Toward the end of the last year, my employer decided to do some restructuring, and refocussing on what’s important to them. Those changes affected my role, and I’d been toying with the idea of going out on my own for years, I’d just never worked up the courage to do it.
There was always something in the way. I’d tell myself things like “We need to buy a house first” or “now is not the right time”. But as I was sitting in that meeting, learning that my fate was in the balance, I realized something — There is never a “perfect time”, I’d just bought a house, my son is two months old, there probably wouldn’t be a worse time.
I’d spent the better part of the last decade doing work on the side, building up my reputation, slowly networking and establishing my own personal brand.
After a week or so of leave during negotiations, I decided to take the leap. I realised I’d outgrown my role, and I needed a new challenge, and my employer offered me a little extra runway on account of Christmas and the new year being just around the corner, even though they didn’t have to.
I talked to my wife, watched the color drain from her face and then surprisingly, after the shock passed, I saw enthusiasm on her part. She was encouraging me to do this. So I did. I started Bitlab, a company that applies technology and creative problem solving to tackle a variety of business challenges.
So without further ado, here are some striking similarities that I’ve figured out from doing both of these things at the same time for the past few months.
Everyone warns you when you first find out you are pregnant — you’ll never sleep again. The closer you get to D-Day, the more everyone around you reminds you to get enough sleep.
Much like starting any business, there is never enough hours in the day. The first two weeks after we brought our son Charlie home, we camped out in the lounge. Wired, tired and incredibly anxious with a healthy dose of feeling woefully ill-prepared.
Fast forward 4 months and I get at least 6–7 hours a night now, but I have my wife to thank for that. Like some sort of sleep deprived goddess she keeps our household from falling apart, so I can focus on work — something for which I am eternally grateful.
In business you may be tempted to pull one all nighter after another, but in my experience, giving 100% for some of the time is much better than giving 30% all the time.
Get some sleep, stay well rested. You’ll actually be more productive.
I love playing video games. I enjoy reading. I’m also a bit of a cinephile. But have you ever tried to watch an entire movie after you have a baby? Impossible.
Any activity that takes more than an hour needs a plan now. And even if you find yourself childless for a few hours, you immediately feel a strong pang of guilt for even the slightest self-indulgence.
The same goes for the start of a business. Anything you do is time you could have spent working on your marketing strategy or finding new leads.
It’s irrational, but it happens. And it’s also important to have a little time to yourself to stop you from spiralling into insanity.
You’re playing, tickling and then it happens. The sound. everything goes quiet and the baby smiles as if he knows you now inevitably have to wipe his ass.
You look around frantically for your wife and realise she’s not there. You’re on your own.
This happens in business too. You hit a roadblock or challenge and you start looking for the person in charge who’s supposed to fix this mess. Then you realise that person is you.
It’s both liberating and terrifying. So you carefully place the tiny human on a waterproof surface and proceed with the assessment.
This kind of follows on from above. Sometimes when you actually start assessing a situation you realise it sounds worse than it is.
Your child sounded like a 737 that just touched down, but it was just that — mostly sound.
Often I find situations like this in business. Molehills become mountains so quickly, and it’s not until you inspect them closer that you realise it’s just a case of false perspective.
We had a rough plan of how we thought everything was going to go post-baby. It really didn’t survive very long. Some of the things we assumed would be easy was actually super hard, and some of the harder stuff was actually easier. Some things we called pretty accurately.
The point is we had goals, but our plan was designed in service of those goals. We weren’t committed to the plan, but to the goals. So when our assumptions were incorrect, we adjusted course.
In business I believe this is super important. Everything you do should be in service of the goals you set for yourself. Make agile plans, and always keep those goals in mind and you’ll be amazed at the progress you make.
Prioritizing tasks seems — on the surface — easy. You need clean clothes? Do some washing. You need milk? Go to the supermarket.
Most of these things are easy to manage, but as the list grows figuring out what’s really important can be difficult.
After baby you learn what needs your attention right now, what you can delegate to your partner, and what can wait.
The same goes for business. At first it seems everything is important, but you learn what the real high value stuff is that will help steer you toward your goals.
Prioritization is not exactly like time management but rather complimentary. Knowing what to do first is not the same as knowing when you have time.
Post baby and post business you learn where your limits are. You must master your calendar and you have to learn how to commit without without spreading yourself too thin.
Communication one of the main cornerstones of any relationship. Which makes it so much harder when you don’t speak the same language.
In the first few weeks, we had no idea what Charlie wanted. We tried apps and none of the parenting books or articles could prepare us for how helpless we would feel.
Then around month two we realized that we had somehow started understanding Charlie’s different cries. We didn’t need words to communicate.
Similarly in business, you quickly learn that you have to really understand your clients to add value to their business. But first we have to learn to listen.
You’ll be tempted at the beginning, and even toward the middle and end to try and keep on top of everything yourself.
I couldn’t handle being a dad without my wife. I know there are limits to my own abilities. So we share and delegate. With my friends I talk about how I feel.
I share the load because I understand I can’t do everything myself.
In business, at the beginning, it may just be that you’re naive, but as your business grows, this turns into micro management.
Always remember that when you hire people, they are there to do a job they are experienced or trained to do. Employees will quickly pick up on your mistrust, and that will lead to staff who spend good, productive time looking over their shoulders.
I read a fantastic tweet by @SimonSinek the other day:
Be a leader and know you can’t do everything yourself, trusting and inspiring those who work for you to help share the load.
A lot points have been about similar stresses and pitfalls, but perhaps the most striking similarities is the good stuff.
The rush of endorphins when your child smiles or you sign a new client. The awesome feeling of looking back after a while and realizing all these small steps actually got you pretty far.
I’ve long thought the 8-hour work day that was originally designed for factory workers during the industrial revolution is actually slowly killing productivity. I get more done now in five or six hours a day than I would get done in eight to ten hours “being present” at a desk under the flickering fluorescent lighting of an office building.
Getting to watch Charlie grow up is super rewarding. Taking 20 mins to make everyone a hot drink and spend some time being present with my family is priceless.
Having a baby is hard. Starting a business is hard. But even at the hardest of times, the rewards are amazing.