Parent-Founders

Jason Freedman's Avatar By Jason Freedman in Startups on

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In April of last year, my wife and I had our first child. Without getting too mushy or cliché about it, it’s the most freaking awesomest thing I’ve ever done. She’s now 16 months old, and the highlight of everyday, bar none, is spending time with her.

One of the most interesting things I have found in talking to friends that are preparing to have their first kid is that I have almost forgotten that perspective already. Because, while our kiddo is a ton of work right now, there’s never any doubt that that work is worth it because of the love and the joy she brings. Plus, that undeniable parental feeling that you would just do absolutely anything for your own child.

But before having a kiddo, I vaguely remember it more starky as an unbelievable to do list and the nostalgic end of all fun and independence in my life. I remember feeling that having a kid, while having been told would be wonderful, would also be quite the drag on whole bunch of things I appreciated about my life up until then. Financial independence. Late nights with friends. Spontaneity with my wife. The opportunity to obsess about my startup.

My fears were right. I did lose a lot of that stuff. But, they were also easily discarded. My wife and I didn’t try to hold on to the previous chapter of our lives.  We simply moved on to the next one.  Quite happily.

Adjusting to running a startup as a parent is a different story though. I want to talk a little about it here because I do have a few helpful perspectives on what it means to run a startup as a founder before and after having your first kid.

 

What Changes In Your Startup Once You Have a Kid

 

You have way less time

I knew this was coming, but I still found it pretty jarring. My day at the office ends at 4:55 pm because that is the absolute last minute to leave before I need to start driving across the city to pick up our kiddo at daycare. And even if my wife is covering pickup that day, I still need to leave by about that time because the next two hours, having dinner together and putting our kiddo to sleep, is some of the most valuable time of the day.

It’s still possible to get back online later in the evening. My wife goes to sleep much earlier than I do, so I can still spend a couple of hours getting stuff done. But the cadence of working with other people in the startup has definitely changed.

 

Salary matters more

For the first year at 42Floors, I didn’t take a salary and instead burned money off of credit card advances while we tried to figure out what this company was supposed to be. Doing that was actually fine; I didn’t have any financial resources at the time. I scraped by reducing my personal costs way down.

Once we had a kid, it is amazing how fast money gets spent. And my desire to spend that money is higher than ever. I want to buy the safest mattress even if it costs more. I want to buy the best car seat. I want to buy those cute shoes even if they’re only going to fit her for two months. All of that costs money.

But the reality is, even in a venture-backed startup, you just can’t bring your salary up too high, especially when you’re not profitable.  And for those just starting their company now, going a period of time without any salary is much, much harder when you have kiddos to support.

 

You’ll finally institute a maternity/paternity policy

Most startups that don’t have a founder with a kid also have no formal maternity or paternity policies in place. They simply wait until the first employee has a kid to figure out what it should be. The problem with this is it leaves uncertainty in the mind of your employees and even more uncertainty for candidates.

Once we had our kiddo, I quickly codified our maternity and paternity policy. No one should be in doubt of how much time they’ll get off and how compensation will work.

 

You lose non-core projects

Blogging for me has always been one of my favorite hobby-work activities. I enjoy doing it, and it’s good for the company. But I’ve only been able to publish a few posts over the last 16 months. With time commitments being eaten away on both sides, these types of extracurricular activities go away quite quickly. Along with them went meeting with other entrepreneurs, speculative investor phone calls, conferences, meet-ups, etc. I basically spend almost all of my time on my startup, my wife, my child and exercising.

 

More tired, but less stressed

Any parent will say that once you have a kid there are no more days off and I’ve definitely felt that. My wife and I often remark that we’re surprised how often we feel tired. It’s so late into the evening when we finally finish cleaning up the kitchen, putting the kiddo down, that we’re just exhausted from the day itself.

But one of the things I didn’t foresee happening is that I would bear less stress from the startup. Some of you know 2015 started out pretty rough for 42Floors.  It was incredibly stressful for everyone involved and of course I felt it, too. But the stress had to take a back seat every night.

When my last startup was struggling, I remember that the feeling of stress was paralyzing every minute of the day and night.  The startup was an oversized part of my self-identification and so I rose and fell with its successes and failures. However, with a kiddo at home, I have this incredibly therapeutic activity every morning and every night that is filled with joy and excitement (as well as poop and diapers). But all of it is completely uncorrelated with the ups and downs of work.

Nothing a like a kiddo to put your life in perspective.

You have a gazillion ideas for parenting start-ups

Oh man, if I wasn’t working on commercial real estate, I could really fix this whole parenting thing. First, I’d tackle newborn sleeping then clothes purchasing with quite a few gadget kick-starters in between. I feel like every entrepreneur turned parent feels the same way.

 

I’ll leave you with one final thought. Perhaps the biggest thing that changed as an entrepreneur now that I have a kid, is that I now have someone else to work hard for. I not only want to make money for her sake, but even more, I want to make her proud.

 

 

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