Four Fs: Faith, Family, Future, Football… Founder.

[note: this was written on February 21, 2016, I but never posted it — here it is without revision, as it is all still very true and relevant]

Faith, family, future, football in that order. These were my priorities and that’s what I lived by for nearly my entire life, from little league through my pro career.

12 year old Mike “Knock ’Em Down” Brown

“Future” tied into my academics and preparing for my life after football. Until now. Since hanging up the cleats in 2012, the future is now and the word “Founder” has replaced “Football”. And before now, “Family” meant my closest relatives like my mom, sister, brother, best friend etc. While family is still that, it goes even deeper now that I have a beautiful wife and 2 adorable little ones.

Today I want to talk about “family” and “founder”, two terms that aren’t typically thought of together. Here in Silicon Valley, when someone says they’re the founder of a tech startup you will typically have a few assumptions about that person…. one probably being that they’re young, without much responsibility outside of themselves. Based on anecdotal evidence, I’d bet good money that nearly 3/4 of 1st time start up founders fit that bill, maybe even more. One word to sum up the responsibility I’m referring to: Family. Having a family of your own (spouse, kids, etc) is the biggest responsibility one can have. The moment things changed for me, like I actually felt my soul shift, was the day our daughter (our first child) was born. Several folks, including my favorite uncle, tried explaining how having kids (as a man) changes everything! “I can’t even explain it, but you’ll feel it” — accuracy level: expert.

Birth of LVB / Aug. 3 2013

The moment Leila was born and was laying there all bundled up in the hospital, reality struck me: “this little human being depends 100% on you — her safety, her health, her well being, it’s all on you! She can’t eat, drink, or anything without you!” And by you, I meant my wife and I of course, but that realization was what my favorite uncle was referring to.

You may have heard the saying, “parents’ dreams die with the birth of their children” — No? I think I literally just made that up. But, it’s safe to say we’ve all heard someone say something like “yea man, I was planning to do {insert some great achievement} but then I ended up having a kid(s) and.. Well, things just didn’t work out”

Now let’s talk about being a founder. I’ve only been one for a short time (at the time of me writing this, Feb 2016 — actually as I sit on my daughters toddler bed rubbing her back until she falls asleep), and lately I’ve been in situations where I’ve said, “damn! this would be a little easier if I didn’t have kids”. Case in point, I have to travel often for business meetings, conferences, etc but when I’m away, this means my wife is home watching both toddlers, after she’s just worked a full day herself — we moved here without any family so no help from grandmas or aunties! So the times I don’t have to simply forgo the opportunity, I still can only be gone for a day or two at time — solely because I’m considerate of my wife’s position in all of this (thanks boo! You’re the real MVP).

Twitter → @_MikeTBrown

As I’ve been continuing full speed down this founder road, I often reach out to other founders I know (or don’t know!) and ask about their experiences as a founder and building their startup… especially if they’re doing it/did it while also trying to be the best spouse and/or parent as possible. Many of the founders I talk to reflect back to when they were first starting their company, prior to their successful exits or the multimillion dollar run rates, and they all say the same, “that shit was hard!”

[note: I stopped writing due to being super busy, but then continued on October 19, 2016]

Now that I’m nearly a year in, writing this post 30,000 ft in the air on a redeye flight after leaving my wife and kids for a few days, I see that their accuracy level was also “Expert”. This shit is hard!

“parents’ dreams die with the birth of their children”

When I made the decision last {year} that I would die for it, I didn’t have any real idea what the journey would entail — and neither did my wife. We knew it would be hard, but there was no way to really know just how hard. Aside from the standard “hard shit” involved in building a startup like finding true product market fit, hiring and firing, and raising money from investors… the real hard shit for me has to do with making decisions like “do I leave the office while trying to finish a time-sensitive Win-Win product update so that I can be home for dinner and help my wife with two screaming toddlers?” or my favorite (not!), “do I spend the weekend with my wife and kids for a family outing to the museum because I haven’t been home before 11pm in the past week and half — not being there to bathe my kids and kiss them goodnight — or do I crank through the laundry list of Win-Win priorities that need to be done before Monday morning???

How cute are these two!? LVB (3) MTB Jr (2)

These are very hard decisions for me because I didn’t have a consistent father figure throughout my life and I know the pains this type of absence causes a young child. Albeit my father was not present for other reasons unrelated to work, the fact remains: not there, is not there. I try to justify my long nights, sometimes even sleeping in the office, as a necessary sacrifice in order to be able to really set my family up for a comfortable life — “they’ll understand when we’re living large!”. Remember those other founders I mentioned earlier, those that built tech startups while trying to balance their family life? They ALL have encouraged me to spend those weekends at the park throwing the ball with my son or teaching my daughter how to ride her new bike or just (really) listening to my wife tell me about all the drama and gossip at her job! They suggest this because they themselves (sort of) regret not spending that time with their family.

Again, there is dilemma here. They’re all telling me this after they’ve already built successful companies or got the multi-million dollar acquisition, which (arguably) may not have happened had they taken their own advice. Now of course, if I definitively knew that the price of my startup’s success was going to be my wife and kids resenting me for my absence, it would be a no-brainer decision — parks, museums, and juicy gossip it is!

BUT, I don’t know if this is the guaranteed outcome — is it possible to crank out the necessary all-nighters while being present enough to please my wife and maintain a strong relationship with the little ones?? This is the billion dollar (valuation) question! One that I still don’t know the answer to.. and probably won’t until it’s all said and done. What I do know is that I have an amazing wife supporting me through it all, although she could write her own book about how hard it is being the wife of a startup founder! More importantly, I have the utmost faith in God (remember that first F, “Faith”!?) that He will give me the strength to push forward and the insight to know when a weekend trip with the family to Tahoe is necessary. One thing that I’ve committed to is making it to every single extra curricular activity my kids have going on — little league football games, ballet recitals, swim meets, and spelling bee competitions! Again, I know how much it means for a kid to look into the stands and always see their parent in the audience supporting and cheering for them — win, lose, or draw! (Thanks Mom! You’re the real MVP, too!)

Although this shit is hard, I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else! I’m up for the challenge… and so is my family.

The Browns on New Year’s Eve 2016 @ the Oakland Zoo Lights Show


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