Episode 150: Using Data to Optimize Life with Renee Warren

Sherry talks with Renee Warren of The Family Academy, about how she and her husband, Dan Martell, have structured their two-founder family. With two on-fire careers and two kiddos, it takes some strategizing to create space for everyone in the family to flourish (and also stay connected).

Episode Transcript

Sherry Walling:Hi everybody, Happy New Year! So excited that it is 2018 and that 2017 is a thing of the past. We are cooking up some great things for the year ahead.
 One of the things that Rob and I are going to do is be more in touch with our email list. So if you are interested in kind of inside stories about some of the topics that we cover on ZenFounder or if you want to learn more about what we’re doing, where we’re speaking, where we’re gonna be showing up, we are working hard to bring some value to your inbox, just a couple times a month. Like two to three emails a month is what we’re going for. So if that’s something that you would like to have happen, feel free to sign up. It’s on our website at ZenFounder.com. And it’s low-risk. If you are irritated or you feel we’re emailing too much, you just unsubscribe.
 One other thing that is happening right now is that we are forming a January Zen Tribe. If you are wanting to kick off 2018 by connecting with some other entrepreneurs, some other people who are curating their own lives by starting their own businesses, tribes are a group of about eight entrepreneurs, usually from different kinds of backgrounds, and it’s kind of an 8 week bootcamp of wellness and mental health and friendship. And we meet weekly for eight weeks. We usually schedule some breaks in there. It has been a really beneficial experience for the people that have gone through it. So if you have questions about Zen Tribe feel free to hit me at up at Sherry@ZenFounder.com.
 So today we’re gonna talk about starting a new year well, particularly when it comes to thinking about how to set good goals as a family. How to evaluate your family’s well-being and health and then implement strategies to keep a family going strong. And my guest today is Renee Warren. She is a brilliant, determined, realist. She’s the former founder of a popular startup PR firm called Onboardly. She’s written hundreds of articles and ebooks on startup marketing and has helped people get on TV shows and magazines and blogs.
 Right now she is on a mission to help entrepreneur families gain more freedom in their lives. She is launching something called the Family Academy. And she knows this stuff inside and out. In addition to working professionally with many, many startup founders, she’s also married to Dan Martell, who’s been a guest on this show before, who among other things is the founder of Clarity. So she’s been on this journey both herself, and as a spouse, and as a professional. Sort of sounds familiar.
 Anyway, Renee lives in Canada with her husband and two boys and she and I have a fabulous conversation and I am excited to share it with you today.
Sherry Walling:So I am really excited to be talking to you today. And in addition to you being a force in your own right, as somebody who has started multiple businesses, right? And has a history in advertising, and writing, and PR, and just so many important skills, you’re also married to a founder to Dan Martell, who’s been a guest on this podcast before and are a parent. So I resonate with a lot of that story and what it means to have two people in a family who are both ambitious and motivated and got stuff going on but also come together to raise children and make a life together.
Renee Warren:Yeah it’s a house full of energy all the time. There’s no doubt. And it’s funny, you put two Type A personalities in a room and it’s interesting to see who will dominate the conversation. And in our household we have rules against that. So it’s like, I’ll just let Dan have it.
Sherry Walling:Okay so what’s the negotiation? What’s the rule?
Renee Warren:Well because he’s a lot louder than I am and so even if I try to be more dominant I can’t so I just let him have it and then I’ll send him an email with explicit details as to my opinion of the conversation. And he’s like, “Take this to a phone call. Let’s chat about it in person.” The thing about emails is it’s a documentation of the actual conversation. So I’m like, “Well this is what I really meant.” No, it’s interesting having two founders in a household and to be honest with you I don’t really know it any other way. I’ve had other boyfriends and stuff, they were very entrepreneurial as well. So I felt like maybe I’m just drawn to entrepreneurs to begin with.
 And here it’s like, sometimes it’s very unclear as to when the business conversation ends and the parenting conversations begin.
Sherry Walling:Yeah. Well they’re all things that you’re making, right? There’s just a lot of overlapping conversation.
Renee Warren:Absolutely, all the time. Even with our kids. It’s like, my youngest is four and he’s a little bit clumsy but it’s a part of his character and I love it, but he is also very independent. He has to do everything by himself, which includes taking a brand new 2 liter jug of milk and trying to pour his own bowl of cereal. And most parents would be like, “Let me get that for you.” And I say, “This weighs about you. So it’ll be interesting to see you pour your own bowl of cereal.” But you know, you gotta let them fail. And I feel like entrepreneurs are more forgiving in that sense, in letting their kids fail.
 And even just partners-wise, there’s been a lot of times when Dan’s wanted to come in and save the day from the perspective of a husband, but from like an entrepreneurial friend, when looking at me doing stuff in my business and he knows it’s not right. He’s like, “No, gotta watch her fail and then I’ll help her out of it.” So the dynamic is like that all the time in this household. Sometimes it’s exhausting but most of the time it’s quite fun.
Sherry Walling:Yeah it really encourages you to be your most autonomous, best version of yourself, which I think is actually so helpful and important in a marriage. That you’ve retained, for your own power, your own sense of how to do things and how you want to do your life.
Renee Warren:Absolutely. And I mean, for anybody, whether an entrepreneur or not, that’s important. I’ve insisted on keeping my last name, even though I’m married, and having my own bank account, because I’m independent and that feels good for me. There’s no pressure to ever change my last name, although I have joint accounts with my husband, but there’s no pressure to have everything in one place and a different last name. Because this is what I wanted and he was totally accepting of that. And even if I did change my last name, it wasn’t like it was gonna be that big of a different. Going from a Warren to a Martell, it’s like, it’s almost the same.
Sherry Walling:They’re similar, yeah.
Renee Warren:Yeah, exactly.
Sherry Walling:How do you guys balance separateness and connection? Because there is kind of balance. You don’t want to have so much separateness that you’re not a plural, you’re not a “we”, you’re not an “us”. But obviously you don’t want to have so much of that “we” that you fail to be separate, individual humans who are growing and doing your own things.
Renee Warren:And I think it’s important in any relationship that you maintain those things that you love doing. And if your significant others loves to do it as well, that’s awesome. But for me, it’s like, I used to love playing Ultimate Frisbee, I love going to CrossFit. My husband likes going to CrossFit. So we’ll go together. But he does this annual snowboarding trip out west with friends that I don’t care to go to, and I do my own events that he doesn’t care to go to and for me, it’s like you have to maintain a little bit of your own identity. And then it also gives you some interesting things to talk about.
 See Dan and I also work from home so we see each other all day, every day, which is awesome. I’m totally grateful for that. But sometimes it’s like, “What do we talk about at the end of the day? I see you all day.” So maintaining that independence and doing your own things, it’s so, so, so important.
Sherry Walling:Well, it sounds like you’re together all day, but I was gonna say, how do you make sure that you are really connecting? Because I know you’re both very busy.
Renee Warren:We’ll do things like, well every Wednesday evening is my evening to myself. So Dan picks up the boys from daycare at the end of the day, and he usually brings them to a friend’s house or they go out for dinner and I can either stay home and do nothing or do whatever I want. So I know, every Wednesday is my time to be completely disconnected from everything. From work, from my family, if I wanted to, or I could work or I could join them. Now with Dan and I, we always have quarterly retreats and an annual retreat where we go away for three to four to five days completely disconnected, just to reconnect with each other. And once a week we have a date hour or a date night. So there’s time when it’s just him and I. Sometimes we’ll have lunches together, sometimes we’ll go to CrossFit.
 And lastly, every Friday, just before lunch, we have our weekly, we call it a Martell Clan Meeting where we talk about different criteria in this meeting every single week. We give each other a rule rating out of 10, how we were as a husband or a wife, and where there’s room for improvement. Then we talk about big wins that we’ve had either personally or professionally. We go over financials, which is business and personal family financials. And then we go over travel schedule to make sure there’s no overlapping travel, to make sure that sticking to our rules.
 When we first got married, we agreed that we wouldn’t go no more than 10 days without seeing each other unless there was important circumstances. So we’ll review the travel schedule. And then the absolute last thing is if there’s any issues. So issues discussed regarding house stuff, home repairs, kids, school, whatever it is. And then we do this in about 45 minutes every week. So what this allows us to do is obviously be on top of all those issues but allows us to have open communication. So if there’s ever an issue that kind of starts, it’s not this big monster that grows over weeks or months or years because we discuss it every week. So we always nip it in the bud.
Sherry Walling:Yeah that weekly check-in. So important to have that weekly check-in. So tell me about the rating each other. That’s a new tidbit for me.
Renee Warren:At first it was a little bit intimidating because it’s like whoever goes first doesn’t have the upper-hand. So we switch up every week. So we say, as a wife, how was I for you this week? And my average score is probably an 8.5 so I’m pretty good.
Sherry Walling:That’s pretty good.
Renee Warren:I know.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, it’s like an A minus.
Renee Warren:I know, it’s still an A. It’ll just be little things. It’ll be like wifey things and it’ll be like parenting things. But what we do is we use like a Tony Robbins approach to constructive criticism, is here are the great things about you but here’s where you need to improve. And over the past few years that we’ve been doing this, kind of the same issues that keep coming up and so we know this and so we’re consciously working on the things that aren’t working for each other.
Sherry Walling:Is it hard to be objective and fair? Or is that not that important? Is it more like this is how I feel about what’s happened this week or our relationship this week?
Renee Warren:It’s totally about being constructive. So it’s important to say this is how that situation made me feel. Because talking about those emotions, it’s very vulnerable but it’s also about growth. But it’s also constructive. So it’s like, “I don’t appreciate that you’re on your phone at 6 pm when I’m trying to feed the kids, make the lunches, and do all this stuff. Can you help me out for 10 minutes?” And he’ll be all, “Okay, I get how you feel. And I’ll definitely put my phone down at that time.”
 It’s kind of like, if you say honestly this is how it made me feel and this is the little way that you can help me, then it’s very constructive. Now there have been times when we have gotten into arguments over certain things because we become so defensive. But it’s something that you work at. It’s never perfect. But it’s definitely a system that works for us, that helps us maintain a really awesome relationship with each other and with our kids.
Sherry Walling:The number’s kind of a tool for check-in. It’s a tool to express some feedback for how things are going.
Renee Warren:Yeah and like the weeks that I get an 11 out of 10, it’s like between him and I, we’re the only people that really know about it, but I am just so happy for the next 24 hours because I think, I am the perfect wife.
Sherry Walling:I’m rocking it.
Renee Warren:Yeah.
Sherry Walling:It sounds like you’ve used the word, rules a couple of times. It sounds like there are some well-established, outlined rules that govern the kinds of things you decide to do in your family. Can you say a little bit about that?
Renee Warren:Yeah so for us, so we have some ground rules. Between 5 and 6 pm every day is no electronics time. So that’s for all of us. So we all put our phones down, our laptops away, and that’s when we sit together as a family and we have our meals together. So growing up, that was something that was of value from my side of the family. For me it was so important because we spent that time together and we’d talk about everything and we really got to deeply connect with each other and talk about the things that were bothering us or anybody that may have been bullying us at school or any issues that we’re having. But we also got to talk about the good things too.
 And Dan never had those values. Growing up was kind of like eat what you could when you can and then move about your business. And so it was really hard to convince him to do it. But now he sees the value and even with the boys it’s like they’re four and five years old, they’re very energetic, squirmy little buggers. To try to keep them at the kitchen table is often very hard. But we come up with different ways of doing it and we ask them those questions like, “How was your day? What was the funniest thing that happened at school today?” And we actually have a deck of little, printed cards that I created that have different questions on it that we go around asking each other at every meal and we just learn about each other. And there’s little things that I sneak in there like you know, if you have to call 911 how do you do it? And why is this important? And what are the circumstances for you to actually call for help?
 So they’re learning but we’re also teaching them at the same time and we’re having fun. But the rule, going back to the rules about dinner time, that’s important. And just like, we have a rule for December and January where there’s no electronics allowed in the bedroom. And we go into this habit of always trying to go to bed while watching a TV show and I said, “This is so not productive. I would love to read my books and then just go to bed.” So that’s a new rule, and we’ll see how long we can do that for. And we just come up with these things to just kind of guide our lives. And it’s important. And maybe rule’s not the best way of describing these things but I can’t think of a better word right now.
Sherry Walling:Yeah it’s kind of straightforward. Like it’s the guideline. This is how we do this. And it’s concise and kind of universally agreed to, or at least between you and Dan. The kids can protest.
Renee Warren:Oh I know, and they do.
Sherry Walling:So in your most recent version of your professional life, and you’ve done lots of things over the course of your professional life, but in your most recent version, you’re working a lot with other founders and their families to help kind of streamline life and also avoid some of the problems that founders and their families can face. What are some of the sort of founder family problems that you most often talk with people about or hear people talking about?
Renee Warren:Yeah the two big things that really come up is the inability to be present. So being present coming home from work or even on the weekends, whenever their dedicated time is with their kids, or their wife or husband, or family members, or friends, it’s really hard to disconnect from work. And the other thing is guilt. And mostly mothers, I don’t know how men are able to do it, but mostly female founders who are mothers feel guilty when they’re working on their business more than spending time with their kids. And I get it. I feel it every day too. But there’s ways of dealing with it that I’ve worked with other people and it’s definitely helpful. But those are two things. Being present and the guilt.
Sherry Walling:How do you work with guilt? When you feel it or when you feel like you’re distracted or not getting an 11 out of 10 on the mom scale?
Renee Warren:Oh I know. I wish my kids could grade me sometimes because I feel like I need that feedback. The guilt thing is really interesting. There are days that are better than others. And I feel when I’m in the flow, like right now I’m writing a book soon to be published in January, when I’m in flow and I’m really tuned into that project I don’t feel guilty because I know I’m making progress. But if I’m doing things and I’m working on stuff that aren’t really moving the needle, when I know that time with my kids is more valuable, that’s when I feel guilty.
 And so you talk to other female founders, or other father founders, and they’re always in flow with their business. They don’t often feel that guilt. There’s disconnection and a disengagement from their family. But for me, I think about that quote, and it’s like this picture of a mother lion and a baby cub standing on the top of this mountain and the mom’s up there and I guess she’s been challenged by something. And this little baby lion is looking up at the mom. And the quote says, “I thought about giving up but then I watched who was watching me.”
 So I think about, I am an example to my kids. Everything I do. Everything I say. So if I’m really loving working on my business, and some weeks it’s 30 hours, others it’s 50 or 60, I can’t allow myself to feel guilty if I’m progressing and if I’m creating this legacy for my kids too. So I think about those things that you’re so grateful for. And there’s always gonna be times you feel guilty. Like for me it’s 3:30 in the afternoon and I know my neighbors have already gone to get their kids at daycare or they’ve already been dropped off in school and they’re spending this time with them and I think, “Well, I should maybe be doing that too.” Or I could be working on something really cool that they’re gonna be proud of me someday.
Sherry Walling:I think one of my favorite moments as a mother was my oldest was two when I walked for my doctoral degree. So he was there and helped me throw my hat and was at the hooding ceremony, which I don’t know that he remembers, but he was just so taken with the whole thing and the pomp and circumstance and all of it. But it was such a proud moment for him to see his mother accomplishing something really important. And that’s been the experience for our kids over the course of our lives. They know that I’m working on a book and I’m sure your kids know that you’re working on a book and my kids come home and they write books. And that’s an activity that they are imitating because both Rob and I have done that. And so my son published a book a couple of years ago called “A Parent’s Guide to Minecraft”.
Renee Warren:Oh that’s awesome.
Sherry Walling:I love it, it’s amazing. But it’s also something which, “Oh you’re imitating.” You’re watching what we’re doing.
Renee Warren:Well they’re a product of their environment.
Sherry Walling:Sure.
Renee Warren:And so that’s also where the guilt also drips in. There’s moments where you’re totally disengaged and disconnected and frustrated and your kids are watching you. And you think, “Oh my God. They’re gonna internalize this.” Which they do. Because I see sometimes my oldest talk to my youngest, now they’re only 11 months apart so it’s like they’re twins but they’re not. And I just see the things that he says to him and it’s like, “Oh my God. I say that. That sounds terrible.” And then you feel guilty. But at the end of the day when I step back and I look at our family values and how we function, we’re pretty awesome. Obviously that’s biased but I feel confident as a mother and a wife and as a household manager.
Sherry Walling:And you’re happy. Right, that’s the determining factor.
Renee Warren:Totally.
Sherry Walling:Like you’re satisfied with what you’ve created.
Renee Warren:Absolutely. Very, very happy. And a lot of the happiness too in terms of career was really a big shift this past year. So 2017 was going from for myself running a successful PR agency with a great team and great roster of clients from all over the world to knowing deep down in my core that I did not love it and I did not want to do it anymore. And for me, I spent probably a better part of a year and a half knowing how much I hated it and trying to get out of it without changing anything. And I just decided one day, I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.” And that’s when I decided I needed to shut the doors and focus on something completely different and that is when I launched the Family Academy.
 And I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it is it’s going to be but there’s some really cool things that we’ll be doing for 2018 and it’s just so much more aligned with me and allows me to create content that is like, we use our family as an example, but I can use it to teach my own kids. Like it’s two-fold. I’m learning for myself but then I’m also teaching a community that needs it as well.
Sherry Walling:It’s almost like one of the things that has been important to you and Dan and how you’ve set up your family is this idea or practice really of being very intentional about how you do things. How you set time aside, how you structure and organize your lives, and it sounds like some of that intention or your decisions around the rules that guide your family comes from these retreats that you take. Do you want to say a little bit about those as important parts of family life?
Renee Warren:Yes so we do quarterly retreats, just my husband and I. And we typically try to choose locations that we’ve never been to. So it could be jumping on a plane going somewhere or it driving five or six hours somewhere. Completely disconnected, minimum two to three nights. And what we do is we a, relax. We let our minds just become bored in a way and just connect with each other. We go out and do hiking or we do CrossFit or we go out for dinners. It’s kind of like, you end up falling into this falling in love thing all over again.
 Like remember when you first started dating how it didn’t matter who was calling you, because you were so into that person that you would just turn off your phone and it didn’t matter. That’s what we’d try to get to at least four times a year and it’s awesome. Now our annual retreats, which are done in December, we actually follow, I guess more rules. I’ve actually created a guide called “The Couples Retreat Guide”. It’s on my website under FamilyAcademy.co and it’s essentially like a workbook to go through, together, completely in a zone where it’s like you guys can brainstorm on these ideas. And essentially what it is, is you come up with your family mission, your values, how you want to parent, your goals personally, professionally. What you want for the year, where you’re gonna travel, and all these things and what we do in these meetings is we come up with an annual theme word, which is probably the most exciting thing for me.
 So our theme word for 2017 was education because my oldest was going to school and we had homeschooled for a little bit and there was a lot of learning. And our word for 2018 is adventure. So everything that we do in terms of booking travel or going out for dinners with people, or writing books, or whatever it is. The theme amongst that is adventure. Like is this adventurous? Or if we come to a Friday and we know that the weekend’s looming and we don’t have anything cool planned for the weekend, it’s like, “What can we do that’s super adventurous this weekend?” Because you think about those happiest, most memorable moments when you’re parenting or doing something different yourself or with your husband or wife, it’s probably when you’re doing something different.
 So whether you’re taking the kids rock climbing or jumping on a plane to go and go to a Tony Robbins event or doing something that’s a little bit out of your comfort zone, those are the things that are memorable. And so for 2018, it’s gonna be a year of adventure for us.
Sherry Walling:It sounds amazing and I’m resonating a lot with what you’re talking about in the sense that I wrote, also a guide for retreats, not focused on couples but focused on founders individually. And there’s a lot of overlap and in that sense of setting a theme, or a word, or an intention, or something that helps to fill in the blank when you have a blank. When you’re, as you said, when you’re not sure what to do this weekend, at least we have this theme that sort of guides what we decide to do and what we don’t do. It becomes the filter through which we make decisions.
Renee Warren:Exactly. It’s kind of like your daily journal, right? We use the five minute journal in our house. And the questions that it asks in the journal is “I’m grateful for…” And you write down the things. And what would make today great? And you write down your things and then daily affirmations. And essentially you’re setting intentions for the day. So while this is a daily practice, we do a big one annually. And it changes a little bit, but at the end of the day, if I look back to the past five years, it’s pretty much been the same thing and it’s really been super-helpful.
 Because we set up these quarterly goals. For me it’s like, “Get three pull-ups at CrossFit.” And it’s so tiny but for me that means a lot because I know I broke my collarbone and I broke my elbow, so my left side of my body is super-weak. So what I have to do to actually do three pull-ups, is a lot. But once done, to me, I feel like super-accomplished.
Sherry Walling:So we are coming to the end of the year and kind of this transition into a new year where a lot of people do engage in this kind of reflective process where they are setting some goals and other things for the next year. How do you go about setting…? I mean do you set specific goals for your family?
Renee Warren:So in our weekly planning we have five values that I guess we grade every week. So it could be community, spirituality, communication, adventure. So what we do is we go through each one of these values and say how we were on adventure this week. And nothing can be a perfect ten, but you’ll get some weeks where your community won’t be so hot because you were super-busy writing your book so you never got out and did anything. And so how we apply that to the family is like, we involve the boys in rating those values.
 It’s like, what did we do as a family spiritually? Well we have the boys meditating now five minutes every other day. This is awesome. And while it’s squirmy and it’s hard to keep them still, they’re getting it. So that’s how we involve the family, because it’s also for me, because I’m terrible at meditating but I figure you now what? If I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna have my kids do it with me and then we can all be squirmy together. This is awesome.
Sherry Walling:Yes absolutely. So what’s on the docket for 2018? What are the goals that the Martell-Warren family will be chasing down?
Renee Warren:Thank you for saying Martell-Warren. That’s awesome. Well we’re actually planning a big move. So we’re located on the east coast of Canada, we actually touch the ocean. And this is where Dan’s family’s from and I’m from Ontario and we’re actually gonna be moving back. So not too sure on the exact date but that is big for us. And lots of travel too, ahead of us. Costa Rica, and then lots of travel in the states, possibly Australia. And of course bringing our boys with us everywhere we go. Because right now it’s a great age to bring them because kindergarten is something we can teach on the road. Noah’s only four, isn’t in school yet.
 So I mean that’s the big thing. And for me it’s like publishing my book. I’m really diving into launching the Family Academy and seeing kind of what sticks there. But it’s gonna be an adventure and it’s super-exciting. It’s kind of like this was the year that I’ve been waiting for. It’s like while the past five or six years have been really, really great, I feel like that was the learning years to what I’m going to be accomplishing this year. So I’m super-excited for it.
Sherry Walling:Yeah like there’s a huge, strong foundation underneath you. And now you’re ready to jump in and do some interesting things.
Renee Warren:Absolutely. Stepping outside my comfort zone for sure.
Sherry Walling:And working on your pull-ups.
Renee Warren:I know right? Believe me, when that happens, the Internet will know.
Sherry Walling:Okay, good.
Renee Warren:I will post something.
Sherry Walling:Well it’s been lovely to talk to you and hear kind of this insider track into how you think about family and how you and Dan have structured your founder family to really create space for both of you to be successful founders and also connected and connected to your boys, your kids.
Renee Warren:Yes. No thanks for having me. This was awesome, I really appreciate it. It’s my first real interview or chat since I’ve moved on from the PR agency and this feels really good. So finding alignment with what you love to do is probably a great tip for people in 2018 if they’re a little sluggish.
Sherry Walling:Yeah absolutely. And it’s so easy to talk about and immerse yourself in what you most care about. Sounds like that’s been some of your lesson of the last couple years. It’s like I need more alignment between how I’m spending my time and what I really love.
Renee Warren:Yeah, and before when I was talking about the agency, it was great and we were doing some great work, but at the end of the day, I felt like I was a lie or a cheat because I knew my core was like, “I don’t want to be doing this.” But now I’m so in tune to this next thing that I don’t even care what people say about it because I know it’s gonna be something. And I know I’m not lying to myself when I say that. So I can’t wait to help more entrepreneur families.
Sherry Walling:Well sounds good. Thank you so much for talking with me and if people are curious about what you’re doing or want to jump in and be part of your work, what’s the best way for them to find to you?
Renee Warren:Yeah, they can go to FamilyAcademy.co and they can find me there!
Sherry Walling:Alright. Sounds good. Thanks so much Renee.
Renee Warren:Thank you!