Managing being a father and an ambitious entrepreneur building a growing business

Here is my constant ambition struggle. I love work, I love being a father and being at home with my amazing family — and — the two worlds seem to collide more often than not. How do you know when to disconnect at work? How do you know you have to take one for the team at work and do the extra travelling since that makes most sense? Worse, how do you manage this constant sense to multi-task and look at your phone when you are with your family? Ah, I hate the last part. My challenge is that I am not sure if my idols that I look up to that are founders or entrepreneurs are most of the times are divorced or have a shaky home, which is of course not fantastic.

Some more context here:

Our company is projected to grow 100% in top line this year, we have no external VC’s to report to, our venture Epicenter is growing faster than we imagined. We are 8 people in the team, we have no uncontrolled fires to burn, but we are under-staffed. Recruitments take 3–4 months and you do not want to fuck that up by being fast. You see the difference between urgent and important issues — things that need to be fixed now, and things in the horizon that you want to place some bets on. I love working with our corporate innovation labs, from different industries, with intrapreneurs working on meaningful problems and with our growth lab companies to help proven business models scale even faster. I love that Epicenter is growing and expanding our remit on what we can do there, creating opportunities and with it need to invest more time to make sense of opportunities and not fuck up things. I am also a co-founder to FitnessCollection that is growing and has all kinds of classic startup challenges. In short, I love work more than it is legally allowed to.

At home, I have a loving wife who runs her own organisation Skolyoga, who is equally focused at home as she is at work, writing a book in the evening with Bonnier Carlsen (the largest publisher in its category) that is becoming a best seller to help parents use Yoga as a saga for their kids. In short, she is driven but also takes more responsibility at home. We have an 18 month old son who now happens to bond with me more than ever, and cries when I leave home or runs to me when I come home. The joy is unparalleled needless to say.

So here is the logic step by step:

  • We all know that no one regrets spending time with your family. Quite the contrary, people regret spending too much time at work
  • However, when you have the passion and ambition to succeed at work, you cannot hack company building. We all know that being an entrepreneur is hard work, especially when you start growing and it is chaos. You are involved in the highs and lows, you are worried about things not going fast or going too fast. You are not sure if the newest person in the team feels safe. You have too little time to drive sales, work with building culture and still not feeling like you have no idea who your family is.
  • We all know that parenting cannot be hacked. You cannot scale time, and hence you need to invest time to match your ambition as a dad. I see myself picking my son from pre-school at least 1x / week at 1400 and leaving him 2x / week before 0900.
  • People keep telling me how mothers and fathers are the most efficient workers since they have a burning desire to get things done well at high speed to manage family.

Some frameworks that I have started using to test to solve this problem at work:

  • Choice: A sense of choice as an owner that we can decide to control how we grow and decide to say no to projects or stack them up better.
  • Formats follows substance — structure meetings per project team, and gather as a group fewer time with a clear agenda. Use check-ins and stands up instead. Have clearer project teams and do not be afraid to spend on freelancers especially if we have worked with them before to get the job done. Got inspired by the book Work Rules here.
  • Give up the concept of perfect and that good is a good enough start.
  • Classify all decisions into Type 1 and Type 2 following Amazon. Type 1 decisions cannot be fucked up, but we are striving for a perfect response here. Type 2 projects or contexts are much more iterative and hence completely ok to fuck up certain aspects. Type 2 projects are driven by clear communication and are framed as iterations with a good understanding of why and what we want to learn from the experiment. As a small company this is hard since you work hard to prioritise the key drivers, and then you must be able to let go of certain things by boxing them in the Type 2 category.
Amazon decision making — Type 1 decisions that can be fatal vs. Type 2 which is more iterative
  • People Psychology: Understand how people work — that most need to feel safe and welcome, before doing their best work. We are starting to sketch more thought through on-boarding plans as inspired by the Power of Moments book.
  • Opportunity cost: I have come a long way in feeling like a tail wagging dog that runs to every event, opportunity to speak etc to really picking which opportunities I want to pursue.
  • Say No: I have started to get better at saying no. Despite having an open calendar for the teams, I have gotten better at delegating, asking why an extra time before spending 45 minutes in a meeting that could have been better prepared or worse without a clear agenda.
  • Say No to being always on: On speaking to my wise colleague Erik, he quipped that great businesses were also built when things were sent by post i.e. this mental urge to check and reply on slack or emails is just man made and business can be built without needing to speak or replying within seconds all the time.
  • Finding flow: I realise I find flow early in the mornings or late in the nights, and hence I try to make sure I focus the most important things to optimise for flow.

So what about at home?

  • We plan every week carefully so my wife has enough time to get her things done, and I pick up my son enough times every week so she gets a full working day. The days I go home early, I get back online later in the nights, and try to find flow. I communicate this with my team or clients we work with and my phone is on flight mode and away from me. Surprisingly when you do this, people start not pinging you
  • We have started to get help from her parents to take care of our son for a couple of hours so we get more breathing space to get flow.
  • We go out on date nights 1x / month to make sure me and my wife invest in time in our relationship and not just be “logistical partners”.
  • We try to do Yoga together in the mornings 2–3x/ week so we have a nice start before our son wakes up.

Is this perfect? Yes, some days it really is. And some days it really is not. The problem is I don’t know which day is what due to lots of uncertainty at home (for instance our son can get sick) or at work. I get reminded of this classic marketing slogan from back in the days where advertisers don’t know which 50% does not work. But if I zoom out and look at our life, I am thankful that I have so many opportunities at work and an amazing home to build from.

In Sweden, we speak about work-life balance. When I grew up and looked at successful entrepreneurs, I could not have guessed the switching, multi-tasking need, the problem-solving that makes up “success”. I wish schools thought this or made this more visual to understand what it takes to be ambitious at home and at work.

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