Pivoting and Parenting at a startup (in a pandemic)
"If you’re pursuing a startup you might identify as a high performer at work and be willing to take on any challenge. [The environment] lends itself to a feeling that there’s an infinite amount of work to be done...It’s easy to find yourself in a situation where you’re juggling too many promising projects and have to evaluate where to spend most of your time..."
I recently recorded a Racket with Emily Pik, Co-Founder of Propel - a community for founders and builders. I joined Propel as an early member while I was trying to pivot from a “normal” corporate career into the startup ecosystem, and it has been a very helpful resource for both supporting my work and building relationships with many other great people in startups. I’ve discussed this pivot and my experience at a startup while having a family - 3 young children and a working partner - with other Propel members, and we thought it could be helpful to summarize what I’ve learned.
Take a listen to the (short) recording for my thoughts. I’ve also created a framework here with the key points for easy referencing - and because 9 minutes is very short once you start talking!
1. Support from your partner/ family/ friends/ network
This is the part that I inevitably forgot to talk about in the recording, so I am putting it first, as it really is the most important part. Startup life - particularly in the early stages - is quite different from an established company. The main difference is that most functions are single sourced and there’s likely limited or no backup for coverage. This makes vacations or unplanned time off more difficult if you don’t have a good support system that understands the situation. Before joining my current startup, I had several discussions on the pros/cons with my wife and we even did a Zoom call with the founder to ease some of her reservations. Do whatever it takes to get buy in from those around you before you decide to take the leap.
2. Support and setting expectations with your co-workers or founders
People with children do not have the same availability as those without. I am mostly unavailable to work from 6:30am-8am and 5pm to 8pm due to getting kids ready, fed, and delivered to whatever that day’s activities are. Weekends are a similar story. This means right off the bat I typically would have at least 40 hours less bandwidth during the week than if I did not have children. Because of this, it’s very important to set expectations for when you cannot be available and build trust that the work will get done and you will respond when available. This doesn’t even take into account when the kids are out of school for being sick, and due to COVID, this happened more frequently since any symptom could get a kid sent home. Make sure your co-workers are aware of your situation as they will likely understand if they know in advance, and if they don’t - do you really want to be working with people like that?
This one should be pretty self-explanatory after 1 & 2. A startup job is not a 9-5 job, and when you’re the only one around to do something important, you have to find a time to do it. This usually means some work after the kids are asleep - which goes back to point number 1, you need to make sure to explain to those you live with and that care about you that this isn’t a normal job.
4. Setting personal expectations
Sometimes it’s going to feel like you aren’t doing enough at work because you have so many personal commitments - like keeping little humans alive. This is likely not the case, as I think parents have a highly tuned ability to prioritize and work efficiently. However, when you’re on a startup team with co-workers that are younger, don’t have dependents, and/or have more free time, it may seem that way. Even so, you need to have an understanding that your availability and time commitment may look different than that of those around you and that is OK! A startup allows you to contribute in so many ways that are not strictly time-based, so think of your own unique situation of raising a family as a benefit to the company through added diversity of experiences.
5. Knowing your limits
This is a hard one, particularly because if you’re pursuing a startup you might identify as a high performer at work and be willing to take on any challenge. Working at an early stage startup lends itself to a feeling that there’s an infinite amount of work to be done. This is because there will always be something that can be improved or built. In addition to this, you’ll encounter startup employees that also work “side hustles” on top of day jobs, e.g. consulting or advising other companies, and likely be presented with opportunities to do the same. It’s easy to find yourself in a situation where you’re juggling too many promising projects and have to evaluate where to spend most of your time - otherwise, you are likely to deteriorate point number 1! Knowing where that limit is or at least being aware that it’s out there is critical to keeping a necessary balance.
I hope everyone reading and listening finds some value in my thoughts. If anyone in a similar situation wants to discuss in more detail, feel free to reach out for a chat!