Ages & Stages: How Raising a Kid is Like Raising a Startup
Having a startup and a baby is like having a startup and a baby. It is busy. It is hectic. You are in early developmental stages with a child and a company — and they frequently fall down, take unsteady steps, and often make a really big mess.
As the mother of a 15 month old, and a co-founder at a 12 month old startup, I see similarities every day. Here’s a list of ten ways they are alike:
- Kids and Teams grow in unique ways. Every kid is different, and every startup is different. One might have a growth spurt early and then slow down, while another will see plenty of growth late in the game. So you need to talk to people who understand you, your child, or your startup specifically. General advice can be useful, but it’s far less important than targeted advice from someone who knows your product/team/child’s personality well.
- The initial conception is so much fun! Seriously, there’s incredible creativity and passion that goes into beginning these endeavors. The ideating, the naming, the dreaming. The hard and unrelenting work comes later — after you’ve committed!
- Never hire out of desperation. As Rob Hayes from First Round Capital says, “Hire the right people.” Nothing will affect your success more than your first hires. And you want them to be stellar, because the better they are — the better off you will be. (Truth be told, I am not beyond poaching amazing nannies or UX people when I have the chance! Speaking of… if you’re amazing, we’re hiring.)
- Every 6 months, you think you’ve figured it out. But you didn’t. With babies and startups, the only thing that keeps you going is endless hope. The smallest bit of progress (“He’s using a spoon!” “We’re getting user growth!”) can make you feel like you’re just around the corner from a product breakthrough — or a child that sleeps through the night. You’re constantly seeking stability that doesn’t exist. You’ll boomerang from on-top-of-the-world confidence to exhausting fear.
- A good night’s sleep? What’s that? Personal time? Going to the gym? Forget it. Startups and kids need constant attention. You’re never off: work or parenting responsibilities can intervene anytime, anywhere. You’ll find yourself multitasking because its more relaxing than letting everything pile up on you. But for sanity’s sake you can always take a walk, and you should.
- It eats up your (financial and cognitive) surplus. Let’s be real. There’s a cost to doing business, and sometimes its more than bootstrapping can handle. You’ll start running dangerously low on monetary resources — and cognitive resources, and you can’t afford to stretch either. Also, people who say that having a baby doesn’t cost much money clearly did not have Amazon Prime.
- “Babies and startups make liars out of all of us,” as Nilofer Merchant said to me recently. It’s so true. In public, you always have to say ‘it’s going really well!’ and keep up positive appearances so as not to scare away any potential new investors or friends. With most people, you can’t speak freely about constipation solutions or your user acquisition issues. The friends who understand those things are very important because you can be 100% authentic about your worries.
- If you want something done, you have to do it yourself. When the shit hits the fan, everything is on your shoulders. There’s no one else to appeal to when it’s time for a decision. You also have to manage stress appropriately — which is stressful! And no you don’t get an award for doing all of this. Your reward is getting through a day.
- Feeding babies is like user testing. Through rapid iterations, you experience constant failure and occasional wins. Learning to quickly test, fail, and redesign and try again is important for both. (Strawberries were a win for my kid, so they’re part of the permanent design… I mean, menu. Everything that failed ends up on the wall.) You simply cannot lose patience whether you are feature testing, or feeding.
- It never feels like enough. No matter how much your co-parent is doing and how much your co-founders are doing, no one ever gets to the end of their task list for the day. That’s just a feeling you have to get comfortable with. That feeling of never being done…
But, all things considered, both startups and kids are good for the soul. Balancing the needs of a child and a startup are taxing. But it’s so worth it. Even when you fail, you succeed — because you’re always learning. Both of these experiences completely change you and your perspective, and you have to be ready for that change. Whether you are launching a new idea on the world, or a new human into the world, the lessons are endless and entirely transformative.