Married  Entrepreneurs  With  Children 

A number of you have already sent us emails about how having children ads another layer of complexity into the entrepreneurial challenge. We decided early in our life together not to have kids, so it’s hard for us to talk personally about the impact of them on a Startup Marriage, but many of our friends who are entrepreneurial couples have children.  We are reaching out to some of them to include their thoughts on this blog and in our book.

In the meantime, one of our readers from Chile sent us some of his story.  He is recently married and has a two year old with his wife. Following are some of his thoughts:

My biggest motivation to start a company was my daughter. When I knew that my wife (in that time my girlfriend) was pregnant, I was just 20 years old and thought that had to do something to make money, change my life for the better and actually change my style of life if I wanted to become a successful dad, husband and person. So, that’s why I started my own company.

My biggest challenge on being an entrepreneur and my relationship is to unify two worlds, that sometimes (and in my case, all the time) doesn’t fit that well. This is because my wife doesn’t think that been an entrepreneur is something good, so when I started she always tried to destroy my ideas and projects. Now that I’m earning money and getting more exposure in Chile, she is really happy and proud, but was extremely tough when you are just getting things rolling.

The second biggest challenge is being a dad (with a little kid), and try to support your wife, pay all the bills at home, get people to aprove your project, products or ideas, being a friend….it’s like I felt sometimes like superman or tried to be one. So people start blaming on you, telling you that they need more time, but your dreams and goals also need them, specially when you’re just starting, so it’s kind of challenging in those terms.

We know that kids add significant complexity into the entrepreneurial mix and we’ll be sure to explore this in depth.

  • “My biggest motivation to start a company was my daughter.”

    that totally resonates with me. I wanted to show my children what putting everything out there means. I wanted to walk the talk. we tell our kids all the time “work hard,” “do what you love,” “don’t hold back,” “do your best.” if we’re not living those words, they won’t learn.

  • This is an important topic. I’m glad your adding it to the mix. I hope you talk with some of the spouses. I know Sharon, a nurse, has found my entrepreneurial adventures to be a mixed blessing.

  • Roger

    Although I’m more than 20 years older, I can very much relate to the comments from your reader in Chile. But imagine how hard your spouse will fight you to prevent you from being an entrepreneur when you are 43 and have a mortgage and 2 kids under 6 and 10 and she has been out of the workforce 10 years as a happy stay at home mom.

    Here’s my story and advice:
    Sorry this is long but hopefully it will help someone out.

    With a Masters in EE and management experience and having worked successfully in a combo of small companies and the big company corporate world (Aerospace, Telecom) for 20+ years I had a lot of options to just ride the gravy train of corporate 6 figure salaries.

    The problem was I saw that gravy train starting to sputter and at 42 I could see how that train was going to derail before I was able to reach retirement. Sucks to be born the last year of teh baby boom. (1964) I could see a time for me in my mid to late 50s where the corporate world would boot me to the curb and I’d be a “useless corporate drone” in his 50s with a family that was used to a $175K+ salary.

    Now that would be a disaster. So in 2005 I jumped off the big Titanic that was corporate telecom and started heading for smaller company land and entrepreneurship. In 2005 I took a job as a CTO at a 120 employee tech company. I spent 2+ years there, then a year at a startup and in 2009 I started my own company. Although it’s been brutal doing this with family responsibilities to meet it’s also made me tougher and more resilient than I could have ever imagined.

    I’m no longer a 42-year old, narrowly focused corporate worker with minimal understanding for how a business really works. I’m now a 46 year old resilient, resourceful, flexible entrepreneur who understands a huge amount of how a startup and the startup world works. I’ve raised over $800K total, formed a strong team, worked through a zillion challenges and delivered a product that actual business customers are starting to use and say they like.

    Now I feel like there is nothing I can’t do. I may not be bulletproof but I can take a lot of bullets and keep on moving forward. As a person I may look roughly the same as 4 years ago, grayer hair excluded, but I am a completely different and better person for this.

    And yes, I am thrilled with how this has set an example for my 2 sons about being willing to suffer hardship and persevere and still keep balanced and engaged with your family life.

    Some VCs may love 20-something, single entrepreneurs with minimal family responsibility and boundless energy. But there is a lot to be said for us older, NOT old, dogs who can learn new tricks.

    So here’s my advice to you mid to late 30-something folk in medium to large companies who want to change your stars and become entrepreneurs even though you have spouse and kids.

    Get a job at a company of 100 to 200 people where it’s a lot harder to be narrowly focused or to hide in the thicket of corporate excess. Spend 2 years there in a management role where you have to manage people and budget and deal with crap that big companies hid from you or would not let you own. Be successful at it. Learn. Build your confidence. Keep your technical skills strong. Start thinking of ideas for companies that you are passionate about.

    Then get a job at a startup of less than 15 people and learn what it is to work in that environment for at least a year if not 2. Startups sometimes run out of money so it might be only 6 months. If so do a second gig at the startup. Learn. Build your confidence. Then during this time center on an idea you are passionate about and find someone who is also passionate about that idea who is also someone who is a “doer” like yourself.

    Most important, make sure the idea you choose actually clearly and simply solves a problem that either businesses or consumers have in their profesional or personal lives. Make sure of this before you start building it. Understand deeply why your idea saves people time or money generates time or money for people. Save the groundbreaking, world-changing, “Facebookian” ideas you have for your second startup after you exit the first one successfully.

    Build the solution at night and weekends in prototype form and put it out there for people to use and give feedback on. Polish the concept to it’s core simplicity and start raising small money from friends/family and angels.

    Get real customers using the system regularly and paying for it before you talk to VCs. It will give you both credibility and valuation leverage.

    Now the whole time you are doing this you have to make sure you dont over-work yourself and lose contact and engagement with your spouse and kids. Make sure you set aside time every day to be a productive, contributing member of your family. Do housework, attend kids events, set aside time for your spouse, do yardwork, etc.

    Exercise diligently to stay healthy and sane.

    Sound hard?

    It is, you will never work as hard in your life.

    But it will be worth it, for you and though they may not like it for a while, for your family.

    Don’t let the corporate world turn you into a narrowly focused, bitter, cynical drone/slave to a salary that is not commensurate with your contributions and then get kicked to the curb.

    Be bold, work hard, be an entrepreneur. Even if you fail you will learn and you will get better and more challenging jobs as a result of your willingness to risk failure.

    Roger Toennis

  • There is also a very Buddhist thing that an entrepreneur with kids must learn. Be present. If you spend time feeling guilty about not having the evening with your kids only to find yourself thinking about the company once you get home then you do yourself, your family, and your business a disservice. It takes discipline, but practice being present where you are – each needs your fullest attention on their own turn.

  • The 1st employee of the 1st company I founded reported for work 3 days after my oldest son was born. I acted as if this company was his favored twin. I missed out on most of his “firsts,” and I made a lot of mistakes as a dad, primarily by not being there. I was responsible enough to schedule some minimal weekly time with him, but I really wasn’t mature enough to be there completely (mentally and emotionally).

    I give my wife tremendous credit for having a talk with me about this. I am really glad that I listened to her and decided to change.

    This is what I did to improve:
    1. Accept that I truly wanted to be a good dad and build a great relationship with my children.
    2. Compensate for my startup obsession with engaging activities.
    Things we can all enjoy and do together.
    Things that require me to think, plan, and prepare in advance.
    Keep myself accountable with a blog and friends on Facebook.
    3. When I’m doing things with the kids, I visualize the light switch in my office turning off…
    When work thoughts pop up in my mind, I just turn this light off again.