by Anson Sowby
Being a young entrepreneur isn’t easy. Being a new dad isn’t easy. Put them together and you’re like a freshman, driving the lane against LeBron James. But it can be done – and here’s how I’m doing it (or at least trying to do it).
The day my wife gave birth to our son Luke, my professional life of running an ad agency immediately melded with my personal life. We’d recently won the Dove digital business, which was a very big deal for us. I couldn’t afford the luxury of taking time off since tending a growing startup – just like a newborn – is an “always on” gig.
Case in point: The day Luke was born was the same day we launched our first Dove campaign, and I took conference calls from my wife’s hospital room. I know that sounds a bit extreme, but I had a choice to make – and I chose both. (Those calls from the maternity ward must have won me some brownie points, as we’re still going strong with the Dove brand three years later.) Now that my son is already four, the lessons he teaches me are endless. Last year, he watched me string up Christmas lights – until he decided that it would be more fun to take the box of lights and throw it on the ground to see it smash all over the concrete.
I was pretty startled, needless to say, and raised my voice: “LUKE! What did you do?!?” On cue, Luke ran to his room sobbing, where he promptly buried himself in the corner, crossed his arms and repeated, “Me mad at you daddy!”
It broke my heart to see how much my five words could affect him. My mind raced 16 years into the future, where I could see Luke telling the Christmas lights story to his parole officer in jail.
Startup Lessons, Toddler-style
A few days later, as I told the story to a co-worker, it made me think about my staff and how my words affect them, too. Although they don’t run to their rooms sobbing, I’m pretty sure I’ve made a few of them run to their LinkedIn accounts looking for a new job. As parents and as leaders, we sometimes have to take one step back and use a mistake as a teaching moment rather than a scolding one.
Teaching moments with my son are a lot like my startup career. Luke is now at that age where he says “Why?” a lot. It’s not enough for me to bark commands like “Pick up your toys” or “Put your rain boots on” anymore. I have to offer explanations, like, “Pick up your toys otherwise you’ll lose them” and “Put your rain boots on so that you don’t get sick and wet.”
The same principle applies when we’re coming up with campaigns for any of our clients. Our consumers won’t buy a product simply because we tell them to; they need to understand why.
It’s something that we like to ask ourselves: “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” In other words, is what we’re asking our consumers to do worth it? From “liking” a Facebook ad to clicking on an app, is the reward worth what we’re asking them to do? (If only I could get my son to stop clicking on apps!)
Here are a few tips that have helped me make parenthood and startup life work together – most of the time:
1. Location, location, location (it matters)
I chose an office space within three miles of my house, which in Los Angeles is unheard of. But this allowed me to easily juggle the 24/7 startup life with the 24/7 life of a parent. I can leave the house, drop off my son at pre-school and be at my office, all within 15 minutes. Working near home is an absolute must.
2. Have perspective
It probably goes without saying that becoming a parent puts things into perspective, but perspective is incredibly important for a young startup. It’s too easy to get caught up in any of the many problems that come across your desk on a given day. I remember the first day that my son, Luke, was able to crawl to the front door and reach out to hug me as I came home. I know this sounds clichéd, but my worries completely went out the door at that moment. Seeing the big picture is paramount, as a parent and a founder.
3. Be scrappy
Raising Luke helped me to be more resourceful – or scrappy, as we like to say in the startup world. The first time he puked on me, I didn’t have a perfect little towel to wipe it up with, so I took the back of my other sleeve and wiped my shoulder. Anything to clean up the mess and move on. Same goes for the startup world – you’re usually very limited in resources when something goes wrong, so you have to make it work with what you have.
Having a kid and running a startup at the same time isn’t easy, but these have been the most rewarding years of my life so far. My advice to fellow founders? Take the plunge and have a kid or two or three – it’ll make you a much better entrepreneur!