My wife is 8 and a half months pregnant, and she’ll be popping at any moment now (lil’ dude seems to be in a hurry to get out of there). As I struggle to come to terms with how this will change my life, and how I’m going to raise a child I turned to one of my closest friends for advice. As a father of the world’s most adorable 19 month old, a YC alum, and a world class hacker he was in the unique position to give me parenting advice in terms I could understand, startups.
What follows is his first installment in what I hope will be regular parenting updates for the next 20+ years. (Names have been redacted to protect privacy).
Preface and Inscription
I’m honored by the prospect of becoming Lil’ Flanagan’s Godfather. It’s a job I don’t take lightly. I should disclose that I have zero experience in the field of godparenting. I don’t know much about parenting (or God!) but I’m learning as fast as I can.
Anyway, I’m enjoying this particular first assignment because I can spout off like a pompous blowhard, acting like I have succeeded as a parent, despite the fact that my first child is only 19 months old and is off-the-chart underweight!
So, how is a baby like a startup? Man, let me count the ways…
Basics: (Value | Human) Creation.
Startups create value. They don’t just shift it around in a zero sum fashion. An entire industry can be created by a couple of crazies working on something that experts have already decided isn’t worthwhile.
Parents create a new person and pour themselves into him. The moment your brainy little automaton pops out, Team AmeriCanada (and Team World) will be measurably stronger. From then on, your parenting i.e. “nurture” has an unquestionable impact. You get to teach your kid how to see things and how to think about them. They pick up your sensibilities about what is generally reasonable in day-to-day living and what is possible in a lifetime. They spend their first few years looking at the world exclusively through the lens you give them.
Scaling your ideas to a bigger organization
Many small businesses thrive on the ability, empathy and drive of one person. But as the founder succeeds and gets more customers, they have a tricky task of expanding the business. They have to teach employees how to create the same magical experience for customers. A good business needs to scale.
Parenting is similar to growing a business. You have already achieved measurable success as an individual. You live comfortably, have a solid education, and found an awesome mate. It’s time to scale your ideas to more people. You are a success, but can you teach your kid to be one too? It’s like you’re taking on your first employee or franchisee. Can you provide a recipe that’s so good that someone with zero knowledge can run with your idea and succeed?
The success of your ideas is measured by, among other things, the successes of your kids. What an interesting challenge! In reality the metrics are vague (your goals are not necessarily inherited by your kids), but you’ll have constant (and visceral) feelings about whether you’re on track.
Zero-to-expert in a very short time, fake it till you make it
Startups often involve a novel concept, or novel application of a concept. You rarely start out as an expert in whatever it is you end up doing. In the end, after thinking about one thing night and day for years, you are an expert. In the middle, you’re just trying to figure out how to maximize expected value while keeping the ship from sinking.
Along the way lots of people offer help and advice, but it’s often conflicting and no piece of advice is blindly actionable. Everyone has an opinion but you have to make your own calls. Many people will question your strategic decisions, sometimes publicly.
Parenting advice is valuable but, to put it diplomatically, the value can be very difficult to extract. Parents are happy to advise soon-to-be parents but their earnest efforts for succinctness often result in bulleted lists of things that they wish they knew (or bought) before starting. These lists are very hard to digest and assimilate. Don’t feel bad about it. Just make an effort to absorb and then do your own thing. Don’t worry if you don’t know what’s going on at first. Learn as you go along, and your subconscious will help you synthesize your own strategy from all the advice and experience.
And yes I appreciate the irony in my advising you that advice is useless
Have an amazing co-founder; do your part
It’s a bad idea to do a startup alone. You need a good partner to help offset the highs and lows (and associated competence swings). One day you think you’re going to take over the world, the next day you feel doom around the corner. By having a small team of multi-talented collaborators, all the hard things seem more doable and everything goes more smoothly. You just have to make sure that no one thinks anyone else is slacking or useless.
Two parents have to work quite hard to raise one baby (though many people manage with tougher ratios). If each parent feels like they’re doing more than half the work, you’re probably on the right track. If (like me) you feel that the mom is doing more than half the work, the disparity is probably even worse than it seems.
So be prepared to be in trouble pretty much all the time. I feel like I work pretty hard at being a dad, and that I’m doing an OK job, but I’m way behind XXXX in both respects. So I get in trouble a lot. Maybe you will be able to avoid this.
And aside from the work, you need to keep each other’s morale up. Fatigue can move in quickly and unexpectedly. One minute it’s all sunshine as a tiny-faced cutie pie hugs you or says “daddy.” Then when the kid’s even slightly unhappy, all the tiredness that you’ve been ignoring all day hits you at once. Euphoric pride can change instantly to a crushing sense of responsibility and exhaustion. Both those extremes are better experienced with a partner.
Identity transformation; No vacation; Waking up in the middle of the night
Startups are very immersive; your company becomes intertwined with your identity, and sometimes other parts of your life get compromised. Vacations aren’t really vacations, and on evenings and weekends you’re always at least kind of working. Too bad the term “full time job” has already been defined to mean less than 100% time.
Babies are also actually-full-time jobs. I used to wake up in the middle of the night when stuff went wrong with XXXX; I’m not as good at it for XXXX. Hopefully you’ll be good at it.
All kinds of people are doing it; the secret network
There are a lot of small business owners out there, and even though they work on a wide variety of things, they still have a lot in common. All kinds of people start small businesses, with varying degrees of success. When one entrepreneur talks to another about business matters they understand and relate to each other easily even if they run totally different businesses.
In other words, small business ownership seems orthogonal to education level and industry. And so does parenthood. All kinds of people start families, and there’s always something you can talk about with another parent. There are lots of knowing looks and meaningful exchanges between strangers.