What Fatherhood and Working at a Startup Have in Common

Posted by Joseph Puopolo

I became a father over 5 months ago, and it has definitely been a game changer in my life.  I have also been involved in several start-up companies both before and during my foray into fatherhood. However, since I became a father, I found there were some very interesting similarities to working in a start-up.

1. Noticing the smallest patterns

Whether it is managing your product or your baby, it is all about spotting the small patterns. What is causing them to respond, what do they like, what don’t they like? It could be the slightest difference in what you do or how you do it but it can have an impact. Discovering those patterns is key in helping to scale your business or keep your baby happy. If you are able to discover what makes your baby happy, you can replicate it, and use that knowledge in other situations. Feedback is key to the entire operation. Granted, a baby’s cry is significantly more ambiguous than a clear pattern in business, but over time you start to learn what they need.

Now, I wish that my baby was as easy to understand as my customers, but again it requires a combination of intuition and testing in order to figure out the best way to approach things. Start-ups,  like fatherhood, require constant and regular iteration. If your baby is not responding favourably you can’t keep doing the same wrong thing for a day, a week or a month.  Start-ups are no different, from the standpoint that you can’t afford to sit on bad strategy or tactics long. In learning to live life with the baby, you need to see how the situation evolves and continually iterate while noticing patterns in the chaos.

2. Serve multiple constituents

I find you need to serve multiple constituents when you become a father. Think about it this way – your baby is your client, your wife is your co-workers and your parents are your investors. Your baby is everything, and you need to be responsive and serve their needs. Respond in a timely fashion and keep them happy. With a baby, your pay-off is a smile that warms your heart.  The correlate pay-off in business is word-of-mouth referrals from your clients.

Your wife/partner is in many ways your co-worker or staff. You are both working together towards a common purpose, but sometimes get worn down by  the constant demands of the baby (or client!). In this case, it is important to look for opportunities to alleviate stress and do little things to show that you care even in the face of adversity. Sometimes a token of appreciation or taking on a tough task yourself can make it easier and help keep you and your colleagues (or wife) sane.

Your family are like your investors. They have been supporting you from the beginning and they only want the best for you. They are there with both support and advice to help you do better. They also want constant updates on how things are going. In both cases (the start-up and the baby), they have invested so much that they want to be sure everything is going smoothly and on track. They are ready with advice to help you get you over your next hump

As a father, like in a start-up, you need to serve those multiple constituents effectively and in many cases all at the same time and realize that they all contribute differently and have different needs.

3. Sleep is a luxury – get ready for hard work

Whenever you take on a start-up or become a father, you need to be ready to lose some sleep and work hard. It is far from a 9-5 job! You need to be ready to work and do what ever you need to do to get through. Whether it be staying up until 3 rocking a baby to sleep, or sitting on your laptop rocking a spreadsheet, the job is never done. Going into both, you often have no clue what you are getting yourself into, but you need to continue to work hard and persevere.  At the end of the day you need to know in your heart you are working on something worth sacrificing for.

4. Babies are fantastic for networking?

Recently, my wife started back to works and now have increased daddy duties. There was an instance where I had committed to go to an event on a night when my wife was working, so I decided to take Anna with me. While the result was mixed (due to Anna’s displeasure in seeing another demo), it made me think about a few things. People were instantly drawn to talk to me because I had a baby in my arms. If I dissect why, it isn’t hard for me to understand. Not only is Anna uber cute, but she is also very new and unexpected. Anna turned out to be an instant icebreaker and a fun topic for discussion. Now, I abhor the usage of kids as accessories (see the train wreck of a show Toddlers and Tiaras for that), but it did get me thinking.

It would stand to reason, then, if I was going into any event to do business development or networking for a start-up that I should come with the following:

  1. Something new to talk about – People don’t want to hear about the same stuff over and over. Make sure you have something new to talk about – a new feature or a new accomplishment. Guard yourself from turning into a broken record.
  2. What’s your hook? - Think about what you want your hook to be. What is going to interest people to come over and talk to you? It could be a cool tactic or just doing something that nobody else is doing. It is critical to differentiate and capture attention.

5. Enjoy when things go your way but don’t get frustrated when they don’t

An old adage states that you look great when things are going smoothly, but when they don’t, you look like an idiot. Success sometimes is a poor teacher, but failure is an excellent teacher. In fatherhood and start-ups  alike, some of your greatest moments come through failure. In those moments, you learn very quickly what not to do. What I would say is this – guard against a sense of over-confidence.  Sometimes when you think that you have just put your baby to bed for the night, that inevitable wake-up happens. Same thing with releasing a big update or a new product. Never take anything for granted because you don’t know when the game will change right underneath your feet. The learning point here is that you need to keep on top of things and never take things for granted.

6. Start-ups, like babies, are always changing

A start-up is always evolving, much like a baby. The baby you know today isn’t the baby you are going to have in a few months. In a start-up, it could be technology changes or evolution of your team,  but the only sure thing is that changes are a constant. The best thing is to enjoy the ride and make sure you keep evolving with it. In start-ups, the skill set you need at the beginning might not be the one you need to get you to the next phase of success. A baby keeps rewarding you with things, whether it is a smile, a giggle or that first “Dada”.  It is the same with a start-up – every milestone you reach is a reward for the effort you put in.

Ultimately, you want to be able look back and know that you gave it your all and made the best effort you could to ensure success of your start-up and more importantly, your child. At the end of the day you want to put your all into it to make sure you succeed.

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Joseph Puopolo

Joseph Puopolo

Joseph Puopolo has a BES from the University of Waterloo (‘02) and an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University (‘03) For over 15 years Joseph Puopolo has been a leader within the technology industry. Joseph has a deep background in the world of marketing, social media, PR, and business development. He has lead multiple projects and initiatives at several organizations including, Oracle, PROPHIX,... more




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