STORIES FROM THE PFFFFFT: The unlikely likeness between running start-ups and raising children

In these unprecedented times of (using the word unprecedented) uncertainty, many of us are contemplating taking the leap of faith and becoming a fulltime entrepreneur. In this edition of the Zymurgist Diaries, let’s look at the similarities between running startups and parenting. While on the surface, they may seem to be worlds apart – both literally and figuratively – the two actually have more in common than you think. Parents and Founders are both “juggling funambulists”.

For someone who in the span of 2 years – started 6 ventures (with 2 exits), had 2 kids and attended 2 years of LBS – all together; I have always been amazed by the raw similarities between parents and founders (and academics!, but I’ll leave that for another time).

Intrigued? Read on…

Start-ups and Kids: The bloody hype – Most people are blindly drawn to their romanticised nature.

Blame it on the hype – the news articles of funding and exits, the pictures of cute-little mittens and socks… A number of first-time founders talk about starting ventures without really knowing what to expect; and similarly, a number of first-time parents talk about having babies without really understanding what to expect. Yes, there are training programmes and short courses for founding start-ups and raising kids, but nothing even comes close to the real thing! Caveat emptor.

Start-ups and Kids: The conception is fun and sometimes, accidental.

Need I say more?

Start-ups and Kids: The first two years are brutal.

Both – parents and founders – have a mix of euphoria and paranoia, hypersomnia and insomnia every single day. The responsibility blows your mind. You will never know enough about anything going on. You will almost always be forced to make decisions without fully understanding what is coming and trial and error is your best friend. Some similarities include sleepless nights, cleaning up the s***, wondering what will go wrong next, stressing out if you are a good person, cranky partners, the brainstorming sessions followed by blamestorming sessions… you get the drift.

Start-ups and Kids: Sleepless Nights

Need I say more? Refer to Exhibit-A.

Start-ups and Kids: It’s not just about “you” anymore and yet, no one cares as much as you do.

You work on your start-up like its entirety depends on you… and you work on your kid like its entirety depends on you (you get the idea).  Ipso facto, over a period of time, you will realise that you end up giving yourself too much credit when times are good and too much blame when times are bad. But hey, don’t be too hard on yourself. Humility and hard work make a great couple.

Start-ups and Kids: If you knew what it entailed you might not get started. But you’re glad you did.

Need I say more?

Start-ups and Kids: It’s arduously hard to outsource the “core stuff.”

Fine, you may find a nanny to take care of the operational aspects; and an outsourced tech team to manage all the initial product development, but you will soon realise that unless the person has “skin in the game,” the output really depends on what you pay. The Heart is more important than the money.  But money helps.

Start-ups and Kids: Me Time? BWA HA HA HA HAAAA!!!.

Need I say more?

Start-ups and Kids: The common trap of flexibility and stability.

A number of people tend to take up entrepreneurship when they are on the verge of becoming a first-time parent (as the priorities of life change) and believe that it will provide them with the flexibility they need in their new role. However, it doesn’t always work as planned. OK. OK, this isn’t a similarity.

Start-ups and Kids: Choosing your partner wisely.

Need I say more?

Start-ups and Kids: The fear of screwing up.

You will eventually realise that you constantly blame yourself, even when times are good. You think it (the start-up and the kid) is fragile. But it will surprise you with its ruggedness. Through trial and error (and advice, and “mentors”, and “experts”, and lots of self-help books, you learn something new… every single day).

Start-ups and Kids: Most of the work in the initial months is thankless, some of which you hate, “below your level,” dirty, tiring, and gritty – unless you have the resources to outsource OR QUIT.

Need I say more?

Start-ups and Kids: There will be a thousand small tasks you never imagined.

Sometimes you don’t even know why you’re doing it.  Then, something happens that strikes a bolt of inspiration into you where you know you’re doing the right thing, and you feel reenergised. How you spend your time is more important than what you say you will do. You start out all-important.  Yet the goal is to make yourself irrelevant.

Start-ups and Kids: Neither Founder nor Parent likes their baby to be called ugly or to be hurt.

Need I say more?

Start-ups and Kids: Divorces and Founder Fall-outs.

While there are countless divorce studies with conflicting statistics, the data points to two periods during a marriage when divorces are most common: years 1 – 2 and years 5 – 8. And a similar period for start-ups. Need I say more?

Start-ups and Kids: On its best days, it fills you with meaning, love and purpose.

Need I say more?

Start-ups and Kids: You learn a lot about yourself.  You get tested in ways that you can’t imagine.

Start-ups and kids give your life a hitherto unexplored dimension.  You sometimes do things you weren’t sure you were capable of before – physically and mentally. There is a lot of noise out there, but at the end of the day it’s your call. You have to try to make time for yourself or it won’t happen. Whatever your weaknesses are, they will come out in this phase. You find out who your real friends are; and you make some new ones. But yes, when you find someone who can really help you’re incredibly grateful and things get better.

Start-ups and Kids: Both go through growth spurts.

Need I say more?

Start-ups and Kids: You grieve when it ends.

It is extremely painful and hits one hard emotionally. There is soul-searching… lots of it. There is this sense of deep loss and grief akin to bereavement, where one has multiple flashbacks of the state of helplessness, fury and frustration. You keep going back and thinking of everything that could have been, or should have been done differently to influence the outcome. The agony is inexplicable.

Start-ups and Kids: The regret – of not starting sooner

Need I say more? (tap… tap… tap…these humans are crazy).

Start-ups and Kids: Everything costs more than you thought it would.

The baby powder, the licences, the diapers, the quote for the additional button, the buggy, the office furniture, the salesperson, the day-care centre, the fundraising consultant… you get the idea.

Start-ups and Kids: The reduced focus on hygiene – physical, mental, financial

Need I say more?

Start-ups and Kids: It’s harder than anyone expects.  It’s the best thing ever.

Most people think of entrepreneurship as starting a business. But the actual definition of entrepreneurship is “pursuit of an opportunity without regard for resources currently under control.”  Every parent pursues the best possible opportunities for their child while climbing over obstacles and limitations each day.  So in a way, all parents are founders and all founders are parents.

And finally:

Start-ups and Kids: The stupid urge to have more (well…).

Parting thoughts till the next blog:

“Please, sir, I want some more…” – Oliver Twist

#TheZymurgistDiaries #GrowthMindset #Leadership #EntrepreneurialMindset #EntrepreneurialChallenges #covid19times

See more from this series here.


About the author: 24x Founder, 3x Success, 2x VCExit, 19x Failure, 100x Resilient, 14x Sectors, 6x Continents, $2+bn deals originated and advised.

Chennakeshav Adya (Keshav) is an eclectic value creator for mid-sized firms and PE/VC funds on Fund-raising, M&A, growth, corporate strategy and deal-making (currently, as co-founder of Adan Corporate). He is a resourceful entrepreneur with 20+ years of global experience in building businesses from a concept and growing global teams from 2 to 200+.

A deca-lingual, multi-talented zymurgist, Keshav is skilled at using the founder’s mentality and thrives in uncertainty and chaos, directing teams through the “Unknown” in the initial 1-2 years of setting up any type of new venture.

As an Entrepreneur Mentor in Residence (EMiR), Keshav is associated with London Business School’s experiential entrepreneurship activities supporting students and alumni who are interested in pursuing a career in entrepreneurship, whether launching or growing their own ventures.

PS: As a part of the Movember movement, Keshav is raising money towards raising awareness of men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer, and men’s suicide. Suicide in men, as most of us do not know, is the LEADING cause of death among men under 45. That number should feel horrifying because it is horrifying.

The money raised by the Movember movement will help make a tangible difference to the lives of others, through the world’s most promising cancer research and mental health support programs that support adults and their families battling and surviving mental health problems.

Link to donate: https://uk.movember.com/mospace/10132933 . Thank you.

#mentalhealth #prostratecancer #suicide #cancer #movember

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