Over the last 16 months I've had the fortune of being a 2-time new dad and helping to launch a business. I've learned a ton from both (including following this path is not for the faint of heart), but what I realized the other day is there is actually quite a bit of overlap in terms of valuable lessons. The following are my obversations.
1. The right partner is everything.
Finding the right co-founder or spouse will make all the difference in the world. In fact, choose poorly on this front and eventual failure is all but certain. Things might not blow up right away, but when times get rough (and they will), you'll quickly learn how well/poorly you chose.
Unfortunately, I've seen enough failed marriages and startups to know how painful both can be, and there are plenty of statistics to prove that neither is easy. So do yourself a favor and be diligent about the things that are in your control, including choosing a partner who complements your strengths, understands and accepts your weaknesses, and is ready, willing & able to jump in the trenches when it's time to do battle.
2. Output is important.
Any new parent will tell you one of the most important things they have to do in the first few days of baby's life is meticulously monitor their output. Are they creating enough dirty diapers (both #1 & #2) to show that they are eating enough and successfully making the transition out of the womb?
As we tracked baby Owen's dirty diapers, I realized how similar this is to the need to measure early output in a startup. In the earliest days of launching a new business it's very easy to focus on the wrong things. Branding, 3 year business plan & projections, the perfect logo or homepage, and on and on. Essentially, there's a tendancy to want to avoid anything uncomfortable, or anything that might dissprove your great idea. For this reason, it's very important to stay focused on output; are you shipping stuff that will help you learn (as quickly as possible) whether or not you have a business model that's repeatable and scalable?
3. Get used to the emotional roller-coaster.
Talk to any founder and you'll quickly learn that one common experience amongst founders is high highs and low lows. Turns out, this is very much true with babies, also. In both cases, just when you think you can't take rough times any longer, something great comes along and rejuvenates you. Whether it's your baby flashing you a smile for the first time, or meeting with a potential investor that couldn't have been scripted any better, they always seem to come at just the right time (but also are generally not too far ahead of another string of tough times).
They key in all this? Know that both are coming and create expectations and strategies for coping (especially for the tough times, see #4, 5, and 6 below).
4. Sleep: Take it when you can get it.
This should go without saying, but I'm not sure it does. Even though most of us realize/understand the importance of sleep, we tend to still prioritize it very low, overall. When you first have a baby everyone will tell you "sleep when baby sleeps," but the reality is when your baby decideds to take a good snooze you realize this is your opportunity to get a bunch of stuff done (using both hands), so before you know it you've been non-stop since baby fell asleep and now he/she is waking up. The same happens with your startup, in my experience. It's the end of the day and everyone has gone home or stopped working, which means your inbox and phone have finally stopped pinging. You know you should go home or shut down and go to bed, but you can't help but think "this is super productive time, I should just keep cranking for a while"--4 hours later its the middle of the night and you have an 8am meeting in the morning… there goes a good night's sleep.
Guess what, had you prioritized sleep over that other stuff, there's a pretty strong chance that your productivity and energy levels right now would be much better than they are. One thing I always try to remind myself of is in a startup (and household) you're never done. If you just get that next item checked off your list, a new one pops up. It's never ending. Accept that and realize you'll be a much better you tomorrow if you prioritize rest regularly.
5. Unplugging is underrated.
I'll be the first to admin I'm terrible at this when it comes to work, always have been. My idea of a great family vacation includes getting up early (before everyone else) so that I can get some stuff done. And it's not because I feel like I'm that important that I have to, it's becasue I geniunely enjoy the work I do, and the sense of accomplishment after a productive morning. The same thing happens as a parent (and especially new parent, I've noticed). We love spending time with our kids, finding fun stuff to do on the weekends, taking them with us to baseball games, parties, etc… as we should!
But, here's the deal. If you want to be the best mom/dad/founder you can be, YOU NEED A BREAK. That night/day off without the kids or laptop is not just selfish "me time," it might be the best thing you can do for your family/business. As any parent or entrepreneur can attest, patience, understanding, and persistence are all vital to being great. How do you keep your energy and enthusiasm up for this stuff? Schedule regular (WEEKLY) time away from work, kids, family etc. Spend time with your spouse or co-founder doing non work/family stuff. Schedule some regular alone time for reflection, fun, and just relaxing--even if it's just a 30 minute block of time every week.
Love this post that a co-worked recently wrote along similar lines: [Don't Be A Startup Martyr] (http://differential.io/blog/dont-be-a-startup-martyr).
6. Exercise matters more than you think.
For the same reason as #4 above, it's incredibly important to focus on fitness. If you are (or become) unhealthy, so will your productivity. Set an example in your family/business by making health a priority and encouraging healthy amounts of sleep, fitness, and fun.
There is no shortage of data or studies on the benefits of overall health to your productivity (and longevity), so make it a priority. It absolutely takes disclipine and dedication, but it's also worth the effort.
7. Don't forget to enjoy the journey.
A few days after the birth of our first son, Nolan, my wife and I were at home trying to figure out life as new parents when I suddenly decided to turn on some music and just start singing and having fun with Nolan. My wife instantly made the comment "oh yeah, we're supposed to have fun with him aren't we!?" This might seem odd, but as new parents there is an incredible sense of responsibility for this new life. Those first few days can be very overwhelming and stressful, which is why a sudden burst of fun was so refreshing and this "aha" moment for us both.
I've noticed the same is true of new startups. Making the leap and starting a company (for most people) is crazy overwhelming (and particularly if you also have a family to provide for). It's no surprise that entrepreneurs tend to be under a ton of pressure and stress to make things work. Because of this, it can be pretty easy to just find yourself working your butt off non-stop, jumping from one thing to the next, without every taking the time to enjoy and celebrate little milestones. After spending months trying to raise money for Differential, and finally successfully doing so, my immediate reaction was to move on to the next thing. I literally told the team I didn't want to announce or celebrate the milestone, it's business as usual and this doesn't change the work we have ahead. While that might all be true, what's also true is that this was a big accomplishment for our team and put us in a much better position overall, so why not celebrate it?
It's OK to have fun and celebrate successes (even small ones), and in fact, I can guarantee you'll have a healthier culture (both work and family) if you make a habit of doing so.