I just read Jason Calacanis's post about whether or not it's possible to have a baby and do a startup at the same time and thought it might be interesting to share my perspective as I'm a serial entrepreneur, I'm currently bootstrapping my latest web startup, AppIgnite, and I have three little kids (Colby-6, Isabel-4 and Areli-2). Also, I'm generally juggling between 2 to 4 freelance projects at any given time, do an hour and a half tech podcast twice per week (TechZing), run a men's soccer team, maintain the soccer league's website and schedule, serve as a board member for our home owners association, coach my son's soccer team as well as a year-round weekend soccer skills clinic and generally hit the gym 5 to 6 days per week. And then of course there's all the time I spend with my kids. Yes, even with all of those external obligations I'm probably able to spend more quality time with my kids than most other working dads - walking them to and from school, taking them to the park for hours at a time, reading to them, playing with them, feeding them, cleaning up after them, etc.
But before I get into the details of how this is possible (because I'm sure you're skeptical), I'd like to point out that unlike Calacanis I don't feel comfortable suggesting to people what they can and can't do as I believe it all really depends on the individual and the context in which they're operating. I've been doing one kind of startup or another for pretty much my entire adult life, so being an entrepreneur is really the only way that I know how to live and that's with or without kids. So, while I'll tell you a little bit about how I organize my life, it's not a prescription or recommendation for how anyone else should live or go about their lives. People, relationships and living circumstances are usually so unique that I think it would be a mistake to presume that what allows me to do a startup while raising kids would work for anyone else. That said, here's how I manage to make it happen.
First of all I work at home as a freelance software developer, which has a couple of advantages right off the bat. The first is that I'm home and around my wife and kids all day every day, so whenever I take a break (and I tend to take lots of breaks) I get to walk out of my home-office and hang out with them. Not that my breaks are especially long, but a five to fifteen minute break every hour or so, not only helps to refresh the mind, but it really adds up in terms of time spent with the family. By the end of the day my wife has probably heard all of my best material and probably my kids as well, so that means that I have time to, for instance, go to the gym to play basketball.
Taking the kids to the gym is probably where I gain the most leverage of the day because it's a kill three birds with one stone, triple-jump move. The reason this works is that the gym I go to is five minutes away, is state of art and has a giant, first-class day care center with a ton of kids (ages 6 months to 13 years) having a blast. My kids love it because it's awesome fun for them, I love it because I get to work out and play basketball every day, and my wife loves it because she gets about a two to two and half hour break to regain her sanity. When we get home the kids have burned off that end of day energy (a huge win), my wife is back to her normal, happy self and I'm completely rejuvenated so that I'm able to get some more work done in the evening if necessary.
The second advantage of working as a freelancer from home is that I don't waste any time commuting, which can really add up when you consider the amount of time that is usually wasted in most commutes from the time you walk out the door to the time you're actually sitting down at your desk and getting stuff done. While I realize this amount of time can range quite a bit and that not everyone has a 45 minute commute each way, my commute is maybe 60 seconds tops and that's if you count the time I spend making my poor man's mocha (coffee with cocoa mix). Also, you know all the time that most employees and on-site contractors spend in meetings or other such unproductive organizational activities, well I engage in none of that. For the most part I'm either doing billable client work or working on my own projects - currently AppIgnite and TechZing. Sure, I have to spend a little time emailing back and forth with potential new clients or sending out invoices, but once you've been freelancing for a while you learn to get pretty efficient with doing that kind of stuff.
The third advantage of working as a freelancer is that you can usually charge pretty high rates once you've developed some expertise and a reputation. I charge $100 per hour, which means if I work 4-6 hours per day, five days per week, then we're in decent shape financially and I'll have enough time left over to make significant progress on AppIgnite. Usually, I try to get four solid hours of consulting work done before lunch at around 1:00 PM, go grab a burrito or maybe some Indian buffet, come back home and work on AppIgnite for maybe an hour and a half with my co-founder via Skype and VNC (he's in Norway), and then spend the remainder of the day either working on a client project, working on AppIgnite, or recording a podcast.
Obviously, if you do the math $500 per day isn't a huge income for a family of three living in a relatively expensive area like Pasadena, CA, so I should point out a couple things about that. The first is that I probably bill closer to $600 per day when you average out the little bit of extra time I spend on client work in the evenings and on the weekends. In my experience, consulting work is never very consistent, so there are weeks when I'll put in a lot of time in the evenings after the kids are asleep and even some on the weekends. Another thing is that we keep our expenses pretty low and don't tend not to live very extravagantly. Once you have kids, especially if you have three of them like we do, you tend not to have much energy for big outings anyway, so sushi and a movie is usually all the excitement we're looking for on the occasional Saturday night out.
Another circumstance that allows me to pursue a startup is that my wife and I have figured out a very clear division of labor and separation of concerns. She cooks, I do all the dishes and take out the garbage, she wakes up with the kids at night and I take them to park for two to three hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, she does the shopping, pays the bills, organizes the trips, fixes anything that's broken and I ... did I mention that I take them to the park on the weekends? ;) All kidding aside, I'm actually the Mr Clean of the house, so I do in fact do my share.
The divide and conquer approach might sound a little old school, but it creates a lot more free time for us and it allows us to opt out of things neither of us wants to do. But what's interesting is that at least among most of the people I know who have kids, we're sort of an exception. Most of these couples seem to do everything together, whether it's grocery shopping, household chores, or taking care of the kids. Now I can understand why a lot of couples want to go fifty-fifty on things like childcare and why they might want to do things together in the early stages as it's all still kind of exciting and novel, but once that novelty wears off (and trust me feeding and changing the baby isn't that exciting after a while), then you're just left with a situation that doesn't scale. Sure, maybe you can get away with the "let's hold hands while we do everything together" approach, but with two kids it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and with three or more kids it's just plain unworkable.
The way we organize our weekends also buys me a lot of time as well. First off, we start the day early, which when you have kids is something in which you really have no choice because they practically wake up when it's still dark out, so that means the day is long and you can get a lot done. Usually, I'm able to either record a podcast or get in a work session on AppIgnite right after breakfast while my wife takes the kids for a walk to get a smoothie or maybe to the park or on a hike to burn off the morning energy. Then later in the day during nap-time and between various kid activities I can usually get in another 2-3 hour work session. So, while I'm fully engaged with the wife and kids throughout the weekend, I'm still able to squeeze in several multi-hour work sessions and when you're focused and obsessed with a project you can usually make a lot of progress in that amount of time.
So, that's pretty much it and as I pointed out a lot of what allows me to stretch my time to fit in a startup is probably particular to my circumstances. That said, if working as a freelancer from home is something you're interested in doing and you have the experience and contacts to make a real go of it, then freelancing will get you a long way there. Next would be keeping your expenses down so you don't have to bill 8 hours per day because if you do you'll have a hard time finding the energy to push on your own project. Finally, if you're in a relationship and you can work together to find a mutually agreeable division of labor that will allow you to maximize your free time, then you've pretty much got it. But then I suppose there's one more consideration. The fact that I have a co-founder who calls me every day at 10:00 PM his time ready to work after a full-day of work and family life probably helps to inspire me to suck it up a little.
|Copyright © 2010 Jason C. Roberts|