Starting a company while starting a family is hard but not impossible

By Mauria Finley , written on October 22, 2013

From The News Desk

What’s more exhausting, exhilarating, and exciting than having a baby? Nothing. But starting a company certainly comes in a close second. Some entrepreneurs do both at once.

As crazy as it seems, I chose to do just that. When my second son was nine months old, I resigned from a great job at eBay to start Citrus Lane, an e-commerce for new parents. It was far from easy. I remember one night where my baby woke up every few hours, and on four hours of sleep, the next day I had back-to-back venture pitch meetings. I showed up to one with spit-up on my blazer and snot on my pant leg, but I just wiped it off and moved on. Those were the moments I found it a tad ironic I was creating a company aimed at making new parents’ lives easier.

Trust me, I made some pretty big missteps along the way, but I also learned a lot of valuable lessons I hope can help other founders starting new companies while their kids are still in diapers.

Focus on what matters

I once ran product for a startup called Good Technology, joining when it was less than 10 employees and helping build the company to more than 250 people. The work was exciting, but endless. I often stayed until 9pm at night and worked at least one full day each weekend. I prided myself on never missing any detail. With young kids in the house, I can’t possibly devote this much time to my job. Now, like most working moms, I am laser-efficient.

Maybe I don’t answer every email right away, but I have a sharp sense of my most important priorities. I keep my eye on the prize – be it a key hire I need to make, a strategy we need to set, or a deal I need to close. This mindset extends to my home life, too. My husband and I decided to do as close to zero household tasks as possible, so we can devote our free time to our kids. It does come with funny moments. Last week my dentist called because we haven’t paid our bill in four months; this is the cost of never opening your postal mail. We live with a bit of home disorganization and a lot of low-grade toy clutter because we choose to focus almost exclusively on our kids and our work.

Set aggressive goals for yourself and your team

I often leave the office at 5:30 or 6:00, but I always do calls in the car and work a lot in the evenings. Of course, I extend the same flexible work schedule to my team. But I’ve found this type of flexibility works only if you set super aggressive goals for yourself and your employees, and hold everyone accountable for reaching those goals. At the beginning of each year, we set super hard metrics. They seem impossible at the time, but each year, we have nailed our goals – and even surpassed them. Instead of counting how many hours my employees and managers work, I hold them accountable to metrics – and that has created a culture of trust and cooperation that’s invaluable to our success.

Make sure your partner is on board

My twin sister and I were raised by a single mom, and when I think about all she managed, I can’t imagine how she did it. But I’m lucky enough to have an amazing partner who is 100 percent on board with supporting me in my journey as an entrepreneur. He was working at his dream job five days a week in Arizona, coming home to Silicon Valley on the weekends when I started Citrus Lane. We made this work for almost two years. But, it was really hard – balancing kids, two nannies, both our big workloads, trying to find time for each other, etc. One day we looked at each other and realized something had to give. He quit his job and looked for something closer to home.  This has allowed me the “treat” of staying late at work a couple of days per week.

Be present at work and at home

Perhaps the hardest thing about starting a company while also parenting small kids is missing out on the little moments. Like most working moms, I sometimes get those painful “why don’t you pick me up at 2:45 like the other mommies” questions.  They get me every time, but I make sure to have mindful moments with my kids each day. I’m home for dinner most nights and I’m “present” during that time.  I don’t do work around them (well, unless I’m closing a fundraise). And, we make our weekends family time. We’re on the soccer field on Saturday, make special breakfasts on Sunday, read lots of stories, and of course, attend a huge number of kid birthdays. The same goes for my focus at the office; when I’m there, I’m 100% engaged in work.

Explain what you do to your kids

One thing I’ve found that really helps me connect with my kids during the week is to explain my job to them. I even explained how venture capital works to my four-year old. He understood the basic concept surprisingly fast, saying “I get it, they give you money and you work really hard, and if you don’t work hard, they take the money away.” And of course I show my boys the cool boxes full of toys and kid products my company sends to moms and dads all over America each month. (They take product testing mighty seriously!) They may not always understand why I’m not at early pickup, but they understand I work hard to provide a great life for them.

I’ve never been more energized and tired at the same time. Leading Citrus Lane and watching its incredible growth has been like raising a third kid. And they say three is a lucky number, so I think two kids and one startup is enough for now.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pandodaily]