Tuesday, June 11, 2013

So I Married an Entrepreneur, v. 2

I wrote this post a couple years ago, back when JP started his first company, a swim school, in Austin. That venture didn't end well, largely due to circumstances and partnership choices outside of his control. It was devastating at the time, ended a good friendship that remains broken, and if possible, made me even more wary of JP's entrepreneurial dreams than I was before. He ended up spending several difficult months looking for a job after he got his MBA and luckily landed a spot at a big company with a great salary and benefits in June 2011 and we all moved on- JP surprisingly happy in his new role and me relieved at the security it seemed to bring. We were back on track- our grad schooling was done and now we were both in jobs using our degrees and paying off our loans. All was going according to plan.

Until that job abruptly ended 16 months later and I learned that steady, safe corporate jobs aren't always steady or safe. I watched my husband sink into himself in a way he never had before. I watched him apply for dozens of jobs and hear back from so few. On the ones he did hear back, it was usually to let him know the job he was applying for was no longer being filled, the hiring date had been pushed back 3-6 months, or they were looking exclusively at internal candidates. I've never closed the door to my office so often to hold back tears, or sat in my driveway so long just trying to muster up the energy to smile and be positive before opening the door, and I just kept watching him sink lower. I blogged about it more than he would have liked and far, far less than I wrote in my drafts. It was an awful, awful time.

And then, at a random February 5 a.m. swim practice, JP found out from his club coach that a mostly defunct swim lessons program had lost its owner. The club coach was very interested in the existence of a robust swimming program for young kids to help feed into his competitive swimming program and he didn't want to operate it himself. They had a website JP could have, relationships with a few nearby pools (pool space is VERY hard to come by here), and a former client list he could contact-- did he want it? To my shock, he didn't jump on it right away. It honestly scared me when not even the seemingly perfect combination of a job + swimming + owning his own business + me being all for it could rouse his spirits, and I became the one pushing him into an opportunity that even weeks earlier I would have selfishly just wanted to go away so it wouldn't tempt him.

After some gentle prodding and outright pushing ("We're going to sit down right now and make a list of the tasks you need to do to start coaching lessons in April, and then you're going to do them."), JP woke up. The swim school became his- his project, his baby, his opportunity, and he worked nearly non-stop for 4 weeks to get it going: marketing, graphic design, pool relationship, lawyer, CPA, designing and distributing flyers, interviewing instructors, training instructors, creating schedules, one million phone calls, 1.5 million emails, etc. He finally decided to found the company the second week of March and his first session of lessons began April 8. It was so great to see him so busy and excited and happy I almost didn't mind that we actually barely saw him. His goal was to have 15 swimmers signed up at the beginning of the session and I remember the text with "just got #30!!" that came across my phone hours before his first lesson was to begin. He hoped to have 40 swimmers by the time the session ended May 31 (he does them in sets of 8 lessons, once per week for 8 weeks during the school year, twice per week for 4 weeks during the summer) and he had 65. He hoped 50 would register for the start of the June session on June 10, and he has 87 with at least a dozen on various wait lists. His feedback has been incredible- I could spend a whole evening just reading the glowing emails he's received from parents. I seriously could NOT be more proud. He works nearly non-stop, not only teaching the kids (he currently has 4 instructors and a lifeguard working with him, but does a full load of lessons himself too), but answering emails and calls from parents, constantly tweaking and reworking the schedules as needed, and keeping up with his bookkeeping, supplies, and marketing materials. He's so exhausted he's even gotten to the point where he can't drag himself out of bed to swim in the mornings, something I never thought to see, but he's happy and I love every time I get to see him talk about his business with someone who asks what he does.


As with all new jobs, this has required some changes to our lives and routine. I now pick up the kids everyday because JP is in the water coaching from 1-7 p.m. Monday-Friday during the school year and 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. all summer. I watch TV alone at night because he is at the computer answering emails, phone calls, and checking items off his constantly growing to-do list. When a kid of ours is sick, I have to stay home because even though my job is still the foundation of our finances, JP's job requires him to be physically present- only the direst of emergencies would be worth the headache of rescheduling any missed lessons and risking the client unhappiness or inconvenience that would come with it. In the summer he has to work out of a different pool; an outdoor neighborhood aquatics club that needed a pool director as badly as he needed pool space. So he's now director of a pool open from 9 a.m. - 8 p.m. every day all summer- he's managing lifeguards, schedules, chlorine levels, member satisfaction, and finicky board members in addition to running his swim school and coaching a ton of lessons. He tries to be home by 7:30 to eat a few bites of dinner with the kids, but last night he didn't make it back until 11:45 because a pump broke and he had to be out there with the engineers after working a 15 hour day in the sun. We're leaving the house earlier and getting home later. Tex is lonely. Errands are re-relegated to weekends. Basically we're back to two full-time working parent mode and it is quite different from "one parent mostly home" mode.

So it's been an adjustment. It's hard being on my own every night with the kids, coming home to an empty house, starting a meal I'm not sure he'll get to join us to eat. The summer schedule is particularly tough. Landon's camp is much farther away from my office, Claire is having to spend longer days at school, and JP's schedule keeps him away even on weekends. I'm doing all dinners, all errands, all nights/weekends with the kids, and pretty much everything in our personal lives that isn't swim school related. I have a full-time job, I'm pregnant, and REALLY prefer it when we're splitting all home/child duties. I sometimes get overwhelmed at how much I still have to do at the end of the day, and yet, it's not like JP can do more- he's barely even eating. This weekend he realized he's at the lightest weight he's been since his freshman year of college; I've taken to packing protein bars in his pockets to keep him from wasting away. And JP does what he can- he throws in loads of wash and empties the dishwasher in stolen moments, but even though I know he can't do more (and I do know it), I still sometimes find myself thinking he should be (or, more accurately, wishing he could be and resenting that he can't).

And yet, I'm in a better place to support this start-up than I ever could have been before. Mostly, of course, because JP needed a job for emotional, mental, and financial reasons, and no others were forthcoming in our current city. But there are other more subtle reasons that get me through the evenings and long weekends on my own. I've now taken a job that makes me so much happier that I dismiss his statements that he wouldn't be happy in a regular middle manager desk job. We've drastically adjusted our income needs and expectations, so there's a fairly low bar of what we need JP to bring in, making the uncertainty of income far less terrifying, and after 7 months of unemployment- anything is a bonus. Three years ago when JP was coming out of business school I was so set on the plan we made when we got married: taking turns in grad school, taking high paying jobs to pay off our grad debt, and then and only then considering other career ideas. At the time I felt like we'd been moving along accordingly and suddenly JP was throwing a wrench in everything- I went to law school, I worked at a big law firm; JP went to business school, JP needed a stable business job! It was the deal. Of course then I thought a business job was a secure, certain thing- now I know better. And this time it really all came down to an opportunity presenting itself and me realizing that my husband was literally being torn apart by rejections for jobs he didn't want. The initial expenses were low (something that always scared me the most about starting his own company- not only would he not be making money right away, but we'd actually be spending money we didn't have in the hope that he would make an uncertain amount of money in the future- money we needed now!), in an area he knows and loves, utilizing a great talent he possesses (he's truly a phenomenal coach), serving a seemingly untapped local market.

I still have my moments where I want to demand that he predict his revenues out 5 years. I get nervous about my upcoming unpaid maternity leave, impending third child expenses, our mountainous student debt, and our lack of sufficient emergency fund. I worry about what will happen if he ever wants (or needs) to get back on the traditional corporate path. I don't like that I can't enter a definite figure in his box in our family budget. And despite genuinely understanding it, I still sometimes chafe against the constant need for me to sacrifice my own job and down time to support his pursuit (like last night at 11:45 p.m. when I was helping him enter time for his lifeguards and folding 300 t-shirts for all his new students).

But oh as I look at this company he's building, the glowing reviews he's getting from parents, and the stack of checks he's so proudly entering in his books, I am so, so proud.


And I find myself surprisingly happy that events lined up in such a way as to allow JP to find and pursue this opportunity and to force me to have the perspective needed to wholeheartedly (or as close to wholeheartedly as possible for a risk-averse lawyer) support it.

Now I just have to hope he survives a summer of very late nights (he's creating tomorrow's lesson schedule as I type), very early mornings (he has to leave the house by 7), long days in the (outdoor, uncovered) pool, and a whole lot of screaming crying learning-to-swimmers. It's not exactly my dream, but I'm so glad he's living his.



  1. This made me tear up a little! So happy for JP and your growing family.

  2. I love how you're able to be supportive of his dream even though the day to day must be getting *so hard* for you sometimes. Having one of those, "we should totally move back to Texas" moments -- if I lived closer, I'd make some you booze free sangria!

  3. So happy for you guys!! Yes, the entrepreneurial life is one with special challenges. We've lost friends, had to shutter businesses we believed in, had to view our savings account with an eagle eye. But after all these years, my husband would have great difficulty working for any man but himself. In fact, a few weeks ago, we received a generous offer on our stake in the current company and even before the ink had dried on the transaction and bank wires submitted, Manoj was pondering his next business. :-) (Warning! JP may never want a "regular" job again. Heh.)

    Best of luck to you with this new venture -- everything that happened in that last venture will be used toward this NEW one. And that is a good thing. :-)

  4. I SO WISH I lived in Ft Worth so I could sign my kids up!!!

  5. Also, this was my word verification:
    Company Exceleaa


  6. Love this post. You're so good at capturing all the conflicting feelings about things like this, but it absolutely comes through how proud you are of him. Working with entrepreneurs regularly, I see how they throw themselves into the business to the exclusion of all else, by necessity... I wish you patience and a healthy pregnancy as you deal with this! And it sounds like the business is growing so quickly that maybe he won't be in the true start-up phase for long and he can bring on other coaches or business partners.

  7. This is a great post. Plus, as a swimmer (though not even close to as accomplished of one as you guys), I just think this is unbelievably neat.

  8. So great to read! My husband has had similar trouble as JP, but more recently. He lost his job in December and again lost a job just last week. It's awful to watch him go through his evaluation of self-worth, pity each time. It's tough to get him back on track when something good approaches...just like you mentioned having to sit down and make a list with JP!
    Between these last two jobs, he took advantage of his 'free' time and expanded his hobby into a more stable business. I have the same fears and anxiety as you do about self-employment, and I'm even self employed myself but it's just seems different when it's the spouse making those decisions. When I chose to be self employed, my husband was working in pharmaceuticals, making nearly 6 digit figures a year and I felt safe in making a step into becoming self employed.
    Now that's he unemployed again, he's already made it very clear he wants no part in working for another being again! ha! I really can't blame him but I worry about health care and income of course.
    Now his newly found business is still growing (not as alarmingly fast as JPs) and he's been asked to return to the family farm to start farming on a small parcel of land and begin to grow into the role of the 'farmer'.

    Interesting to say the least. Lots of anxiety, discussions, doubt, the whole works!

    It is relieving though to read that others go through the exact same feelings in these issues!

  9. Look how happy he is in that picture!!

    I totally understand the conflicting emotions, though!

  10. Great post! I Live in Arlington, and need a swim school for my 2 year old with some loving, caring teachers. I think I'm sold after reading this! :)

  11. He might just be creating the next phelps!

  12. Lovely post. You should BOTH be proud of each other!
    Have you considered employing a highschooler to help out a bit in the early evenings during the summer? If you had, say, 2-3 hours an evening to do dinners, baths, bedtime and lunches with HELP life would be much, much easier. I don't know the sitch there, but here there are close to zero jobs for anyone in the 14-16yo bracket, boys or girls, and kids would kill for a steady taxfree $50 a week, off by 8 pm.
    (Or barter for coaching!)
    Just a thought...

    1. Ditto this. I worked as a mother's helper in college, and it was such a great situation for both myself and the family. The mom got help with making dinner, folding laundry, entertaining kids, etc; and I got some steady cash flow, plus formed a last bond with these awesome kids.

  13. It's so nice that you are taking time to reflect on this and appreciate it. I also have a husband who has faced professional uncertainties (he's freelance) and seeing him struggle with lack of work has been nothing short of devastating. I, on the other hand, muddled through over 4.5 years at the big firm -- got the salary, paid down the loans, secured the health insurance, built up the savings account. Because I love him so much, I don't begrudge him any of that. And now that his professional tides have turned, it is so so so gratifying to see him satisfied and proud of his work and to be contributing. There are nights when I've been home alone and he comes home late and I've been irritable because I hate eating alone and I don't feel like doing laundry... but I remember how happy it makes him... and in turn, how happy that make me... and it's all worth it. I think about the nights a few years ago when he was home alone, not working, when I was billing 16 hours a day and it reminds me that marriage is truly a partnership and we take our turns. So glad that you are experiencing, appreciating and reflecting on that too.

  14. agree with the person who suggested a high school aged mother's helper, at least a few times a week. I'm the oldest of 4 and when my mom was pregnant with the younger ones she had a 14 year old neighbor give us baths and serve dinner when she was just too unwieldy or morning sick to do it herself.

    and perhaps consider an au pair in a year or 2?

  15. All kinds of fist pumping occurring as I read this. :-)

  16. I think it's awesome that his school is going gangbusters this way. We have Baby J enrolled in a local swim school that has like 6 locations around town. Ours converted what appears to be an old mechanic's shop into an indoor pool (think long car bays that already had dug out below-ground space and garage doors at one end. It's cramped but PACKED. The school does a 5-night immersion model for new swimmers followed by 1, 2 or 3x/week sessions as reinforcement. They say that summer is completely nuts. So perhaps JP's schedule will ease up in the winter some when pool season dies down? Our school seems to use high schoolers as instructors and they are really kind and gentle with the kids. Maybe as work is consistently nuts, JP can find more help (and someone he trusts to stay late for emergencies) so your lives can be a bit more predictable.

  17. So happy for you guys. Love the pictures of him with Claire, too.

  18. I am so happy! I feel like I have 'been there' for all the ups and downs, and its nice to see an up. I know all about that guilty resentment. My husband works as a lung transplant physician, and he loves the thrill and uncertainty of it. He could make way more doing boring, rote community pulmonary, but this is what he loves. It also means erratic hours, call, and losing my husband and feeling like a single parent from time to time. Of course I want him to be happy and do what he loves, but I resent being without him for that sometimes. You are not alone in this, so don't feel bad about it! Your family is lovely as always and I am rooting for JP!