Jay Feitlinger is a serial entrepreneur.
Jay Feitlinger is a serial entrepreneur. Running his businesses has always been a top priority. These days, as the founder of StringCan Interactive, a digital marketing agency based in Scottsdale, Ariz., with a second office in Paris, France, Jay is responsible for managing the nearly 15-person company, bringing in new business and ensuring the success and satisfaction of his agency’s clients.
So, it’s no wonder that Jay was distracted by work even when he wasn’t physically in the office. It’s a pull that any entrepreneur understands.
It would start when he left the office on the way home, as he’d spend his 20-minute commute thinking about work, mulling over all the tasks he still had to complete and the new fires he had to put out. As he walked in the door of his house, he’d ask his wife, Rachel, and two daughters to wait for him.
“I just needed to respond to one email”
“I just needed to respond to one email,” he says. “But then, the inbox would start filling back up, and I’d keep responding … And two hours would pass.”
This led to delayed dinners, missed family time, an unhappy spouse and issues that Jay says he didn’t even realize at the time.
“I didn’t leave work behind,” he says. “Most days, including the weekends, if I was home, I figured I might as well work. The more I worked. the more money I would make. I wasn’t with my family.”
Eventually, things came to a head. Rachel had had enough. “Fortunately, Rachel was very direct with me,” Jay says. “She wasn’t happy.”
And so, he had to figure out how to separate himself from his work and prioritize his family. Along the way, he learned a lot. In a recent interview with the couple, they shared their journey and some secrets from Jay’s forthcoming book, Scaling Up Family.
Here, Jay and Rachel, also an entrepreneur, share a few ideas to help other family-minded entrepreneurs and busy executives focus on what matters.
1. Listen, listen, listen.
Rachel, who owns a mobile app for schools called PTO Directory, is also the president of the PTO at her daughters’ school and serves on the board of her synagogue. Plus, she was managing the household and wanted her partner to be involved.
“I realized that I wasn’t happy,” Rachel recalls. So, she spoke up.
“She said it felt like we’re roommates, and I said, that’s not good,” Jay recalls.
But it still took a number of conversations before he really listened.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t care, but I just wasn’t getting it. It took a very supportive family environment for me to realize what was happening. They wanted me around more.”
Even once Jay understood the core problem, the fix took a while.
“We had to figure out how to communicate,” Rachel says.
2. Look inward to determine what matters to you.
Talking to his fellow entrepreneurial friends, Jay realized he wasn’t alone in having an unhappy spouse.
“We were all in the same situation. At first it was comforting,” he says. “But then it was sad.”
Some business owners choose their business. And Jay remembered growing up in a time when fathers were never home — and were often grumpy. But he believed he could have more for himself and his family.
“I wanted to be a better husband and better father — not just a better business person,” he says.
So, he slowed down. Did the company have to grow so fast? Did he have to be a part of every decision?
He thought about his values. Could he provide for his family while working fewer hours? How much money was enough?He paused to reflect:
“What’s the point of killing it at the office to make more money when my family doesn’t really need me to?”
What they needed was Jay — home, with them, fully present.
3. Identify your strengths and get aligned.
Jay knew he wanted to make the change — which was in itself an important first step. But how? He had done the therapy route, asked friends for advice and read books.
“Then, I decided what worked well for me was business,” he says. When a challenge came up in his company, he was always able to find a way to overcome it. So, he had an idea to apply his business strengths to his family’s challenges.
At first, Rachel was annoyed: “We’re not your employees,” she said.
But, she says, “Jay has a talent — a gift for being able to solve pretty much anything.” She stayed open-minded.
For the Feitlingers, the process of getting aligned involved several days away from the routine to go through a goal-setting process — something both Jay and Rachel as well as their two young daughters, Ella, 8, and Lexi, 11, participated in. They talked about what would make them happy; they set individual goals; they set family goals. They got aligned on their values as a family.
4. Set priorities and commit.
After learning what would make his family happy, Jay realized that his evening routine and his time on his phone were significant problems.
So, when he comes home each night, he no longer plugs in his computer.
“Jay had to change what he did when he came home,” Rachel notes. “I make sure we have dinner together four nights a week, which is hard as your kids get older. But it’s the only time of the day that we’re all sitting together and electronics-free.”
And Jay knows that his participation is critical.
“When we have meals now, I’m one of the first to say let’s put our phones away,” he says. “I’m doing these little things and seeing a huge improvement in our family dynamic — especially between me and Rachel.”
During the goal-setting process, Jay and Rachel also learned that their girls wanted more individual time with each of their parents. For one of his daughters, that time often comes in the form of “conversation time” — one-on-one chats in the evenings before bed.
“I don’t think that that would’ve come about if we didn’t talk about our needs,” Jay says.
Jay also learned that Rachel wanted more date nights. Now, it’s a Saturday night priority.
“It’s something we both look forward to,” Rachel says. (And one change from before: There’s very little work talk.)
5. Be willing to work at it.
As he’s been writing his book and sharing his family’s process, Jay says he’s received a lot of pushback.
“People say that it seems like a lot of work,” he says. And they’re right.
If you’re passionate about your work, yes, it’s going to take time to change your schedule, to change the way you approach your work, to change up your routines.
“When you have a challenge in your company, do you just give up?” Jay asks. “Then, why would you give up on your family?”
It’s his personality, Jay says: He took an all-in approach.
“I’m over the top with some of this stuff,” he admits. “So, I’m not saying people should do everything I did. But take one small step, and it really will open up your eyes. You’ll discover a better life for you and your family.”