Superhero Tricks For Startup Parents

Written By on December 6th, 2011 | Category: Relationships Startup Life | 23 Comments

Editor’s note: This post is by guest contributor Jeff K. Ward (@jeffio). Jeff is a father, husband, author, founder of YikeSite and co-founder of Intigi. He blogs over at

Here are some tips that I feel may be of value to other startup founders who also have a spouse, kids, and family responsibilities and are trying to manage it all.

To put the following into context: I’m 31, have 2 boys (2 and 6 years old) and have been married for 10 years. I work from home, run a consulting business (web-design/web-apps), 2 startups and a bunch of side projects.

1. Your #1 Investor Is Your Spouse

(Photo: Patrik Giardino)

My wife is truly the rockstar in our business. She is my #1 advisor, supporter, investor and fan. Having a super supportive spouse is the key to my success and that’s why I treat her like gold. Especially if your spouse is the primary caregiver of your children, you need to make sure they get breaks and the support that they need. If you ’re killing it to get your business off the ground, you need to know that your spouse has got it locked down on the homefront so you can focus on growing your business.

2. Stability Is Important

(Photo: John Knill)

People attempt an online business for many reasons. It’s important to remember that even on a shoestring budget, there are many expenses you will incur starting out, especially if you’re a non-technical person and need to outsource design and development work. Bootstrapping a startup with revenue from client work is an approach that has worked well for me.

I couldn’t have launched my startup without having the consulting revenue from my “day job” to fund the initial launch. In one sense, my past clients were my early investors — only they didn’t get shares or sit on my board.

The key here is to have income coming in before you decide to quit your day job (if that’s the path you choose to take) and pursue your startup full-time. It’s difficult to anticipate when your business will take off, if it ever does. Starting a business is risky enough, you don’t want to add financial instability to the mix, especially when you’ve got a family to support. I would recommend quitting your day job when your side income is comparable to your 9-5 income, and you want to take your business to the next level. That is the more stable route and will make it easier for your spouse to be in full support.

3. Find A Compatible Co-Founder

(Photo: Jeffrey Zaruba)

I’ve built startups both with and without co-founders and from my experience, having the support of someone else in the trenches with you in invaluable. You’re in a challenging situation starting a business while managing your day job and family responsibilities so it’s motivating to have another person with whom you can hack and hustle and share the successes (no matter how small).

Having a co-founder is especially helpful when you have a limited number of hours in a day that you can devote to your business and you can use the additional manpower, inspiration and focus. I know that when I’m accountable to another person I get things done faster.

It goes without saying that you should choose your co-founder wisely. Their skills and strengths should complement your own and there needs to be very open lines of communication. In my case, it was also important to find someone that that appreciates the challenges of balancing work and family.

4. Use Your Time Deficit To Your Advantage

(Photo: Martin Gommel)

The fact is that as a family man, I have less time to work on my business than a 22 year old who doesn’t have a spouse and kids. I have embraced these constraints knowing that I had only a few hours per day on average to work on my online business. Most of my time is spent planning at this stage and I think about what key features need to be built, and how to test this with customer feedback and user testing. I then build a minimal viable product for that feature and release it for additional user testing. Make sure there’s proven demand for a product/feature before you build it and constantly test new features to see if users actually find them helpful. Leverage your time constraints to build less software that is more valuable to your customers.

5. Automate As Much as Possible

(Photo: Hans-Peter Merten)

When I first launched YikeSite I had to do everything manually: New accounts, upgrades, downgrades, e-mail follow-up, and so on. Since I’ve built the billing system and automated a lot of these common tasks, YikeSite has become a robust app that grows each month with very little input from me.

I built a lot from the ground up in Rails however now there are services like Recurly (billing), Push Mail (push notifications) and Mailchimp (e-mail follow up) that makes this much easier to automate and get started.

For things that require my attention (support, bugs, major upgrades/downgrades, etc.) I set up a notification system that comes directly to my phone via e-mail to SMS. Automating tasks and setting up auto-reminders and notifications frees up my time, and gives me peace of mind knowing that things aren’t slipping through the cracks.

6. Align Business & Family Values

Writing down your values is as important as writing down your goals. Personal values, family values and business values should all be in support of each other. For example, I value spending time with my kids. I value my wife’s happiness, I value financial stability, and I value being able to work on cool stuff and feel challenged doing it. In practice what this means for me is that the kinds of businesses I start are congruent with the lifestyle I want to lead. The benefit of an online business is that I can work and collaborate with others remotely (more on that below) while earning income passively. This ultimately allows me to spend more time with my family.

7. Work From Home

(Photo: Sharie Kennedy)

First of all, working from home saves money on office space. Second, it saves time commuting (which I’ve done and it sucked). But mostly it allows me to spend as much time as possible with my kids. The times I may have been commuting each day add up to extra hours I can devote to work and family. Most days I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with my family, am able to take my oldest to school, and pretty darn every night I read stories to my kids. Most days I also work extra hours in the evening. All of this is made easier by working from home. If you’re working crazy hours on your startup, you don’t want to waste time commuting.

Not to say there’s not always challenges, here’s a video of day 1 working from home and some fun distractions from my son :)

8. Don’t Pull All-nighters

(Photo: Paul Bradbury)

The nights that I happen to break this rule also seem to be the same nights that my kid will come down with a cold or flu and I’m up all night with them. True story: as I was putting the final touches on this article, I was interrupted by a vomiting toddler.

All-nighters lead to an extremely sucky next day (or two) of terrible productivity. Lack of sleep also makes you prone to falling sick, which is never good. As long as I’m in bed by a decent hour, I can usually deal with whatever the night throws at me, and be (reasonably) productive the next day. Maybe this will change when my kids get older but for the little ones – in school – the winter month evenings can be unpredictable. Long story short, unless you have to ship something to a client by 7am the next morning, pack it in at a reasonable hour and restart fresh the next day. A fresh mind works wonders.

There’s a full article on all-nighters in my book and blog.

More On Startups & Family

Check me out on twitter @jeffio because I share a lot of resources and opinions about this kind of stuff there too. Shameless plug, but I’m co-founder at Intigi and I’m using it to curate resources around startups & family life.

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  • Anonymous

    As a father of 3 (including a 1-month old!!!) I thought this was a great post with great insight on balancing family life and startup life.  I would add / change one thing.  You mention automation (which, as a tech startup I appreciate), which is important, but I would add process.  It makes my fingernails curl even typing it, but if startups can think about building an engine instead of one-off tasks / activities – and continue to refine the engine, it becomes easier to grow, scale, and deal with the inevitable fires…

    for an equally shameless plug, we are building a library of epic processes for startups at

    Great post!

    • Anonymous

      Awesome, thanks for the feedback. Congrats on the new baby too! 3 wow!

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Scott – this is a great post with a number of good insights.

    I’ll add my own thoughts (as someone with two boys under 4).  I disagree with switching jobs when your side income is as great as your 9 – 5 income.  If you’re working on something part time, and that’s where your passion is, do your best to save as much money as possible to get to work on it full time.  Find investors, find customers, find people who will help fund the new venture.  Too often I’ve seen and talked to people who say they want to run their own business, but are attached to their incomes.  Reduce your expenses and change your income needs to accomodate your life.

    The overall message of putting family first and kids is bang on (IMHO) – there’s nothing more rewarding in life than kids and a loving wife.
    P.S. Congrats on the new arrival Scott!

    • Anonymous

      That’s a good point Mike… save up money so you can switch to your startup full-time. The trick is saving enough runway so that you’re not distracted when/if the savings starts to run out before you’re profitable with your startup..

  • andrew draper

    Although we don’t have kids, the part about your spouse is 100% true, to the point that I’d argue the last year of chaos in my wife and I’s lives has actually made us stronger and more supportive of each other—having someone beside that is incredibly supportive is not just a massive advantage, at times it’s what gets you through the dark side of entrepreneurship.

    • Anonymous

      Glad to hear you two pulled through the chaos :) That support from the spouse is worth everything.

  • Yan Simard

    Great article. I’m a father of 4 and happen to have divorced during Year 1 of the startup (mostly unrelated though). I think that 2 things are fundamental for parent entrepreneurs: family 1st and being as effective as possible.

    Keeping the family happy and supportive should be priority #1, but can also help you live through the inevitable ups and downs of the startup cycle. #2: Being as effective as possible with your time allows you to achieve #1 and also to grow your startup as effectively as possible. Many entrepreneurs assume that all-nighters are required because that’s what other people do. The truth is more that all-nighters should be exceptional. Regular all-nighters are more a consequence of not working smart and drain everybody’s energy. Not working smart and being exhausted is a sure recipe for disaster.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Yan, and I agree with you that being as effective as possible with your time is definitely key.

  • Mike Smullin

    yes good article. i’m lucky to still have my wife and 2 kids on year 5. but the credit goes to my wife who came up with the last three items on the list on her own, and following them really helps. there will always be work to be done. there is rarely anything that cannot wait until tomorrow. there will not always be family. also be aware of workaholism and employers who prey on workaholics–see “chained to the desk”. a workaholic is often lauded as a hero but in reality they are dangerous because when the work shows signs of running out they sabotage everything to make more work for themselves.

    • Anonymous

      +1 “there is rarely anything that cannot wait until tomorrow” — thanks Mike for your comments.

  • Benjamin Yoskovitz

    Jeff – Great job tackling some of the realities of startup life with kids. I’ve got 2 boys – 7 and 4, and have been involved with startups throughout. I was raising financing for one of my companies while my second son was in the hospital with my wife, and I was outside on the lawn talking to investors.

    Some of the points – working from home as an example – are dependent on the type of business you’re running. I’m working at home at the moment, and find it a bit overwhelming. Everywhere — toys, mess, stuff I should do around the house — so I would caution people about not separating work and home a bit more. I like the idea of going somewhere, shifting contexts, and coming home to shift again.

    You have to be a master at shifting contexts.

    In 2007 I wrote a post about raising a family and starting a company. It’s old, but I still go back to it, nod and chuckle:

    • Anonymous

      I’ve worked from home, then had an office, and now am back at home. My home office situation now is pretty sweet. It’s away from the common areas, I rarely hear kid noise, and it has it’s own entrance. When we were looking for houses, a great work-from-home situation is key. I hear you though about getting out and switching contexts… I try to plan at least a couple regular weekly meetups at a coffee shop to co-work just for a change of scenery. Cool post on your blog! There’s more than one of us doing this kind of stuff! It’s so great to hear that there are lots of people in our situation and able to kick some butt.

      • Benjamin Yoskovitz

        That is a sweet setup. I can see that making sense, where you’re in a very separated office. I still prefer working in an office w/ a team. Remote is tough.

  • Lynda

    Great article and refreshing to hear your thoughts from a ‘Dad’s’ perspective. I’m a startup tech Mom and consultant, taking a pretty similar path. I have actually had VCs tell me that being a Mom is a liability so it’s great to see that the challenges you face are quite similar to mine, perhaps minus the liability label. And yes, the flexibility and lack of commute help to make it all work, not to mention an awesome spouse. Thanks!

    • Anonymous

      In my opinion, if a VC tells you that you’re a liability, you don’t want their money ;)

  • TR

    Good article . Question though, how do you respond to
    those out there who are saying that you can’t do/shouldn’t do a good start up
    unless you are putting in an insane amount of hours, much more than I would be comfortable
    with as a father of two young kids.

    • Anonymous

      There are many examples out there of people building great businesses, bootstrapped, on-the-side, with limited amount of hours. One story that comes to mind is Basecamp and how it was built in 10 hours per week.

  • Mark Hayes

    Always look forward to the next Maple Butter article! This one didn’t disappoint. Awesome! 

  • Tim Jahn

    These are FANTASTIC tips!  #4 has become a great learning experience for me with our 16 month old.  After having a kid, I learned just how bad I was at managing my time before a kid.

  • Jeff Slobotski

    Great post, and some solid reminders!  Thanks so much for sharing…

  • Dad

    this was awesome!  Having worked from home for most of the last 22 years and having a 15 year old now I can say you’ve captured the reality in that day 1 video oh so well :-P

  • Leshaddad

    Great advice from a great father,husband,business owner and author.

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