Taking The Unofficial Role: An Interview With Lauren McKenna, Startup Girlfriend
In the startup world, there’s a whole group of people that no one ever talks about: the partners.
But I’m not talking about the partners in the office. I’m talking about the partners at home: the boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives who have chosen to spend their lives with someone whose life is consumed by the process of getting a business up off the ground.
To get a little insight into what it’s like to play an unofficial role in a startup, I sat down with Lauren McKenna. Lauren shares her life with my brother, Evan McGowan-Watson, CMO and co-founder of BrandYourself.com .
They’ve been together for the past seven years, so Lauren definitely knows what she’s talking about when it comes to the unique challenges startups have on relationships.
(Full disclosure: Evan McGowan-Watson is my brother. If you’re interested in what he has to say about his experience as an internet entrepreneur, you can check out my interview with him here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)
What do you think your role is in BrandYourself? Do you see yourself having a role?
Yeah, I think I keep Evan sane. I think I keep him in check. We’ve talked about it a little bit.
I think it’s really easy to lose yourself in BrandYourself or in any business you’re trying to grow. Evan has mentioned that I, along with you guys (Ed note: Evan’s family) have helped him keep in check and remind himself who he is, aside from BrandYourself.
I think that’s probably my biggest role.
Do you think that’s an important role to be playing?
I’ve been having that conversation with a lot of different women lately: whether or not you can play that supporting role and still be a modern, forward-thinking, independent woman.
I mean, I don’t actively try and play that role. It’s always been a dynamic that Evan and I have had. I think thats a dynamic that should exist in any relationship and it should go both ways.
Tell me a little about that dynamic.
I think that Evan and I remind each other who we are at our core, you know what I mean? In general; not necessarily just in regards to BrandYourself. It’s really important to have something like that to keep you grounded. If you don’t have something to ground you, its easy to lose track of the underlying reason behind the things that you’re doing day to day.
When the company was first starting, I know Evan was making money writing, but you were kind of supporting him, right?
Yeah, because before massage school I was doing nothing but working. I was waitressing, so I was making tips. I was making a good amount of money and Evan was just making money from the writing job. BrandYourself wasn’t bringing in any money yet and I could afford to help out.
But just like I did that for him, he’s now in the position where he can help me out while I try to get my massage practice to take off.
So when he started making more money and supporting you, he was basically kind of paying back what you did for him, which made you okay with it.
I wasn’t OK with it at first because I’m really bad at accepting things from other people, especially around money, but he wanted to be supportive of my own ventures and also wanted give back. He was actually really persistent and would literally tell me “You were making more money when we were eating ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and you pitched in more than I could then, so now you have to let me get us an expensive bottle of wine and take you out to dinner.”
You don’t get a lot of time with Evan, right?
It depends on how you view ‘a lot of time.‘ It was an adjustment getting used to only seeing him for an hour at the end of the night, if we were lucky, and at nights on weekends. Sometimes I don’t see him much in a given week if they’re putting in all-nighters at the office.
During that adjustment period it felt like we were spending barely any time together. Now that it’s more of the norm for us, getting that hour at the end of the evening feels like a lot: you make the most out of that hour.
Would you say that’s one of the biggest challenges of being the partner of someone who is doing a startup? Adjusting to not having a lot of time together?
Up until now that was probably the hardest part of being a part of this whole process. As the partner in a startup relationship it takes a while to understand that they’re not putting all of their time in at the office because they’d rather be there rather then with you or friends and family…
It’s what they sign up for when they make that commitment to become part of a startup. In the beginning I was constantly asking Evan to take the day off or go away for the weekend because I thought that he had free reign to do that because he does run his own business, after all. Once you come to understand that they don’t really have the choice to just take time off when they want to, the adjustment happens a lot more smoothly and quickly.
That’s not to say it’s not still hard sometimes. There are periods where he’s traveling a lot and putting in late nights for weeks at a time. Mostly though, I think it’s taught us to value our time together.
How did you push through that?
Understanding that they don’t have the choice to take time off when they want to was the first major part of the equation.
The second was learning that I needed to keep busy. For me that was a big personal realization.
I think that’s who I am at my core, but also especially necessary when you’re in a relationship with someone who is part of a startup and has so much of their time invested in that.
I’ve spoken with other partners on my end of the startup relationship and have noticed that this is common. If you’re not doing much of your own thing, you can feel like you’re sitting around waiting for them to come home and their time spent in the office working on the business seems like a lot more.
This was probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from BrandYourself.
In some ways it seems like you have to have a fuller life than a lot of people do. For a lot of people who are part of couple, that’s what it is: work and their significant other. Do you think being with a startup entrepreneur has pushed you to push yourself?
I had to push myself a lot pre-BrandYourself; I like to consider myself independent and I like challenges so “pushing myself” has sort of been ingrained in me. BrandYourself, though, is definitely inspirational; I think I feed off Evan’s drive and passion for what he’s doing.
Do you think you’ve made any big sacrifices for BrandYourself?
I wouldn’t say so. Compromises? Yes. But thats part of growing and learning. All of the ups and downs teach you a lot about yourself and the other person in the relationship.
Would you say that BrandYourself is the biggest challenge your relationship has faced?
It’s been a really unique challenge. Not in a bad way! This experience is always challenging because your in a state of constant change and although that can be tough at times, it’s allowed us to learn more about each other and ourselves and how to communicate better.
I think that’s great. This company could have killed your relationship and instead you’re learning from it and making yourselves better.
Yeah, BrandYourself is crazy. It’s crazy that every six months to a year with BrandYourself we have to deal with a new high or low that’s completely different from the last. You know what I mean? It’s never the same phase that comes and goes. It’s always something different, which is good but also really crazy too.
A lot of experiences will test your relationship. Having started dating so young we’ve had some practice. This one has taught us a lot. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been the ultimate test but that’s what growing is all about: testing and pushing yourself.
I have no regrets whatsoever.