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How The Birth Of My Son Made Me A Better Entrepreneur

A startup founder and new dad reflects on a year of milestones, for himself, his family, and his company.

How The Birth Of My Son Made Me A Better Entrepreneur
[Photo: Flickr user Preston Smalley]

While I usually advise anyone that you should never launch two products at the same time, I did exactly that this year: The birth of my little boy, Nelson, preceded the launch of my fourth startup by only a few weeks.

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It has been a whirlwind of a year and I would like to pass along the lessons I have learned to anyone else attempting the entrepreneur + parent combo launch you might have coming!

Here are the lessons I learned in the last year that I found useful for business:

1. You Need Advice From An Expert

For many parents, especially fathers like me, the arrival of a newborn comes with the sudden realization that you have no clue about what is going on. The first few weeks are trial and error–kind of like the early stages of a startup. The solution in both cases is to see what works, and get advice from experts about what doesn’t.

There are several other similarities between growing a startup and having a baby: There are thousands of advice books and millions of Google results for relevant articles on these two subjects, but these are often more confusing than helpful. To navigate your way through this maze of information, you have to create your own path and trust a few selected advisors (in the case of a baby, that means doctors, your parents, and friends with kids) who can answer your questions and tailor advice to fit to your situation.

My initial business model was met with resistance, despite the fact that I thought it was a revolutionary “sharing-meets-crowdfunding” idea. After tough discussions with experts who said the idea was too broad, we were able to narrow it down to the give-and-take business-advice platform that we have now. I learned from my three previous startups that the difference between a successful exit and a failed startup has been my openness to advice and willingness to ask experts questions.

I remember the turning point in my last successful startup was when I cold-emailed the deputy security general of NATO for advice about our security competition. To my surprise Marshall Billingslea’s secretary replied to schedule a meeting in Brussels. In the meeting, we discussed the initiative, and then Billingslea said the phrase that changed my career: “How can I help?” The rest is history. Our company grew to 20 employees, awarded more than $5 million in prizes for our technology competitions, and industry leader InnoCentive successfully acquired the company. This experience taught me that you should never hesitate to ask to talk to an expert–it can lead to amazing things!

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2. You Learn Who To Trust And To Delegate Early

Another lesson you learn as a new parent is how to do more with less time. I used to work six days a week, 10 hours a day, and obsess about every detail. With a new baby, I had to learn how to move my new company forward while working only four to five hours a day, and then slowly increase that to seven or eight hours a day–which is nothing for an entrepreneur.

The only way to overcome this new time limitation has been to surround myself with people who fit these three criteria: 1. In the same city as me, 2. super smart, and 3. fully committed to the company. My initial team only fulfilled two out of three of these criteria, so this past May, we totally restructured the team, and now we have a team that fits all these criteria.

Hiring is the number one responsibility of a founder/CEO, as well as providing your team with the resources and freedom to do their jobs. Now, I go home at 6 p.m. every day to see Nelson before he goes to sleep.

Usually, I am the first one from the team to leave, knowing that the rest of the gang is even more obsessed about quality and success.

3. Enjoy Your Work-life Balance Rather Than Control It

A year ago, I was in total control of my life: I knew exactly at what time I would go to the gym, work, relax, and so on. My world revolved around me, and while I tried to keep this worldview in the first few months after Nelson’s birth, I learned to let go, have more fun, and accept that life can be unplanned (shocking for a German like me), more spontaneous, with more laughter and less sleep. Accept it and you will realize that your child is not the reason that things don’t get done, but rather, the reason to get things done.

Applying that lesson from my private life to my startup also helped me deal with uncertainties and last-minute changes. You cannot control whether Google will enter our sector tomorrow, or if your best programmer is sick a week before product launch. Stay positive, accept that life is a circus, and just enjoy the show!

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4. Your Mission Changes

I have always wanted to concentrate on things that somehow change the world for the better. Becoming a father has only made that desire stronger. You do everything because of your family. It sounds so simple and you know what? It really is! That is why I hope that my company will liberate knowledge sharing to make advice-giving easier and bring value to millions of people in the world.

And if it is not successful in the first year, heck, I go home to my family and look at my smiling son who will remind me that life is all about trying until you succeed, whether it’s learning to walk or making your idea a reality.

Simon Schneider is a compulsive startup founder from Germany with a mixed bag of entrepreneurial successes and failures in the U.S. and U.K. Currently he is the CEO of the advice-sharing platform Zyncd.

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