Photo: Think Big Partners
Can you really have a successful career and a successful family? Maybe.
Can you have have both of those things when you work at a startup? That’s much more difficult.
“There’s nothing you can do at a startup to lessen the volume of work or smooth out the emotional cycles, and being a parent is completely consuming and erratic on top of that. So it’s basically a double startup!” says Hashable CMO and mother Emily Hickey.
We asked 10 startup executives who are also awesome parents how they balance everything. From Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti (who has 2-and-a-half-year-old twins), here’s their advice.
Jon Steinberg, President of BuzzFeed, father to 2 ½ year-old Edie and 1 ½ year-old Cooper
Prior to joining BuzzFeed, Jon Steinberg was an executive in residence at Polaris Venture Partners. He was also a strategic partner development manager at Google.
We have two children, Edie who is 2.5 and Cooper, who is 1.5. I think having children has made me more focused and productive. I have such limited time between BuzzFeed and family, that I try to be efficient in how I produce materials, take meetings, and organise. Also, having children is such a massive responsibility (their welfare is at stake), that it allows an entrepreneur to keep even the hardest business decisions in perspective, and be decisive.
My wife, Jill, is also amazing and carries 90% of the childcare responsibilities during the week. I'm with the kids only for about an hour in the morning, and then rarely make it home during the week before they go to sleep. On the weekends, I try to carry as much of the childcare responsibilities as possible, as well as spend lots of activity-time (playing, eating, doing art) uninterrupted by devices with the kids.
But at the end of the day, I only have time for two things in my life: my family and BuzzFeed.
Chantel Waterbury, founder of Chloe + Isabel, mother to two-year-old Benjamin
Chloe + Isabel is a jewelry startup that turns its users into direct sellers and helps them throw trunk shows. It just raised $8.5 million from General Catalyst Partners and First Round Capital last month.
Prior to Chloe + Isabel, Waterbury spent 15 years in the jewelry business. She developed and designed jewelry for Kenneth Cole, Gap, Macy's, Kohls, Target, Nordstrom and others. She also served as director of luxury jewelry for LVMH.
My son, Benjamin had just turned 1 when I started bringing Chloe + Isabel to life (he is now 2). I was working out of my house and I noticed that even though I was physically present I was not mentally or emotionally present for my son for more than 10 minutes at a time. I was always in front of a laptop or on my phone.
I quickly realised that the word 'mama' was not rolling off his tongue like other words. I immediately made a promise to him and myself that I would carve out time that is completely uninterrupted and spent doing things that we could build upon in our relationship. You have to set boundaries. When I am working - I give 150% of myself to it - no personal interruptions. When I am with Ben and my husband, they get 150% of me. It may not be a lot of time that I have available but we know that it will be quality family time that is creating future fond memories. So to make a long story short - ha! I guess the quote could be: Set boundaries and manage your time so you can give 150% of yourself to whatever you are doing in that moment.
Jose Ferreira, CEO of Knewton, father
Ferreira joined Knewton in 2008 as CEO. Before that he was a partner at Draper Atlantic and a strategist for John Kerry's campaign.
Knewton has a bunch of married folks: me, David Liu (COO), Pete Miron (CTO), Brian Fitzgerald (VP Product Development), Katie Kurtz (VP Business Development), and a number of others in roles all across the company. Probably around 15% in all. And most of them have kids.
And the company's motto here is that we have to make Knewton great for the family, not just the employee. So we have a lot of family friendly policies here (great health benefits, work-from-home flexibility, maternity AND paternity leave, reimbursing emergency back up day care, etc.). Start-ups are intense and we like to think we are more intense than the average, so we try really hard to make up for it with these kinds of perks. It's very important to us that the family believe in Knewton and support the employee's work here 100%. And I guess we feel this way because it was so important to me when starting the company.
So the first thing is that your spouse has to be totally on board. When I was thinking about starting Knewton, it meant the world to me that my wife and her parents thought it was a great idea. That kind of buy-in from your spouse and the people s/he trusts most is so important to your day to day attitude. It liberates you to give it your all. It's a truism that the highs are really high and the lows are really low. I can't imagine tackling those lows without my wife's full support. Also, having a two income household can sometimes make it a lot easier for founders or start-up employees to make the choice to take less base comp in lieu of equity.
Kids are an additional complication. I travel a lot, so that's tough with kids. On the other hand, founders tend to be obsessive in the extreme. It's not healthy for your brain to grind on your business 24/7, but that's how it is for most entrepreneurs whether they like it or not. Kids are one of the only things that can break you out of that and truly distract you, which at some level is enormously therapeutic. So -- yes -- kids require entrepreneurs to be that much better at time management, but they can also help keep you calmer and saner.
Deena Bahri, VP of Marketing at Birchbox, mother to a 3-year-old daughter and a 9-month-old son
Bahri joined Birchbox as VP of Marketing in July. Before that she was Senior Director of Marketing at Gilt Groupe, Director of Marketing at The Ladders and Director of Marketing at Reebok International.
I have had to learn two things that don't come naturally to most type A, goal-oriented women -- how to ask for help (how can my partner know that I need him to cover the mornings so i can workout and preserve my sanity, unless I ask?) -- and how to forgive myself for the little details that slip because of my busy schedule (Christmas cards not happening AGAIN this year).
And two work skills that I have sharpened since becoming a mum - I am very defensive about my time, and I am maniacal about managing my to do's- I constantly make and remake lists of my priorities in order of importance, and I plan my time according to those lists. Making the wrong choices about how I spend time during my work day means I have less time to read to or play with my kids - not ok when im already away from them 11 hours a day.
This all sounds very tactical, so if I had to add some higher level ideas into the mix it would be about the importance of being present. When I'm at work, i throw myself into it - im focused, im excited, im on. When I'm on home, i shut work off, and I'm 100% focused on my family - at least until the kids are in bed. This is what I aspire to and what I measure my success against.
Jonah Peretti, founder of BuzzFeed, father to 2 ½ year-old twins.
Prior to founding BuzzFeed, Peretti cofounded The Huffington Post.
Work, family, sleep: pick two!
David, founder of Ordr.in, father to 2 ½ year-old daughter and an 8-month-old son.
Prior to founding Ordr.in, Bloom was COO of America To Go and director of industry development at American Express.
Last week my wife, Naama Bloom, and I celebrated our 4th anniversary. We have a 2.5 year old daughter and 8 month old son. My daughter was born six months before I started the company and my son was 3 months old when we started TechStars.
My kids are great, my wife is wonderful. She is head of marketing at Harvest (http://getharvest.com), so is in the startup community. That makes her really in tune with what I am going through every day. She is insanely supportive- she considers all the compromises and sacrifices she makes as an investment in me and Ordr.in. Startup life can be isolating; it is great to have a wife who is so thoughtful about what I am going through.
Prioritization is really hard. I work or I am with my family, sometimes both at the same time. Like the time I spent my wife's birthday dinner on the phone dealing with a client problem. Downtime, trips to the gym, drinks that aren't work related…not happening. Something has to give.
Every startup feels pressure to succeed, but there is no real shame in startup failure. The community celebrates the effort. But my kids' under-funded 529 accounts don't celebrate my effort. That's real pressure- to make these sacrifices worthwhile. My wife and I both feel this. So much so she's interviewed candidates for Ordr.in, reviewed marketing and product ideas and listened to my TechStars demo day pitch 100 times. She's in it to win as much as I am.
Bo Fishback, CEO of Zaarly, father to baby Pierce.
Prior to founding Zaarly Fishback was president of Kauffman Labs and Vice President of The Kauffman Foundation.
It's hard and I make no claim of greatness.
We'll add that Bo is also a pretty great multi-tasker. He's been known to give 40 minute presentations and speeches with his infant son Pierce hanging off his front.
Emily Hickey, CMO of Hashable, mother
Emily Hickey is chief marketing officer of Hashable. Before that the Stanford graduate was chief operating officer of PhotoShelter, cofounder of Yeah! Wireless, and VP of product management at Hot Jobs.
I think being a working parent at a startup is a pretty tall order... AKA it's a total bruiser/arse-kicker! but its doable and you can 'have it all' if a few variables are right.
For one, you need not just a great and helpful spouse, but a great marriage. Nobody can be taking things too seriously, stuff can never get blown out of proportion, there can't be a lot of resentment just below the surface, etc. humour and lightness really have to be at the core of the family and you have to be psyched that you have a family and sort of constantly aware that you chose to do this and be pretty joyful about that choice. I actually think it's sort of a trick to be enjoying your family at that level on a daily basis versus just being overwhelmed by logistics and lack of personal time.
Also, you need to love your job and your company. Not just be passionately committed to them, but really have warm relationships with the people you are building your company with and have great 'soft' factors at work. The work volume is always going to be intense and your daily feelings of success vs. illusion are always going to be fluctuating, so the bottom-line relationships just have to be great and enjoyable.
You also need to be a complete workaholic with a lot of energy. Most people at startups are definitely that, but throwing a kid into the mix means you have three hours of every weekday that you can't work, which means you are staying up later to get things done, and then you don't have a weekend to relax and catch up on stuff, so you have to find more energy internally... So the time sitting at your desk has to be really efficient and you have to be willing to crank late at night, without the possibility of sleeping in - ever - for the next 20 years.
You also need a great outside support system. For us that basically means an awesome, awesome nanny since our family is not local.
To sum it up, there's nothing you can do at a startup to lessen the volume of work or smooth out the emotional cycles, and being a parent is completely consuming and erratic on top of that. So it's basically a double startup! All you can do is make sure that at home and at work you have great 'soft factors' - otherwise you'll be in nervous breakdown territory!
One thing I've personally spent a lot of time on in the past couple years is meditating and really working on that as a way to keep my mentality light. I would say meditating, my great husband, my great nanny, my naturally relatively mellow son, and keeping an eye on the soft factors of my work are my personal success factors... and I guess I probably drink a few more Bud Lights a week than i used to :).
Last year, Business Insider's CEO Henry Blodget made a New Years resolution about how to have a better work life balance after his six-year-old daughter called him 'Daddy Who Is Boring.'
Blodget wrote, 'Well, let me tell you, there is nothing to make someone who imagines that, if he were to have a special name, it might be, say, 'Daddy Who Is A Super-Cool Daddy,' sit up and listen faster than learning that his name is actually 'Daddy Who Is Boring.'
After a fifteen minute conversation with his daughter, Blodget got to the root of the problem. He was working in front of his kids and he wasn't mentally present for them. So he made a promise to himself to work differently.
'Specifically, I'm going to try to limit the now-you-can-always-be-working! miracle of modern technology and, gulp, unplug for a while. Not because always-being-able-to-work doesn't have its benefits (it does.) Just because, especially in the eyes of a 6 and 8 year old--and, truth be told, everyone else--always being plugged in means always being tuned out.'
We asked Blodget how he did with his resolution today. He replied, 'Very well! I put the phone down for two hours when I get home in the evening. It has been a struggle and I occasionally have to restrain myself from going to check it, but it has made me much more 'present' during the only hours I have with my kids every day. Then they go to bed and I immediately log on again.'