8 Lessons Becoming a Dad Taught me about Surviving in a Startup.
2017 was a pretty big year for my family.
In January my wife gave birth to our baby girl. When people tell you having children will change your life, what they fail to mention is by how much. Imagine that life as you know it is a snow globe, and having a child is like picking up said snow globe, turning it upside down and shaking it around until the buildings and trees in the globe came off the base. Before casually dropping it to the floor with snow bursting out of the seams — But in the best way imaginable.
Several months later, the company I work for was about to launch the beta version of our first product, Flamelink — a headless CMS for Firebase. I was tasked with marketing Flamelink. Everything from coming up with our brand persona and positioning, down to closely working with our Developers to extract the Gold Nuggets needed to launch Flamelink to Firebase users around the world.
I never quite imagined that having a child would teach me stuff that I could apply to my job, but oh well, here we are: awake at 3AM, unable to fall asleep again. So here are 8 lesson becoming a Dad has taught me about Surviving in a Startup (because it’s 3AM and I can’t think of two more to add to my list to make it 10).
1) Poop Happens
Whether it’s your app crashing each time someone uploads an image on launch day, or you have to deal with an explosive diaper, 10 minutes after you were supposed to leave your house to make it to the office on time, poop will always happen. Maybe it’s Murphy’s Law, or maybe it’s just a sign that today is just not meant to be your day. The best you can do is take a deep breath (not too deep if you’re dealing with the explosive diaper though), weigh up your options, roll up your sleeves and get to work. But most importantly, don’t panic. Chances are, if you’re panicking, you’re going to miss something. Something obvious. Something that’ll get you back on track much quicker.
2) Laugh it Off.
In parenting, much like startupping, things are serious — I mean it’s your baby we’re talking about here. But not everything is a trainwreck. Unless it was your App that caused an actual trainwreck, in which case this article has probably run its course for you. It may not seem like a laughing matter at the time, but once the dust settles, finding the humour in what went wrong is a great way to relieve tension, build camaraderie and create a positive atmosphere to get back down to business.
There’s that saying “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. I find this to be true in child- and product-rearing. My wife is really great at planning. Me, not so much. She packs our daughter’s food bag every night, texts me the times she eats and sleeps and always makes sure there are enough nappies, wipes and a clean change of clothes in the baby bag — because, point 1. So we seldom run into unplanned scenarios, which is great for someone like me who hates surprises. The same can be said for our Flamelink Dev team. there are some really great planners on the team, and a quick look at our PM boards allows one to very quickly see where we are up to in terms of our weekly release of tweaks, features and small fixes.
3b) Be flexible if the plan doesn’t work
While it’s great to have a plan, sometimes your plan doesn’t work. Kids are the ultimate variable, changing the game at a moment’s notice. I’ve always been quite rigid and ever so slightly ‘change averse’. I don’t like spontaneity, I don’t like surprises. I used to be a Boy Scout — their motto is ‘Be Prepared’. Which is super helpful when you have a kid, and join a startup in the same year, because there are no surprises. Hahaha. Jokes. There are always surprises. In the first couple of months marketing Flamelink, we went about all the usual routes and channels (because that’s all I really knew coming from a more traditional advertising background selling, amongst other things, life insurance to stay-at-home moms on Facebook). As we started understanding what our audience did and did not respond to, we tweaked and pivoted our strategy a little to help us get Flamelink in front of the correct eyeballs.
4) Have Each Other’s Backs — even at 3AM
Everyone has their sweet spots, the stuff they’re really good at. I am not a 3AMer — I shan’t make any excuses for that. But talk to me after I’ve had my first two coffees in the morning and I’m your guy. I will feed, bath and dress a baby, learn more about a certain technology so I can help you write a user guide and pretty much help you conquer mountains. With that said, when you’re in the thick of all things parenting (and product launching), it’s easy for seeds of doubt and division to creep in. My wife and I often remind one another that we’re on the same team, working toward the same goal. It’s vital to keep re-affirming this to your startup teammates as well with a simple, “I love you”, “I’ve got your back”, “Let’s do this together”.
5) Go The Extra Mile
For yourself, for your partner, for your baby (the human one and your product).
The extra mile doesn’t cost anything. It might be a couple extra hours at night and over weekends, but it’s the extra mile that shows your teammates and partner that you care, that you’ve bought into the vision and that you’re ready to do whatever it takes to make things great. I’m of the humble opinion that it’s only once you’ve gotten to the extra mile that you find loyalty, excellence, innovation, creativity and perseverance.
6) Don’t Be So Hard on Your Teammates, or Yourself.
Humanness comes with its faults. No one has got it all together, and if it looks like they do, they’re either not human, or they’re paying someone good money to paint a pretty picture on social media. When you become a new parent, there is shedloads of advice on what to do, what not to do, what to sometimes do and what to sometimes not do. Being hard on yourself or your teammate(s), sets unrealistic expectations on yourself and others and it’s the catalyst for setting one another up for failure. I’ve found that playing open cards about our expectations creates an open channel of communication and allows one to set SMART goals for the project.
7) Recharge Your Batteries — Often
Having a child, working your job, throwing yourself at your passion or starting something new can be all-consuming. Take a break to recharge your batteries. Read a book, go for a walk outside, join a class, watch a movie, go to a party, anything. Find that activity that recharges your batteries often. Even if you just tune out for an hour or so each day, you’ll find that the break gives you a fresh perspective. Three times a week, I throw my 120+ kg, 1.9m tall frame around in my local CrossFit box. I find that I not only benefit from it physically, but for 60 mins or so, my mind switches off and I get rid of any excess tension, before the overwhelming sense that I’m about to die kicks in, which is also pretty distracting.
Having children and working for a startup is both challenging, and exciting. I hope that the lessons I’ve learnt are something you can take to heart. Whether you’re working for a startup, raising a family, or both.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learnt raising children that you’ve applied at your startup?