How to Balance a Startup With Parenthood
A look at balancing parenthood with the demanding schedule of a startup.
One of the common startup myths is that single 20-somethings are the most successful entrepreneurs and that they are the demographic that starts the most companies. Zach and Sam may have started One Mighty Roar before they were even legal to go into a bar, but research from the Kauffman Foundation states that the average founder is actually 40 years old. The same report shows that nearly 70% of entrepreneurs are married and 60% had at least one child. So much for the stereotype.
Tons of startups, from Intel to Starbucks, were all started by parents. I am a dad myself and One Mighty Roar has been growing along with my daughter. Before I became a father, I got to work with a number of folks who taught me some really great lessons about balancing parenthood and a startup, and I still use these lessons to this day.
1. Think of Your Partner As Your Investor
Having a supportive home partner is a must, and you run a chance of a very painful and expensive divorce if you don’t manage the relationship and foster that support. Think of your partner as your investor, because that person has more influence than you think. So before you start a company or pick a team to join, take the time to pitch the venture and convince your most important investor. It is worth getting your partner’s support.
2. Choose Your Startup Team Wisely
The team you work with is like a second family. Pick wisely! There are many reasons I joined the OMR team, but their support of me being a parent from Day One has been nothing but an inspiration. When your team supports your choice to be a parent, it removes a large layer of office politics and acts as a great source of energy. Even your single colleagues may be parents someday. You have to set an example and inspire them not to fear it when their time comes.
3. Communicate Your Schedule and Priorities
Conflict and ambiguity bring an unnecessary level of overhead to work and family relationships. To minimize that overhead, communication and expectations-setting should be at the top of your mind daily. I am a huge fan of “Commanders Intent.” We practice it at One Mighty Roar at every level, from apprentice to founder. You have to let people know what you are going to do and what the final outcome will look like. Communicating possible risks and where you need help will prepare your home and office teams to have your back when needed. In addition to providing context to a lot of your actions, being transparent with what you are doing and how you are going to do it adds a level of personal discipline you need.
If it does not serve your family or business – purge it! Often, the first thing to go are networking events. Those are mostly “drink-ups” that have no real business value, anyway. Second thing to go are meetings with people who are either not helpful to your work or who are “takers.” These are folks who rarely, if ever, reciprocate for the time and connections you give them. Lastly, it is very likely you will be jettisoning a bunch of hobbies and other activities now that you are a parent. If you already have kids, you know that “me time” is like sleep at Navy Seals training – you take when you can get it, since you don’t get to plan for it. For me, sleep has become the most sought after “hobby.” Being a parent and getting to work with my team is extremely fulfilling and honestly I don’t care enough to pick other hobbies back up right now. I know I am not alone thinking that way.
5. Manage Your Energy
Energy management is not just for utilities. Business has strong demands on your mental energy, and your new family can take a physical toll. Pulling all nighters for the sake of work is non-sense. Generally speaking, the work you do when you’re up at 2:00 am isn’t top-quality, and you’re only going to have to redo the work again the following day. So don’t waste your time.
6. Set Boundaries
When people at work and at home know what to expect from you and when, you cut out a massive amount of conflicts. For example, my team knows there are certain days I leave at 5:00 pm to pick up my daughter and am not going to be reachable until she goes to sleep at 8:00 pm. On those days, my wife knows I need to be in extra early to pound out some work. Most weekday evenings I do set aside time to work on finance and legal docs, because I do the best work on those then.
That means that one of the weekend days is exclusively for housework, family fun, and other non-work activities. It also does not relieve me of my share of housework. Those are just couple of examples.
There are many many successful companies being led by parents. Motivation you derive from having to provide for your family, the impending college costs for your kids, that retirement you have to build for yourself, and the drive to make your family proud of you are incredible fuel for building a successful company. Take it one step at the time and you can and will put your family and growing business in equilibrium. It is not only doable, it is also extremely fun and fulfilling.