed above, and focusing on planning and building relevant skills (e.g. communication and stress management) is a great place to start in terms of prevention and management of issues and assists in reducing stress on both the founder and their family.