*Disclaimer – although the above baby is very cute, I can’t take credit for making him*
When my husband and I welcomed our newborn son to the world this April, it was probably the most exciting and magical moments we have ever experienced. Thanks to my very supportive partners at NextView, I was able to focus on being a new parent and enjoying those early moments during my maternity leave. As I reflected on my experience of taking care of a tiny human being while I had a quiet moment (not often!), I realized that there are actually many parallels between parenthood and entrepreneurship.
This is my first week back to work, and I want to share some of the reflections I’ve had the past couple of months. Whether you’re raising a baby or another round, challenges will arise, but here are the 5 things I’ve learned aren’t so different between being a founder and being a parent:
Have a plan but stay adaptive and problem solve along the way – babies and startups are equally unpredictable
During my pregnancy, my husband and I were pretty diligent about talking to our experienced parent friends and reading up on all sorts of books to get an understanding of how our lives might change as new parents. We felt well prepared and had a plan around how we’d manage his feedings and naps throughout the day.
Once our son arrived, we quickly realized that babies are very unpredictable (surprise!). I found it helpful to be armed with information and had a general framework in mind, but we quickly learned that it’s best to observe and iterate based on the needs of your unique child.
As a founder, you always want to have a plan of attack – around your product, go-to-market strategy, and team building. However, early-stage company building is inherently unpredictable, and you will find an adaptive mindset invaluable as you chart a unique path for your company.
Everyone has advice for you, but you know your child/company the best
We received a lot of advice from friends and families throughout this journey – when it comes to children and parenting, it seems like everyone has opinions and advice. I was grateful for the amount of wisdom and experience around me, but it could feel confusing and even overwhelming at times – feed him on-demand or try to maintain a schedule? Napping in his own crib or in a bassinet in our bedroom? Sleep training or not?
If you are a founder, you have probably experienced a similar dynamic. Everyone seems to have opinions about your product, and every investor you meet has something to say about how you should go about building your company. What could be frustrating is that many of these opinions conflict with each other, despite the fact that they all come from very smart people.
As I gained more confidence and experience as a parent, it occurred to me that no one is in a better position to decide how to take care of our son than my husband and me. We are equipped with better judgement than what we give ourselves credit for. Similarly, as you build your company, don’t forget that you know your company (and product/market) better than anyone else. The best founders learn how to take advantage of the wisdom around them yet pick and choose the right advice to implement.
You suddenly have no time and an endless to-do list – the ability to fiercely prioritize becomes critical
Life as a new parent can be sweet yet tough. The around-the-clock feeding/diaper changing/putting down for naps (“he needs to eat again?!”) made even finding time to eat and shower tricky for the first few weeks, let alone anything else you typically have to do around the house, all while you’re extremely sleep-deprived.
I had always been pretty good about prioritization (the product discipline training certainly helps), but this new reality forced me to really prioritize well. As a founder, you have a very similar challenge – you feel like you’re the bottleneck for everything and there’s always more you can be doing to make progress on your company and product, especially at the earliest stage when you have a small team.
I would argue that knowing how to prioritize your time and the company’s resources well is probably one of the most important skills for any founder/CEO. Say no to things and ruthlessly prioritize, so you and your team can focus on what matters.
The next challenge is always on the horizon – you’re never done problem solving
When our son was less than one week old, my husband and I were fully consumed by the topic of feeding – How to get him to latch well? How can we tell if he’s had a “full” feeding? How often should he be eating? Fast forward to two months old, the topic of sleep became our new obsession – How to get him to sleep through the night till 7am (vs. the awkward 5am)? Every time when we were about to figure something out and master a routine, a new challenge was already waiting on the horizon.
It’s not unsimilar to building a company. As a founder of a seed-stage startup, you might think that once you get to Series A all your problems will go away (spoiler alert – they don’t!). One set of challenges is replaced by another – you used to worry about launching the V1 of your product; now you’re worried about building out the team fast enough to keep up with the demand.
It’s a uniquely rewarding experience
Parenthood has been quite a unique experience thus far – it demands a lot of us, but it also rewards us with constant joy and a unique sense of accomplishment. There have been many joyful moments in our lives, but seeing the smile on our son’s face and observing his gradual yet subtle growth have been something very special.
I think the journey of building your own company affords something similar. I was a founder once and remember how uniquely rewarding it was to create something and watch it grow.
One parent friend (who also happens to be a founder) gave me this advice when our son was about 5 weeks old (I was very sleep-deprived and could not wait for him to grow up and sleep through the night): “Don’t rush through it because they’ll never be that small again. It’s sometimes hard to appreciate it in the moment.” It’s a great advice for founders too.