Over a year ago, Kiip CEO Brian Wong made a rather definitive comment at a tech conference in Singapore: “You can’t have kids and run a startup.” He went on to give examples of former employees with kids who didn’t last at his company because they couldn’t balance their work and family life.
Hmmm… That made me do some deep introspection. Was I doing a disservice to my startup since I was now a father? After all, I was single during my previous six startups and only had kids in the past few years. Moreover, was it a problem that 34 of our 60 employees have kids? It was easy to blow off the flippant comment by the 20-something-year-old founder who did not have kids, but it did cause me to reflect nonetheless.
For me, being a dad and running a startup seemed to be working fine. In fact, I don’t think I am slacking at either job and I often get asked how I balance both tasks. After significant reflection and a great conversation with my three-year-old daughter on the topic, I think I started to understand what it takes to manage both lives in parallel.
First of all, I disagree with Brian’s comment. It is possible to be a parent and an entrepreneur – and I think there are thousands of role models out there who prove this. However, in order to do so, you must be absolutely ruthless with your schedule. This means giving your personal life the same dedication that you give your startup. I have always had an extremely busy work schedule – logging 90-hour work weeks and 350,000 plus air miles a year; I am currently the CEO of Bubbly, a Sequoia-backed startup based in Singapore, but I have also founded and worked at six different Silicon Valley startups before this.
Even with the hectic work demands that I face on a daily basis, I’m still able to be very involved in the lives of my wife and two young daughters. Before having a family, I had a “work hard, play hard” mentality and the “play hard” was my free time to let loose. Now I’ve just replaced the “play hard” with intense family time; thus, whether you’re 25 or 35 or 45, it’s no different. This balance hasn’t always been the case, and certainly doesn’t come easily – it takes a lot of effort and perseverance to achieve an equilibrium.
4 lessons for a good work-family balance
Here are some of the lessons I have learned that may help aspiring entrepreneurs maintain a strong work-family balance:
1. Managing time effectively is a must – When everyone wants your time, everything must be scheduled. Rather than attempting to multitask with the deluge of daily requests and to-do’s, creating 15- to 30-minute increments per task helps me hone my focus. Most tasks and meetings can be completed in less than 30 minutes and by keeping to a rigid schedule I can turn my focus on and off. With this comes the ability to prioritize more easily. It’s also important to have one central means for communication and staying on top of things. For me, it’s my email Inbox. Everyone knows to get something on my list, email me. I read every email and reply to most of them. I religiously empty my inbox at least once a week. This allows me to focus all of my communications and ‘to do’ items in one place and ensure I’m not missing something.
2. Maximizing off time at home – When you do get to be home, it’s important to make the most of it. For me, this means setting aside time to relax with my family and give them my full, undivided attention. Each week, my daughters and I have a “daddy-daughter” night where the three of us go to dinner. Both my daughters and I live for these nights out – they keep me grounded, and I’m sure my children love to see a distraction-free dad. In addition, having a supportive spouse who understands your lifestyle and is able to pick up your slack when you need it helps tremendously and is basically a necessity to finding simultaneous success in both the startup world and the daddy world.
3. Making sure work trips aren’t all work – For founders with children, why not bring them with you when you travel for work? This is something that I try to do whenever possible. My three-year-old has already been to 23 countries across four continents! Hotels can always get a sitter to watch children during meetings and then once work is out of the way, the evenings can be dedicated to them. Not to mention the fact that children often love the opportunity to get on a plane and go on an adventure with their parents. Everything is new and exciting for them; even the most mundane places you have seen a hundred times. Some of my best one-to-one time with one of my daughters is sitting in the airport lounge together – time that would otherwise be wasted. I’m not exaggerating when I say that bringing my daughters along makes business travel ten times better – not to mention how much they learn and see the world in the process!
4. Be available when out of the office – Ignoring email when you get home is not the answer. It’s important to be available to your employees during off hours at home. Getting online and staying responsive some mornings, nights, and weekends will help to keep productivity flowing when you’re out of the office and save you the stress of being bombarded with emails when you walk in on Monday morning, which can be paralyzing to productivity. I’m online 24/7 and always checking email. My most productive times of the day are often at night, after I put my daughters to bed, or early in the morning before they wake up.
So, in short, it’s possible. I started my first company when I was 15 years old and was always fearful that when I had kids, I’d have to settle for a boring 9-to-5 big corporate job, so I was determined to figure out a way to make it work and keep doing what I love – starting and building companies. To be honest, it’s actually more fun now with a family. They keep me recharged and my morale much higher.
Building a company is tough and we face so many more ‘down days’ than ‘up days’, so having someone that’s always there to cheer you up and put things into perspective does wonders for your startup stamina. So for those that think you can’t run a company and have kids – it’s nonsense. You absolutely can and it can be some of the best years of your life as well.
This article also appeared in TechInAsia.