As Amy and I gear up for the publication of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship With An Entrepreneur (pre-orders available now on Amazon), we’re going to pick up the tempo of the posts here, including some awesome guest posts from friends. The following is from Bart Lorang, CEO and co-founder of FullContact (Brad is on the board).Bart is two months into a new marriage with his wife Sarah, and the original version of this post is on the FullContact blog.
I’ve made some angel investments that didn’t work out in my life.
Once, I invested in a cryogenic company. They cryogenically treated things to last longer. Think “cryogenic brake pads.”
That company didn’t end up so well.
Another time, I invested in an online gambling company.
That didn’t really work out either.
I’ve got a few more angel investments I’m not sure will survive. But, that’s simply the nature of the game.
However, I’ve got one particular angel investment that I’m absolutely, POSITIVELY certain will work out. I’m so excited about this investment I can barely contain myself. It’s a lead-pipe, stone-cold lock to be a winner.
What is this investment?
It’s an investment in an actual, real-life Angel. I’m investing the rest of my life in my relationship with Sarah Benson – and we’re getting married in September!
I’m actually kind of shocked that we agreed to terms and Sarah is actually going to marry me. But I’m not one to second guess or kick a gift-horse in the mouth.
Instead, I’ve promised Sarah that I’ll work hard for the rest of my life to make her happy, as I definitely don’t want her to back out of the deal.
That would suck.
So how did this investment close? If you read my post on 126 NOs and 1 Big YES, you’ll understand that like any investment, it’s about hard work, persistence, and never say die attitude. This was no different.
This is our story (in pictures) – read on for the full blown version.
Sarah and I first met in August of 2009. We had both enrolled in the Executive MBA program at Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver.
I had recently exited my last venture and figured an EMBA would be a good “gap-filler”.
Sarah had decided she wanted an MBA to advance her career.
A little about the EMBA program – it’s an 18 month program – no summer breaks, much to my chagrin. Students are organized into Cohorts – about 40 students per cohort. We all take the same classes on alternating Fridays and Saturdays. To be accepted, students must have at least 10 years management experience. The average age is 37.
Sarah was 29 when the program started entered. I was 30. We were the two youngest members of our Cohort. Ironically, the third youngest member was Ben Deda, who now is the VP of Business Development for FullContact.
When we first met, it was hardly love at first sight.
I sat behind Sarah in class, but it turns out that she found me obnoxious, loud, and brash. She actually moved seats to get away from me!
I thought Sarah was a little too obsessed with her dog, Parker. And given her high-end luxury resort background, thought she was a little too high-brow.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In our EMBA program, we had been assigned “Study Groups.” These study groups gathered every week to drink beer, study and do group projects.
My study group met exactly twice at the very beginning of the program. After that, I kept pressing for meetings but none of the other members seemed interested.
One day, Sarah was telling me about her study group – they met every Wednesday at Hanson’s Bar and Grill. She talked about Ben Deda and how he really drove the group with assignments.
I expressed my frustration with my current study group (the fact they wouldn’t meet). Unbeknownst to me, my study group was actually meeting – just without me and in secret. Apparently my focus on beer or something about my personality clashed. Whatever.
So instead of telling me this, Sarah graciously invited me into her group. Her group took a vote, and allowed me in.
Her decision would prove prescient.
Our study group wrapped up at the end of the quarter. We decided to still meet over the holidays.
One night at Hanson’s, it was just me and Andy Funk – everyone else was on holiday and Sarah was in Tuscany for work. The two of us proceeded to get really, really drunk.
I remember thinking to myself – “Man, it’s just not the same without Sarah and everyone else – she is the glue that keeps this thing together.”
So, on my cab ride home, I decided to call Sarah and tell her just that. To my surprise, she actually answered my call (it was 5AM in Tuscany).
I told her that our study group sucked without her, and demanded she come back as soon as possible. Ever patient, she just laughed it off.
At that time, I had way too much time on my hands. I was currently between ventures and fiddling with angel investing. All I had was the EMBA program – but it was winter break and I was bored.
I told Sarah I needed to go on vacation and asked “where I should go?”. Sarah knew I had a soft spot for Four Seasons, and recommended the Four Seasons in Florence.
Drunk off my ass, I thought that was a great idea.
I hung up, then promptly booked the next flight to Zurich, Switzerland. I then booked a Hertz rental car and several nights at the Four Seasons in Florence.
Around 1AM Denver time, I emailed Sarah the info and said “On my way!”
I got an email response saying something like “WTF” at which point I called her and said “Thanks for the advice, I’m comin’ to Italy.”
At this point, I’m pretty sure that Sarah thought I was completely insane.
However, Sarah indicated she had a day off and was planning on visiting Milan for the day.
I said “Great, want to do lunch in Milan? It’s a three hour drive from Zurich.”
We agreed on lunch in Milan (at this point, Sarah felt really sorry for me).
The next morning I rose, still hungover and probably still a little drunk, and got my ass to the airport.
8AM Zurich time, I landed. My iPhone didn’t work (forgot to turn International plan on) so I purchased a pre-paid cell phone from an Airport kiosk.
I then proceeded to make the drive to Milan.
Milan is pretty chaotic, and after a few hours trying to triangulate each other’s position, Sarah and I managed to meet up for lunch.
We had some lunch at a quaint little restaurant then decided to walk around.
Soon thereafter, it started snowing in Milan. Then it started snowing some more.
Knowing that I was alone, Sarah felt sorry for me and invited me to stay with her at her Tuscan villa instead. This ‘villa’ was on 4,200 acres and the house had 7 bedrooms. Nice.
I said “Cool, I’ll just leave my car here in Milan and we’ll ride down together”
So we departed Milan, and that’s when the snow really started to fall. And I mean really fall.
Turns out, it was the worst blizzard Italy had seen in 40 years.
Our 4 hour drive turned into 5…then 6….then 7…then 8….
10 hours later and a whole lot of conversation, we arrived at the villa at 5AM.
Not so fast.
The little piece of shit Peugeot couldn’t get up the snowy hill to the villa. It was another 3 miles to the villa.
At that point, I was exhausted, but we’d come so far.
So, I told Sarah to take the wheel and I got out and started pushing the Peugeot up the snowy, slippery road.
After about an hour, totally spent, we finally got to the villa.
We were wired from the drive and Sarah was scared out of her mind (snow wasn’t her thing – she’s from Phoenix).
Naturally, we decided to crack open a few bottles of wine to unwind relax. It was 6AM.
A few hours and a few bottles of wine later … stranded in a snowed-in villa in Tuscany ….I’ll let you decipher the rest.
And that’s how it all started.
The Formative Period
Over the next year, we focused our energy on our new relationship. We quickly grew on each other.
Basically, Sarah found me less obnoxious every day.
As it turns out, Sarah and I are complete opposites.
She’s sweet and forgiving. I’m angry and judgmental.
She’s patient. I have no patience.
She’s kind and thoughtful. I’m selfish.
She’s highly analytical and careful. I am emotional and impulsive.
She worries about other people’s feelings. I have to really remember to think about anyone else’s feelings.
She likes to go on walks in the morning. I’m cranky in the mornings.
Basically, she’s a terrific human being. I’m a shitty one.
Somehow, she still stuck around.
We were both working 60+ hours a week, plus EMBA (20-40 hours / week). Honestly, I don’t think I would have gotten through it without her. I had started what would become FullContact, and I didn’t have the patience for school.
But every week, Sarah dragged my ass to class. She forced me to do the work – even though I didn’t want to.
She supported me during my down times (there were many) and during my triumphs (far fewer).
I fell in love with her dog Parker. He’s hard not to love.
Over the next 15 months…we ended up becoming…. inseparable. A far cry from how it started (Sarah unable to stand my mere presence).
Graduation & TechStars
In March of 2011, Sarah and I graduated from our EMBA program together.
True to form, when it was my turn to come up to the microphone and announce my name, I seized the moment and thanked Sarah for everything she had done – told everyone I couldn’t have done it without her.
Immediately following graduation, FullContact was accepted into TechStars. So for me, it was out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Sarah agreed to move to Boulder with me during the summer and commute to Denver for work.
We rented a shitty college apartment at Arapahoe and 19th.
I loved every second of it. I had always wanted to move back to Boulder and TechStars gave me the opportunity.
During this time, it was a little rough.
Sarah put up with my 18 hour days.
She put up with me coming home smelling like Tequila after every TechStars Wednesday night 9:09 meetings.
She put up with the commute.
She put up with me closing our first seed round during her appendectomy.
She put up with the lack of cable TV.
She put up with the college parties raging until 4AM.
She put up with the endless pitch practices I made her sit through.
Basically, she was a Saint, while I was a Selfish Dick.
But then, TechStars ended, and everything turned out OK.
So, at the end of the summer, we had a decision to make: move back to Denver, or stay in Boulder?
As Sarah was looking for places to stay, she stumbled upon a great place at 9th and Spruce. It had been listed 45 seconds earlier on Craigslist.
She called me immediately and told me to go make a deposit.
I did, and that’s where we decided to stay.
As we settled into our new life in Boulder, we fell into a good rythym.
Sarah absolutely fell in love with Boulder and we decided that we were going to live here – even if our work lives were in Denver.
Parker loved Boulder too – the squirrels, the trees, the weird remnants left behind by college kids partying the night before.
Sarah really started to appreciate my obsession with the NFL – particularly on Sundays. Eventually, she figured out she just needed to go shopping instead of listening to me scream and curse at the top of my lungs.
We started visiting a new restaurant every few days.
Sarah started to become obsessed with our neighborhood (Mapleton Hill) – tracking every home, who lives in it, and the history behind it (somewhat creepy, but endearing).
We started making new friends – many from TechStars – but others from the startup community as well.
Eventually, Sarah started a new career in tech at Name.com, leveraging her five star hospitality skills to become their Director of Customer Experience.
Even though her commute was going to be longer (an hour each way each day) we still decided to stick in Boulder.
We just loved it too much to leave.
I had been planning on proposing for a long time.
I knew Sarah was The One six months into our relationship – it was merely a matter of timing.
So, one night, I took Sarah for a walk. Got down on one knee in a quiet part of Mapleton Hill, and asked her to marry me.
She actually said “Yes”
And we couldn’t be happier.
The moral of the story? Invest in an Angel. It will pay off in the end. I promise.
Happy Life Dinner, Sarah. I love you. Thanks for putting up with me.