If you’re an entrepreneur, your business is your baby—and a needy one at that. But what if you have an actual baby at home?
Lots of people insist that you can’t grow a company and a family and do both well, but at one point, I was running one mature business and starting up another — all as a single father. I believe that simultaneously being a great parent and building a great company is not only possible, but one can actually reinforce the other.
As a parent, you can put a roof over your child’s head, make sure he eats well, and chauffeur him to soccer practice, but that’s only one part of the job. Being a great dad means inspiring your child and teaching him every day: about money, hard work, and the rewards of building something great from scratch.
Being an Entrepreneur Complements Parenting
To me, being an entrepreneur is just like having any other high-effort, high-reward job, but those jobs frequently fail to offer the benefits I’ve found as an entrepreneur:
Inspiration: It’s not hard to convince parents that they need to play an active, loving role in their children’s lives. But what most people overlook is the importance of inspiring kids and leading by example. We tell our children all the time that with a little hard work, they can be anything they want to be. Yet very few of us end up doing anything close to what we wanted.
When I was 23, I spent some time backpacking around Australia, and I met a guy whose father had died when he was just a year old. His dad lived an incredible life and was assassinated in service to his country and posthumously knighted by the Queen of England. Even though my friend never really knew his father, he lives his life inspired by those actions and is wildly successful in his endeavors.
Even when my son was a baby, I never underestimated the effect my choices had on the kind of man he would become, and I work very hard to live up to the image I want him to have of me. Building a company I believe in is one part of that.
Motivation: Many entrepreneurs are young and childless, with no one else depending on their success or failure. But when you have children, you’re much more motivated to succeed because failure doesn’t just mean you lose your money and have to start over — it means compromising your children’s future. I had the opportunity to be on “Shark Tank” and almost tanked it, but thinking about letting my son down pushed me to recover, and I ended up getting the investment I needed from Mark Cuban.
Balance: It’s hard to squeeze work in when you’re the only adult, but it forces you to strike a balance between working and parenting. As a single parent, I don’t get to see my son every day. But when we are together, I am 100 percent focused on him. The result is that a child gets a lot more one-on-one time with both parents. I’ve known many fathers in traditional families who have demanding jobs, but they have spouses who can pick up the slack. Unfortunately, this can become a habit, and when one parent is conspicuously absent, the child is the one who suffers.
Flexibility: Flexibility is extremely important with kids. They frequently need their parents during normal working hours, and running your own business allows for that. When you’re your own boss, you can take an afternoon off if your child gets sick at school or volunteer your time as a “snack dad” without jeopardizing your job.
Starting a Family and a Business at the Same Time
Being a parent and an entrepreneur can be wonderful, but it’s not without its challenges. There are times when either your business or your relationships will suffer, but there are a few things you can do to make your family’s experience a positive one.
- Make sure everyone is on the same page. I’m the first to admit that entrepreneurship can be hard on marriages. There is a significant time commitment involved, and your income varies wildly. For relationships (and your business) to last, you and your partner must see eye to eye on the risks as well as the rewards.
- Don’t act like you’ve made it before you have. Cut personal expenses as much as possible to allow for the ebb and flow you’re bound to encounter for a few years. The more conservative you are with your spending, the easier you will weather financial storms.
- Approach the experience like an adventure, not a burden. Get your kids in on the action. Involve them in your business. Inspire them by explaining what you’re going to build, and then let them see you build it. Expand their vision of what’s possible and show them the impact they can have on the world. Make the early years of your startup something exciting for the whole family, and let everyone share in your success.
Building a business is hard. Parenting can be even harder, and doing both at the same time sounds impossible to some. But great parenting starts with letting your child stand on your shoulders so you inspire him to follow his dreams and build something great.
Photo: Dan Harrelson/Flickr