I want to preface this post with I fully advocate for having children when you are ready to have them (or not having them at all if that’s what you want). You obviously should not read this post and go, “Wow, little humans seem totally beneficial to someone starting a company, I should run out and get some.” However, I also want to make it very clear all those people who act like having a child is a kiss of death to your career or your dreams of launching your own company are completely wrong. In fact, I honestly believe that having kids has made me better prepared and better able to handle the chaos that comes with founding a startup.
Here’s what I mean:
- No venture capitalist’s comments will ever cut as deep as a preschooler’s words. I will never forget when my oldest daughter was 3 years old, and I sent her to time out for throwing a fit. She refused, then summoning her new found toddler rebellion, and told me, “I don’t love you anymore.” My first-time parent heart shattered into about a million little pieces. We obviously made amends and the whole incident was written off as a misunderstanding. Now a VC “doesn’t love” my product? Whatever.
- Likewise, your preschooler will prepare you for any completely unsolicited opinions people will say about your product. The other day I was eating cauliflower risotto and pasta sauce when my 5-year-old walked in to the kitchen and informed me my dinner looked like puke. I just ignored her and kept eating. Having children will give you the thick skin you need as an entrepreneur.
- You don’t get time to dwell on things. Before I had my kids, I would get down about things that didn’t go my way work-wise, if I didn’t get a job I wanted or if I wasn’t moving ahead fast enough in my career. Case in point: A few years before I had my first kid, I had applied for a fellowship and didn’t make it past the semi-final round. I was so upset. I applied again when my daughter was a baby and made it to the final round – and then didn’t get it. I expected to be gutted again, but instead found I didn’t have the time to feel sorry for myself because I had to stop my daughter from diving off the kitchen table. Now, if someone doesn’t want to buy our games or invest in our company, I don’t get worked up about it.
- You’re forced to better manage your time. Since I had kids I work more efficiently. It’s because I don’t have a choice. I have a finite amount of hours until my nanny leaves and my older kids get home from school and my work better be done by then. Nothing results in laser-like focus than trying to finish off X assignment before your baby gets home.
- There’s an added incentive to hustle. Clearly you don’t need to have kids to have the drive to succeed as an entrepreneur. But realizing that you have a small person (or multiple small people) that you have to care for and make sure is fed and clothed and all those things is one more reason (or in my case, three more reasons) to do everything you can to make sure your business succeeds.
- Built in feedback. We make educational video games, meaning having kids provides me literal in-house testers. (For the record, it is cheaper to hire game testers so you should not have children just for this reason.) Even if you are not building an educational or kids-focused product, kids can come in handy. Case in point, when we are writing up directions for app installation (which is done by an adult) and want to make sure they’re understandable, we call in my 9-year-old to see if she can follow the instructions. If she can’t, we make them clearer.
- You learn to work with distraction. You know those people who can only work if it’s quiet and they can focus? Entrepreneurs don’t get that luxury – you’re constantly having to answer calls or field questions from your staff on X or Y thing that you’ve assigned. Parents are used to that. Seriously, do you know how many times I’ve been interrupted in writing this blog? My 5-year-old wants a Band-Aid for her tongue, my 9-year-old can’t find her favorite pajamas and my 2-year-old wants to eat “something” which I’m apparently supposed to be able to guess. I have managed all of those pressing needs and here I am back typing away.
- You long ago gave up on the idea of getting enough sleep. Startups take lots of hours and often late nights. The good news is there actually is a rock bottom when it comes to tired. I learned that because when I had my second baby, I expected to be more tired than when I had my first. Turns out, I was exhausted, but not any more tired than when I had my first (where I was also exhausted). There is actually a (totally non-scientific) limit to how tired a human being can be. After that, whether it’s two kids or three kids or three kids and a startup, it’s really all the same. The trick is not falling asleep when you put them down for bedtime. Then that second wind/energy surge kicks in. If I can get past bedtime, working until 1:30 a.m. is a breeze. But I’m not going to lie, there are definitely nights where I lie down with kids and end up being the first one asleep.
- You realize that things will never go exactly as you planned – but you find a way to make it work. Honestly, whether it’s running a startup or raising a kid, you’re basically figuring it out as you go. The truth is no matter how well you’ve prepared, you will find things come up that you totally never expected. You’re walking out the door and someone throws up all over you (that’s hopefully a parenting encounter – not a startup one). You have a major customer that’s three months late paying you and you have to figure out how to make payroll (which is less disgusting than being thrown up on, but more stressful). And before you know it, you come up with a way to just plow through the chaos and do what needs to get done – because that’s what parents and entrepreneurs and parents who are entrepreneurs do.