Raising a child and building a business have more commonalities than you might think.
Having recently crossed the one-year mark with my daughter, my first, and — my wife assures me — only child, I started thinking about the commonalities between raising a human in that first year, and building something in the business world.
After starting Rented.com, I thought I would share some of the things I learned that might be useful to other founders and parents:
Recognize the Different Stages
If you haven’t been through either before, there is a tendency to think that parenting is parenting — that, as your child grows from infant to toddler, teenager to adult, you must feel and act the same. Similarly, many people think that running a company is like running anything (e.g., “I ran companies, so I can run the U.S. government”). In both cases, the assumptions couldn’t be more wrong.
I’m not saying one is more difficult than the other. Is dealing with a hormonal teenager who tells you that you are ruining her life harder or easier than dealing with a crying infant at 3 A.M. who cannot articulate what’s wrong? There’s no harder or easier. There’s only different — different skills, needs, and approaches. Being good in one phase doesn’t guarantee success in the next, just as falling short in one phase doesn’t mean that you will be inadequate in future ones.
And so it goes with companies. Running a division or even an entire company in no way qualifies you to create something from scratch. That does not mean that you will not be able to do it. It just means that success is not guaranteed. The same is true the other way. Creating something from nothing, pulling an idea out of thin air, and creating a business that brings $1 million a year in revenue doesn’t mean that you have the skills to grow that company to $10 million or $100 million, much less to billions. It’s the difficulty of being good at so many phases that makes those who do succeed such heroic figures (Gates, Jobs, Bezos, and Zuckerberg).
In short, at no point should you think that you have it all figured out or get complacent. To be passable, much less excellent, mandates continuous learning and improvement, whether as a parent or the head of a company (the upshot being that if you invest the time and effort required, the payoff is greater than you can imagine).
Look to the Experience and Expertise of Others
A second truth I have noticed is just how many have come before me. In both instances, parenting and business, there have literally been billions; billions of parents, billions of business ventures. Some have been successful, and many others less so. Fortunately for us, many of our predecessors have been willing to share their stories, insights, and advice. People who have seen the movie, read the book, and are willing to give you the Cliffs Notes.
Thus, you don’t have to go through this alone. Just because you created a life from nothing, just because you founded a company from day one, doesn’t mean that you have to figure everything out from scratch. Tap into the knowledge of those who came before you. Whether it’s the Startup Life series from Brad Feld, Peter Thiel’s Zero to One, Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things, anything by Tim Ferriss, or countless other books that I devour on a weekly basis, I constantly learn from others.
And the same is true with parenting. Besides all the unsolicited advice from family, friends, and complete strangers, there is more targeted and helpful advice in some great books. Two of my personal favorites are: The Happiest Baby On The Block, and the Moms On Call series.
This is in no way meant to suggest that these books will guarantee your success. While many parts of your journey will be similar, there will be many others that are unique to you. Your daughter is her own special snowflake, and learning those intricacies makes parenting delightful. How to hack marketplace liquidity in your company is particular to your company, and solving that problem will be one of the most challenging and rewarding things you ever tackle. Embrace the uniqueness, and, at the same time, learn from the best in order to shortcut the commonalities.
As you continue on your journey, you will find that just when you think you are having the time of your life and think things can’t possibly be any better, more inspiring, or more fun, your daughter and/or your company will go to the next level and completely blow you away.
Prepare Yourself for an Emotional Roller Coaster
On this last point, it is difficult to say if the trait of being a parent or founder has to do with what happens in the various phases (e.g., toddler vs. infant and growth vs. early stage), or if it’s something that happens to you personally: a maturity you gain that makes you appreciate even more what you have the privilege to experience. It’s the feeling in the morning when you wake up that you can’t wait for your daughter to wake up so you can play with her. It’s the feeling at night that you can’t wait for the next day to come so that you can get back into the office and work to take your business to the next phase.
I won’t try and delude you and say every day is a cakewalk. Parenting and running a company have their challenges, to put it mildly. Sleep deprivation, unforeseen blow-ups (e.g., tantrums, product failures), financial worries — they are real, and they are painful. But though there are lows, the highs are greater than anything I have experienced elsewhere, and they keep getting higher.
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