Outliers 43: Santhanalakshmi Arvind on what it takes to be the family of a startup founder

Pankaj Mishra December 8, 2017 2 min

Much before startup ideas find their way to colourful pitch decks, the founders, at least the ones with families, seek some kind of emotional, social approval. That approval is not make or break, but important.

Who gives that approval? More often than not: the founder’s family: parents or/and spouses. They, of course, almost instantly give their approval because they see the startup dream painted all over the founder’s face — the starry-eyed look of a wannabe founder wanting to change the world.

And that’s where it all starts: the long, slow, painful and lonely journey of entrepreneurship.

The life of a startup and its founder(s) gets mostly captured through stories of funding, management changes, mergers and acquisitions, and so on. What gets lost is the human aspect of entrepreneurship involving the families who sacrifice their time and emotions, friends and colleagues. Conflicted at times as they are with the founders’ own dreams, bordering on the ethereal, of making a dent in the universe.

My story “Death of a startup founder” in September last year was the life story of Arvindkumar Alagarswamy, co-founder and CEO of Attune Technologies, a healthcare startup. Arvind, a quintessential entrepreneur, was diagnosed of pancreatic cancer towards the end of January 2016 and was gone in about three months. Just when he and his colleagues had built it up to the crucial $10 million revenues-threshold with ambitions to grow it 10x in three-four years.

As I sat down with Santhanalakshmi, the late Arvind’s wife, for this episode of Outliers Podcast, I realized how often we as entrepreneurs, overlook the sacrifices made by our loved ones. And how important it is to steal tiny moments from all the running around, to ensure we create special memories. Perhaps this is why Naval Ravikant told me why he’s ruthless about time in the sixth episode of Outliers Podcast.

Lakshmi, as she is called by those close to her, has some advice to founders. What matters, she says, isn’t the amount of time a founder is able to take out for his or her family—it’s how you spend it and the quality of that time. “Because that’s what you remember the most when they aren’t around. In Arvind’s case, we remember his energy the most and that never lets us feel low,” she tells me.

And, she has a contrarian tip. “It’s not a bad idea to hold back and not share the ups and downs of the startup with your family,” she says, especially “if you’ve a friend who you (can) share everything with.

This podcast is about the most important investment any startup founder receives—the invaluable love and support from family.

Here’s to the unsung magicians who make startups happen.


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