Guest author Jonathan Barouch (@jbarouch) is founder and CEO of location-based startup Roamz. Roamz is a mobile app that intelligently curates location-based social content to show people what's going on nearby.
Now, before you jump up and down to disagree, hear me out. I have two beautiful children for whom I am grateful every single moment of the day. However, I can’t help but contrast my experience of founding my first startup as a single 17-year-old with my second, having gained a wife, toddler and a baby who was born just eight months post-launch. And while the tech community has fostered a culture of learning from each other’s successes and failures, what I think is missing from the dialogue is an open and honest discussion about the challenges involved in the co-existence between an entrepreneur's startup life and their personal life.
While I wouldn’t change my personal circumstances for anything in the world - and I appreciate that each person and their family is different - I would, nonetheless, offer the general advice that it is a bad idea to have a child at the same time as founding a startup.
Agree or disagree with my argument, but my hope is that entrepreneurs will continue to share their startup experiences including how the choices they make in their personal life impact their startup and vice versa.
Being A Founder And A Parent Is Like Running Two Marathons Simultaneously
It was midnight last night, and I was waiting for a call from a potential client overseas. I had just re-settled my newborn after his feed and I knew that both he and my three-year-old would be awake for the day in less than five hours. Five hours! It was at that lightbulb moment that I realized that, no matter how much you tell yourself that your personal life won’t impact your work life, in the startup world that simply isn’t true. The closest analogy for what running a startup feels like is running a marathon that never seems to finish. As the business gets to scale, it appears like the race slows down to the point where you can just catch your breath, but you never stop running. Ditto taking care of a newborn. Founding a startup while parenting a baby is like running two startups - one commercial and one human.
Look, I’m not suggesting that other types of jobs aren’t difficult when you’ve got young kids. You might argue that lots of people hold challenging jobs, and they still manage to raise a newborn. Or your response may even be: “What about senior executives and CEOs? Many have had children during their tenure.”
Sure they do. But there’s a key difference between a startup founder versus an executive. The founder faces an existential threat to their business every single day. Every extra hour, every moment of thought, every pitch can mean the difference between success or failure.
There Are Never Enough Hours In The Day
During my first startup, I would go to any networking event I could talk my way into. I built up great relationships with the press, with companies that subsequently developed into customers, and even with other entrepreneurs who provided support and who eventually also became friends. Would I have gone to these events if it meant missing out on seeing my toddler grin from ear-to-ear when I walked through the door in the evening? Similarly, some of my favorite moments in founding a startup are working with my team late at night and watching everyone’s faces when some milestone is hit or some large problem is solved. If you miss these defining moments at your startup the culture and camaraderie will change. When you have a family it’s a constant trade-off.
To create a successful business, in the early days, an entrepreneur needs to be “always on,” whether it be responding to emails at all hours, listening to feedback on social media or pitching the product or service to anyone who will listen. This necessity to be “always on” is completely incompatible with being the parent of a newborn.
But on the other hand...
Being A Parent Makes Me A Better CEO
While I believe that it’s a bad idea to have a child at the same time as founding a startup, I have definitely also benefitted from being a parent and a founder simultaneously. I am a better CEO the second time around, and a lot of it has to do with being a parent.
Apart from becoming more mature after having kids, I have found that I am able to better empathize with people. I also find that I can cope with the stresses of a startup much better since having children (a server meltdown is nothing compared to a toddler meltdown). I got a different sense of perspective that is hard to explain. It isn’t that I treat the business any more or any less seriously than before, but I feel that I am now better able to separate what’s important for the business from what’s not.
Running a startup is a roller-coaster ride where some days everything goes your way and other days are just a constant struggle. Being able to come home to the smiling face of a child who thinks you are fantastic melts away the things that went wrong that day and helps you push through to fight the next battle.
Don’t Found A Company And Have A Child At The Same Time
While I don’t seriously think anyone is going to base their decision of when to have kids on this article alone, I thought it was worthwhile sharing my experiences of founding one startup with kids, and one startup without. Not having children in the first one to two years of founding my first company gave me a lot of freedom and flexibility that I didn’t realize I had at the time. Equally the process of becoming a parent and managing a newborn has given me skills that are unexpectedly useful when founding a company.
Entrepreneurs plan every detail of when and how they will start their first venture but one part of the equation that is often forgotten is how they will manage their personal life. Perhaps it is time that we start hearing about how other entrepreneurs balance their work with their private lives.
Now I’m off to grab some sleep before that 5 a.m. wake-up call.
Photo credit: Greg McBean