I left my full-time job and launched The Skillery in 2011, when my wife was six months pregnant with our son. I took a number of early meetings with him strapped to my chest in an Ergo carrier, and met with investors while he crawled around the floor under the table. (Those meetings did not lead to investment, for the record. But I don’t blame my son.)
None of these things sound particularly wise in hindsight, but, as it turns out, starting a business during the early days of parenthood is entirely common. At The Skillery, we hear from folks who are thinking about starting a business with a baby underfoot all the time.
As exhausted as we may be as we’re navigating teething and preparing purees, many of us are also inclined to take stock of our lives, and consider some big changes. Those changes can — and often do — include seeking a work life that’s more rewarding. And that can — and often does — mean entrepreneurship.
Turning a passion or hobby into a business takes a lot of work and no small amount of plate-spinning, but parenthood can be some of the best training you’ll ever get. Here’s why:
You’ve become an expert multi-tasker.
Starting a business is a constant balancing act. You’re using Siri to respond to an email while you’re walking to your next meeting. You’re updating your website while on hold with a supplier. And, conveniently enough, parenthood has forcibly prepared you for this lifestyle — eating and feeding at the same time, changing diapers and talking on the phone, holding three arms’ worth of stuff with two hands. New parents are shoved into multi-tasking expertise, and that’s a skill you can (and need to) harness as an entrepreneur.
Change is in the air.
There is no more dynamic event in an adult’s life than the birth of a baby. Roles change, priorities change, schedules change. Your night-owl, restaurant-hopping, seat-of-pants tendencies might make way for a carefully scheduled, nursery-dwelling, early-riser lifestyle. Change is all around you. It’s natural to extend that change to your professional life, or, at the very least, to consider what that might look like. You’re reinventing yourself as a parent, and that comes with a strong desire to be the best version of you possible. For lots of us, that best version means pursuing a professional life that’s more than a means to an end.
You’re empathetic, because you have to be.
The best entrepreneurs know how to view the world through the eyes of another, recognizing problems and finding solutions. Parents do this every day. Parenthood — especially in the early days — is about anticipating and meeting needs, and doing so in a way that’s maximally efficient. So is entrepreneurship. After fine-tuning your empathy skills at home, applying them to customer needs comes naturally.
You’re driven by love.
Love of your kids, love of your partner, love of your parents for taking those kids for a few hours while you take a glorious, beloved nap. With so much love in the air, why not love what you do, too? When you see the world through a lens of love — and having a kid forces that upon us — it’s easy to begin to focus on those things that light you up. Maybe you have a hobby or passion that’s been buried behind your 9-to-5 work schedule? Maybe seeing the world with fresh, new-parent eyes inspired a brilliant business idea you’re dying to pursue? Perhaps one of the greatest side effects of parenthood: It forces us out of whatever rut we may have been in, and into a new world of discovery, exploration and purpose.
Of course, love, empathy and the ability to multi-task do not make you an entrepreneur. You’ll also need time, business acumen, a support network and a product or service with an audience. There’s a lot involved. But your parenting skills can and will equip you for the juggle and the information-soaking.
If you’re feeling inspired to explore entrepreneurship while simultaneously raising young kids, here are a few tips:
Carve out the time.
Your business doesn’t need to occupy every waking moment of your day. (It shouldn’t; you’ll go crazy.) But it will need your attention. You’ll have to find windows of time that don’t conflict with your duties as a parent. (Personally, I work from 5 to 7 a.m., before my kids are awake, and again during their naps.) If you don’t pointedly carve out the time, you probably won’t get any work done during the day.
Involve your significant other.
Having kids places a lot of stress on a relationship, and so does starting a business. Doing both simultaneously? Tread carefully. You’ll need your significant other’s support, and they’ll need to understand how (and why) you plan to pull off starting a business. Communicate honestly, and communicate often.
Don’t wing it.
Starting a business is tough, and firing off wildly can cost you, literally and figuratively. Get yourself a basic understanding of what’s involved in starting a business (in both the business-basics and lifestyle sense), and make sure it’s right for you before you invest time or money. There are lots of places to begin, from books to classes (we have a bunch of resources up on The Skillery website too). But make a point of building a foundation before you start buying furniture. Even if you find that your passionate hobby is better off remaining a hobby, you’ve learned something valuable.
If you find the learning/exploration part at all intimidating, there are a lot of ways The Skillery can help, from our free Office Hours meetups (which give you the opportunity to pick successful local entrepreneurs’ brains) to our one-day Introduction to Entrepreneurship workshops.
At the next Introduction to Entrepreneurship session, on September 26 (the last one for 2015), we’ll dig deep into what’s involved in the process, from business basics to stuff that’s more inward-focused — thinking about how (and if) the time, energy and inherent risk required fits into your life.
Whether you connect with us at The Skillery or not, we hope you’ll seek out a support system, and some foundational knowledge, as you consider exploring entrepreneurship. And we hope you’ll find that, like parenthood, building a business is the best thing you’ve ever done (even if it’s also the most challenging).
Did reading this post elicit a burst of inspiration? Here's a little more encouragement to join us at September 26's Introduction to Entrepreneurship: If you register using promo code PARENTS, you'll save 20 percent off the ticket price.
Questions/thoughts? We’re always glad to hear from fellow entrepreneurs. Reach out.