Lessons from being a parent that apply to your start-up and vice versa.
It’s not just holding hands on the way to the park.
The little girl, sparklingly in conversation with her father as they make their way to the park holding hands. How I longed for that experience.
The simple joys of working for yourself, setting your own agenda, work being an activity not a location. No boundaries to my job, the ability to grow and do things which I felt I could but was never given the opportunity. No limits. How I longed for that experience.
It always looks good when you’re on the outside looking in. The truth is different because it’s the hard things which happen behind closed doors which define the experience.
The long hours of toiling on a commercial contract, or trying to keep yourself motivated after loosing a pitch you spent two long weeks on and felt like it was practically a done deal.
Those moments when your daughter doesn’t want to use the toilet but you know that the carpet is going to collect another feature if she doesn’t. The battle of wills played out with only one of you possessing rationality.
The lesson; Nothing is easy, the Instagram moment is the result of many sunk hours of perspiration and preparation.
When people tell you it’s hard work, you’ll never know how much till you do it.
Before I had children parents kept telling me; it’s a lot work.
The same with a start-up; it’s a lot of work.
Both of these things didn’t put me off, I equated “a lot of work” with long hours. I’ve been working hard since I left university, so I felt like a lot work was probably doable / already happening.
What I didn’t realise was that I’d been working hard at a job. A job I mostly enjoyed, in a subject I knew a lot about, and alongside people doing similar things. I’d equated hard work with doing more of what I was currently doing, longer hours, just more.
Hard work with both start-ups and with children is doing lots of things, very different things, and doing them at odd times. The nine to five is out of the window.
You’ll be washing dishes at 6.30am, 9.00am, 12, 3, 4 and then 9pm.
You’ll be tweaking your google ads at 9pm, 1am, 6.30am.
The bits that you think of “as work”, like writing software or wiping milk off your baby as she gurgles contently post lunch… well they’ll be the least of it.
The lesson; work comes in lots of different flavours, requiring lots of skills at different times of the day. Don’t think of work in the same context as your current job or household chores.
Sleepless nights are built in
This one might as well come under the above heading. Work happens at all hours of the day.
With your start-up you’ll have a problem baking your noodle (why don’t people review my app?!) or you might be restless and worried because you’re running out of money. In both instances sleep is not going to be regular or come easy.
Children, well, their schedule isn’t a schedule. It’s a realisation of needs which need to be fulfilled at any time, immediately.
The lesson; needs, wants, niggles, inspiration and the need to do something is going to happen at all hours. Prepare to operate on less sleep. It’s going to be some hard yards but it’s not going to last forever.
Knowing if you’re doing the right thing is a long game
In life there are some short feedback loops, like doing exercise and feeling better.
With both children and start-ups you’re going to need to prepare for the long game.
Sure there are some “lean start-up” quick iterations; The UI isn’t right on my app, so modify, test it, measure, learn. The toddler doesn’t eat with a spoon, so show how to use a spoon, demonstrate by guiding their hand, correct them when they use the wrong end.
Both Start-ups and children are the long game. Strategic ambitions for your children might include, growing up kind, happy and equipped with the right tools for a changing world. Strategic ambitions for start-up might including changing the way international trade happens to reduce wastage.
In both cases you’ll not know how you’re getting on for quite some time. There’s a few tell tale signals that things are heading the right direction, but you won’t know how you’re really doing for years to come.
The lesson; You can’t expect to know how you’re doing for a long time, so focus on short term incremental success and make sure they’re all contributing to the long term strategic ambition.
Parenting advice isn’t universal although everybody will give it to you.
It goes without saying that all children are different, each day has many events which shape logical and emotional growth. Children and startups are, in part, a product of their environment.
You don’t have to go far on the internet to bump into advice about how to shape your startup, keep yourself motivated, or growth hack.
You don’t have to bump into too many parents to get parenting advice.
In both instances seemingly good advice, which resulted in a good outcome might not have any relevance to anyone else. It just happened to be the right thing to do, at that precise moment in time. That moment will never happen again.
The lesson; very specific advice is unlikely to be of much use. More generalistic principles are more valuable. Collect what you think are good principles, approaches or methods and keep them in the forefront of your mind. Tweak them based on your learnings.
Your experience is like a stream running from the mountains to the sea, other peoples advice are rocks and stones in the river bed, they might change your course a little bit, but not by much.
There are moments that will make you proud.
You’ll be sat doing nothing in particular, then, you’ll look up and wham bam thank you mam, something will strike you between the eyes.
The odd sort of smile your child makes as they play with a stuffed dog saying “oh nuggets” when they drop it by accident.
The meeting you see happening between people who work for you, discussing how to implement some particular element of the plan, knowing that you made this happen from starting from zero.
The lesson; those moments don’t happen all the time, but when they do you’ll know it’s all been worthwhile.