Andrew Dowling is founder of Tapestry.net.
Parenthood isn’t a common topic of discussion among entrepreneurs, because conventional wisdom says that the two simply don’t mix. B
eing an entrepreneur and being a parent are both such all-consuming pursuits that it’s apparently impossible to do a good job of both. This idea is further reinforced by the stereotype of successful startup founders as young, single twenty-somethings.
Like most stereotypes, this is a load of hogwash. More than 80 percent of successful startup founders these days are actually over thirty-five, and there are a ton of reasons why having a little bit more life and business experience can greatly improve a startup founder’s chances of success.
But what about parenthood itself?
I know what you’re thinking: “Okay, experience can help, but surely parenthood can only hinder an entrepreneur’s chances of success?”
I think there are a number of ways that being a parent can actually make you a better entrepreneur. Here are my top reasons:
If there’s one thing being a parent teaches you, it’s patience. Prior to parenthood, many of us get used to the idea that we can control the pace at which our lives run. When things take too long, we make them go faster. We rush, we push, and we pay more: we do whatever it takes to make things happen how we want, when we want.
After kids come along, we are forced to learn that this doesn’t always work. Some things simply take time. Sometimes you just have to sit back and let time do its thing.
It’s the same with startups. Sure, some things need to be rushed like crazy, when velocity and time to market mean everything. But some things simply take time and need to develop according to their own schedule. Unless you’ve got a well-developed reservoir of patience, you’re going to seriously mess things up by trying to rush something that shouldn’t be rushed.
A lot of people exaggerate how much marriage changes your life. Sometimes it does, sure, but it is by no means guaranteed. I know plenty of married couples that live their lives no differently to the way they did before marriage.
Being a parent, on the other hand, is pretty much guaranteed to make things change big time. Together you and your partner are thrown into a crazy new reality where you need to work together on tasks you were totally unprepared for. Inevitably, you learn a lot about how to manage interpersonal relationships. You’re tired, you’re exhausted, sometimes you don’t even know which way is up; but you still learn how to find a way to hang together as a team.
Sounds a lot like the relationship between startup co-founders, doesn’t it? Co-founders share responsibility for a troublesome, demanding, and attention-seeking baby known as the business. They’d better know how to manage their relationship darn well if they want to stay together as their baby grows up.
You’re tired, you’re exhausted, sometimes you don’t even know which way is up; but you still learn how to find a way to hang together as a team.
Living life in the crucible of a startup can make you believe that nothing else in the world matters quite as much as the success of your business. You’re on a roller coaster where the highs are euphoric, but the lows can make you feel as if your world is about to end.
Kids have an amazing way of giving you a sense of perspective. They keep you on an even keel and are a great reminder of what’s important to worry about, and what’s not.
4. Dealing with chaos
Parenthood is almost totally non-linear. Nothing goes quite according to plan. Stuff happens. You deal with it. And you get very good at dealing with the unexpected.
Life in a startup is almost exactly the same.
When you’re a parent, the buck stops with you. There is nobody more senior you can defer to, nobody else you can shift responsibility to. When someone has to make the tough decisions, it’s you.
What better description of life as an entrepreneur could you get?
6. Adapting expectations
When you’re a parent, it’s very easy to get swept up into great ideas of what your kids will do, what they’ll enjoy and also what they’ll become — and quite often what we expected is very different from the outcome.
Parenthood teaches us to support the path that your children taking, even if it’s not what you had expected; it’s much better than trying to push them into a direction they’re not prepared to take.
Startups are much the same. You can stick to your original vision, come hell or high water, and often go down with the ship; or you can embrace reality, see that your expectations were off, and pivot.
7. Handling change
Anyone launching themselves into a new business quickly finds they’re dealing with lots of things which are unfamiliar to them. Legal issues, technologies, marketing strategy, governance — sometimes it feels as if everyone is trying to talk to you in a different language. And everything is constantly changing.
From the moment you discover you’re going to become a parent, your trajectory is remarkably similar. Your life suddenly changes in a big way forever. You find yourself dealing with concepts and terminology you’ve never had an interest in before. And once your kids are born, you’d better get used to dealing with change, because that’s what your life is going to consist of for the next couple of decades.
What better preparation for life in a startup could there possibly be?
Image credit: marknye/Flickr