If startups require intense amounts of time and focus to succeed, how do founders with kids make it work? Children, no matter how lovable and cute, take up a lot of these scarce resources. Are startups simply a pursuit for the young and single that can focus on work at the expense of everything else in their lives?
And yet, if you hang out in Silicon Valley long enough, you notice quite a few founders have young kids. We asked several parents who have founded companies to share their experience. Below are their (lightly edited) responses about what it’s like to be a founder with kids.
Marcel Salathe, Vouchpop:
Before being a founder of a startup, I was a professor at a University, so having to be efficient with my time is nothing new to me. (I actually think running a research group is not too different from running a startup - you have ideas, need to test them, if they work you’ll get traction and funding, if not you have to go back to the bench and try something else, you’re always looking for talent, you’re always trying to convince people about this great new thing you’re working on, etc.)
My point is that there is nothing special about being a founder that would be incompatible with having kids. The single most important things by far is that you can arrange your life in such a way that when necessary, you have a support system in place that allows you to drop anything and focus on work. In my case, that’s my wife, and without her support this would not be possible.
Robyn Sue Fisher, Smitten Ice Cream:
For some reason I cannot explain, it makes most things that used to stress me out at work less stressful.
Nathan Wenzel, SimpleLegal:
My thought on startups and kids is that those are two things that will consume all the time you pour into them. You're never "done" with either of them, you just eventually stop. You're never done working on your company, but after your customers have all gone home, you eventually stop typing. You're never done with your kids, you just eventually think the house is clean enough.
Erica Brescia, Bitnami:
It is hard. Especially going through Y Combinator when you have a newborn (Jack was 6 weeks old when our session officially started, and 2 weeks old when we had our YC interview). That said, it is totally worth it. Having Jack has helped me to become more focused and better at prioritizing my time.
I've learned to take a step back and do a better job of identifying what will truly impact our business and help to drive it forward. As a result, I say "no" a lot more, but I think that has made me a better business person.
David Zhao, Voxel:
No matter how stressful it gets at work, seeing the smile on Dylan’s face instantly puts me in a good mood.
Gee-Hwan Chuang, Listia:
Having kids while doing a startup is one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but strangely enough, I think it has also been one of the keys to preventing burnout, maintaining focus and Listia's growth and success over the years.
It is very important to have some help. In order to succeed, you definitely need the support of your spouse, family, or friends, and a great daycare or nanny is essential. When my second son was born, we had just moved into our first "real" office, and I tried bringing him to work with me every day for two weeks. That was a huge mistake. The best thing to do is to have both focused work time and focused family time... don't try to mix them together.
The best part of this whole journey is that now my kids are old enough to know what Listia is all about and I get to show them all the cool things we are building. I actually get most of their toys from the Listia marketplace now, and it has become part of our lives and something I can share with them every day.
Jason Freedman, 42Floors:
What's strange is that for the first time ever, I don't want to go into the office to work on 42Floors. Because it's so much fun to be home with my daughter. Yet, I've never been so motivated to make my startup a success. Because I now have someone to work for. And I want to make her proud.
Tuyen Truong, Screenleap
Founders always hear that doing a startup is an emotional roller coaster. Having a kid has actually helped me to smooth things out since it allows me to take a step back and put things into perspective. When things are going badly, I take solace in the fact that my daughter is happy and healthy. When things are going well, I have the challenges of parenthood to temper things. :)
YC tells you not to get distracted by things that look like work but aren't really (like going to networking events and meeting with VCs). With a kid, those distractions are basically impossible since there's literally no time for them.
Rohin Dhar, Priceonomics:
Having a baby is like having an intravenous drip of love pleasantly coursing through your veins all the time. I highly recommend it! Yes, your time is stretched, you sleep less, and it’s a lot of work, poop is involved, but it’s the best experience I’ve ever had. Right now, my 6-month old daughter is this healthy, perfect being: her intent is completely pure in the sense that she has no intent. She just needs to be taken care of and cuddled.
I think one of hardest things about being a parent and a founder so far is being present when you’re not at work. When you’re a founder, there is always this small part of your brain that’s thinking about your startup. Sometimes it’s mostly muted and humming in the background. Other times it dominates your thoughts like a jackhammer. But it's always there and hard to turn off when you should be focused on your child.
I can be playing with my daughter and really enjoying it, yet still be thinking about something work related in a small corner of my brain. I’ll know that “these are the ‘good old days,’ happening right now,” but I still have to fight an impulse to grab my phone and check something for work.
Michael FitzGerald, Submittable:
I once found my 4 year-old, Eamon, pacing around the living room putting his hand through his hair over and over.
I asked, "What are you doing?"
He said, "I'm you."