To judge an entrepreneur, meet their spouse

Tony Tjan has a great post on HBR’s blog network about 10 questions he uses to become a better judge of people:

(Bonus trivia: Tony had just graduated from HBS and started his first company when I entered HBS.  He and his co-founders raised $100 million dollars in a single round.  Can you name the company?  I’ll provide the answer at the bottom of this post)

It’s well worth reading in full, but I want to focus on a single question that I think isn’t asked enough: “What’s the spouse like?”  I’d also add the corollary, “How does the person treat their spouse?”

Whom an entrepreneur marries is the most important decision in his or her life.  It might very well be the difference between success or failure.  Presumably, it’s also the decision that he or she made with the greatest care.  As such, it tells you a lot about the entrepreneur.

Anyone who meets my wife Alisha learns several things.  First, I like smart people.  Second, I don’t mind people who challenge me.  As she likes to tell people, she views poking holes in my often-swelled head as one of her most important jobs.  Third, I believe in partnership, not command-and-control.  (What people learn about Alisha from meeting me is a question I’ll let her answer!)

All of these are key insights that help people understand what kind of person I am.

Here’s another story, about an entrepreneur who shall remain anonymous to protect his identity.  This entrepreneur came over to my house to pick up some paperwork (always a good way to make sure you get signatures in time).  We started talking, and I invited him in.  After about 90 minutes, he said, “Hold on a minute, I need to go back out to my car to check on my wife and see how she’s doing.”

I practically had to restrain Alisha to keep her from killing him on the spot.

Many people feel that a person’s personal life has no bearing on their professional life.  I disagree.  A person who treats their spouse well might still be a low-down skunk, but a person who treats their spouse poorly is never going to be someone you can trust.

Trivia Answer: Tony’s company was Zefer.

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