The weird nature of this type of thing – starting a business, starting a family – is that by definition you’re always a novice: Everyone does it for the first time, everyone needs to work it out for himself. Ironically, if you’re good at both, it will be really, really hard. Typically, things you’re good at are easy, but this seems to work the other way around: Being a successful entrepreneur and the kind of dad your kids crane their necks to find in the crowd when they’re playing sport, requires enormous, consistent, thoughtful effort.
From a certain perspective, things are clearly more challenging for today’s aspiring entrepreneur. The modern world has a complexity that dads of previous eras didn’t have to grapple with. Noah, in launching his nautical cruise business, never had to catch the red eye to Jerusalem. Marco Polo never battled with cell phone reception while on his way to meet customers. To be sure they had other challenges, but they were somewhat linear. Today, the future Steve Jobs has to wrestle with something far more mercurial and slippery: Time.
Sprinkle in the contemporary demand for a man to balance the needs of fatherhood with his career, and you have the built-in tension which, simply put, some rise to and other don’t.
I’m not quite sure how I’m fairing
There are some days where we land some achievement at work and I get home and one of my sons wants to sit on my lap and tell me about his day. On those days I try to remember to fist pump and tell myself what super-human man I am. Other days I leave for an early flight before anyone else is awake and forget I was meant to take one of the boys to swimming lessons that afternoon. In any event, here are the lessons I’m learning. (I suggest starting from the top and mastering each level before moving onto the next until you gradually become the Dad-entrepreneur Jedi that I know lurks inside you.)
OK, here goes:
- Never ever have kids at the same time as starting a new business (oops!)
- If you break rule one, try very, very hard to learn your lesson and not do it again (dammit!)
- If you’re still reading you’re not doing very well, are you? I suggest you take a really deep breath, suck it up and get on with it. (Seriously, this is actually the most important rule – the rest are details, really.)
- Don’t bother reading Elon Musk’s book because you heard he had 5 kids and built a tech empire and thought, “Mmm he sounds like a guy who might have some answers”. His answer involved a small army of au pairs. Your wife probably won’t let you hire one (remember Tiger Woods?) and let’s face it most of us start up a business with a little less than Ellon-Paypal-Musk.
- Try not to travel on Fridays, so you can be home on Saturday mornings. Seriously, this should be obvious, but it took me a while to figure out. And get up early on Saturday to buy coffee and croissants for breakfast. That works well.
- Never ever send your wife pictures from a business trip unless where you’re standing is absolutely horrific. She will always assume your business travel is incredibly glamorous and way more fun than staying at home with your amazing kids. War zones, cities after some sort of natural disaster or some sort of heavy industrial setting work well. Never under any circumstances send a pic where there is any trace of blue sky, sunshine or (god forbid) a beach.
- Never phone your wife while anyone is laughing in the background. And don’t call her if you can hear female voices either: this will not end well. If there is a hairdryer in the hotel room I sometimes turn it on before I call to drown out any potentially fun-sounding noises that might escape from my un-airconditioned, 1-star, economy hotel in Lagos.
- OK, back to kids. (Rule 6, strictly speaking, comes from my “How to avoid pissing your wife off while building a business” list, but I usually include it in all my lists because the costs of getting it wrong permeates the rest of your life so powerfully.) Explain to your kids what it is you do. You’d be amazed how much they understand and how fulfilling it is to have them relate to what you’re trying so hard to do. We have a drinks company and my son, from about 4-years old, has been happily telling everyone he’d rather be a whisky salesman than a doctor. How cool is that? If anyone wants to nominate me for Best Dad 2018, please go ahead.
- I’ve left some of the biggies for later as they’re the hardest. Also, if you’ve mastered things so far, you are fast approaching ninja level and Jedi is in sight. This will sound simple, you’ve heard it before and (like the force) you absolutely know it without needing to be told: don’t spend your weekends on your phone, be present. It doesn’t really matter what you do: if my son wants to poke slugs in our garden, then I need to find him just the right stick and not be distracted by my phone.
- Buy them stuff when you’ve been away for a while. Not expensive stuff, but random, unique things from far-away places that create excitement when you return, remind them you’re thinking about them all the time, and give you an opportunity to talk about where you’ve been. (By the way I’m referring to gifts for the kids. Gifts for your wife operate on an entirely different set of principles, refer to rules 1-4 of my other list if you want some guidance as to what to buy her. Please don’t confuse the two. Please, just don’t.)
And finally, learn how to deal with feeling guilty. This is hard and there will be times when you fail to be the best dad and entrepreneur you can be. In fact, this will happen often. But remember the guilt is there because you’re trying so hard at both not because you aren’t. Use it to remind yourself what is important and help you think harder about how to do the best at both these amazing jobs you’re fortunate enough to have.
Win This Father’s Day
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Name the whisky and the beer distributed by Truman & Orange.
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