The Feb. 24 ExitEvent Startup Social was winding down. The beer was gone, the noise had returned to sub-deafening levels, and most of the investors had already split an hour or so earlier.

They’re older.

Speaking of older, as I was gently body-Englishing the last of the attendees out to somewhere that didn’t have to be home but wasn’t going to be here, an old-as-me entrepreneur stopped me to tell me how much he had gotten out of the evening. This is something I never take for granted, so we had a quick conversation as we walked out onto the sidewalk. Then he dropped a question I get a lot, but it had never been put into quite this context:

“How did you work it out so your wife is cool with you doing all the entrepreneurial stuff?”

He wasn’t talking about the event itself. He was talking about all of it – the late, late nights, the work weekends, the always-on-even-on-vacation lifestyle, but also the events and travel and early-morning coffee meetings and after-hours beer meetings.

I stopped for a second and tried really hard to not sound like a jerk.

Make your own joke there.

“Basically man,” I said, “And I mean this with all humility, but I’m a good father and husband.”

Although you’d have to double check with my wife on any given day.

My point is, I’ve learned work/life balance. Got it nailed. And the first step to doing that, which is the first step to being able to live the life of an entrepreneur and still be able to do things like get married, have kids, and reach your thirties, is to understand how important work/life balance is to your success.

Or for that matter your survival.

I say this because I’ve been on the other side as recently as this past summer, when circumstances conspired (in a good way) to force me to work every day – that’s every single day, a minimum 8 hours on the weekends and 12-16 on the weekdays – from July 4th until September 12th. And it wasn’t just me. Some people worked a little less, some people worked a little more, but we all went way above and beyond the call.

Even with 60-80 hour weeks, we almost didn’t make our deadlines. And none of us want to ever do it again. Don’t get me wrong, we’ll do it in sprints, just not the two-month-plus marathon. We learned something during this nightmare: We have policies that promote work/life, but policies mean squat unless you live them.

Again, this is all relative, and on any given day I can be much less than perfect. But much like startup, failure isn’t failure until you give up. So here are three basic elements of work/life. Think of these as your anchors, your guide, your commandments.

  • Family

Family First. Say it with me. This is rule number one. And that doesn’t just mean not missing school plays and graduations, it means getting involved and staying involved. For me, it means volunteering at my kids’ school and quitting work at 5 p.m. on Friday to spend the next three to four hours doing housework.

Scrubbing toilets. What did you do last Friday night?

It means picking up the slack when it’s needed, not when I can squeeze it in or when I catch a break. If you have to schedule family ahead of time, put it on the calendar, and make it one of those meetings you can’t break.

And a word to you youngsters: Family isn’t just about spouse and kids. Significant others, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, even close friends, they all fit the definition. When I was in my twenties, a bunch of local friends took one night a month to all go out for dinner and drinks, and you didn’t miss it. Today, it’s an annual trip to Vegas or Atlantic City with friends in New York and DC.

The key is: Don’t miss it. If you’re there when you’re needed it’s much easier to break away when you’re not.

  • Health

I’m a runner, avid, but not lunatic. You know what I hate more than anything in the world? Running early in the morning, running in the dark, and running in the cold.

Guess what I did all winter?

You don’t have to be a gym rat. You don’t have to run marathons. In fact, I’m of the opinion that you probably shouldn’t. It’s not about finding nirvana. It’s not some kind of “Just Do It” shoe commercial sloganism that gets me out onto the pavement dodging cars in 36-degree light rain, it’s the fact that if I don’t, I won’t be sharp, and if I’m not sharp, it’ll take me three times longer to do what I need to do in order to succeed. And if we don’t succeed, well, I’ll have plenty of time to do whatever it is I dropped for 45 minutes to go run.

The hardest part is getting started (or restarted). It’s easy to use startup as an excuse to not run, or to slam down a Big Mac equivalent for lunch, or to stay up past midnight every night.

To break that cycle, set goals like you would any release of your product. Go MVP at first, then pick release dates, weekly, monthly, what have you, and calculate the effort you’ll need to get there. Then execute.

Every Friday, I look at my calendar and I schedule a fitness meeting on every day of the following week. Sometimes I label them “Very Important Customer Call” so no one tries to bump me.

It helps to make your goals public, so join (or start) a fitness challenge, or every once in a while, be one of those shameless idiots who posts their goals on a social network.

What do you care? Facebook is dead anyway, so use that.

Look, health and fitness doesn’t have to be your top priority, I’m just saying it shouldn’t be a distant third (remember, Family First).

  • Well-Being

As a writer, one thing I learned early is if you spend all your time writing, your writing will suck. The same can be said of all of life, and especially of startup. If you’re not out there doing things you enjoy, what’s the sense of killing yourself?

Everyone dies, not everyone truly lives. All that.

I’ve even learned to make business-related decisions based on what seems to be more fun to do at the time.

1. I’m going to be way more productive at it and probably psych myself up for those things I don’t want to do and

2. It’s more often than not the right call, and my gut was trying to get through to my brain.

Here’s where I put in the mandatory disclaimer that startup isn’t a party. I’m assuming you already knew that. If you didn’t, all the work/life balance in the world isn’t going to help because you’re probably just stuck on life/life balance.

Well-being isn’t about scheduling, it’s the opposite. It’s one of the reasons I started a monthly entrepreneurs event and it’s the main reason I didn’t slap an agenda on it. At the very least, you get to blow off some steam.

But it doesn’t even have to be remotely work-related. This is turning my guitar up loud and screaming for an hour, it’s shooting dice in terrible Atlantic City with three of my best friends, and it’s meeting a friend for a beer or a coffee and not talking about anything having to do with startup.

Startups are looking a lot different than they did just a few years ago. Founders and even employees are getting older on average, more established in their lives, and with more responsibility than the average early-twenties dorm-room founder.

Work/life balance is finally starting to become part of the startup equation, and for the right reasons. It’s not that you need to do these things because you’ll go crazy if you don’t, it’s because you’ll be a better entrepreneur and make a better startup if you do.

Editor’s note: Joe Procopio is a serial entrepreneur, writer, and speaker. He is VP of Product at Automated Insights and the founder of startup network and news resource ExitEvent. Follow him at @jproco or read him at