When I launched my start-up, I thought I was challenging myself in completely new ways. My background as a sociologist didn’t prepare me for tasks like drawing up a business plan, building a website, or hiring employees. As it turned out, though, an entirely different aspect of my life did prepare me: my years of experience raising kids.
If you’re a mom who’s dreamt about starting a new business, these 10 observations may encourage you to take the plunge and keep at it:
1. You work 24/7, and there’s no guarantee of success.
Kids and start-ups require your constant attention, yet even after you’ve done everything within your power to optimize success, it’s no guarantee. Just think about how many start-ups go belly up—and how many kids move back home in their 20s and still expect you to do their laundry.
2. There are no gold stars along the way.
Ever have a kid turn to you and say, “Wow, Mom, that was some Grade A, first-class parenting”? Didn’t think so. Likewise, there’s no one handing out gold stars for getting a company off the ground. Find gratification in the small stuff, such as a child remembering to say “thank you” or your business living to see another day.
3. You will lose some friends.
When you first had your baby, friends without kids may have drifted away, wondering how their engaging, curious friend got replaced by a baby-talking, fawning, sleep-deprived robot. Similarly, when you jump into start-up mode, every brain cell and spare moment is dedicated to succeeding. Soon you’ve lost any friends who survived your baby obsession. Don’t worry; you will survive the early years of playgroups and funding cycles thanks to new friends with same-age kids, and the support of other female entrepreneurs.
4. You can’t always be your best self.
Before having children, you might have vowed never to yell, use TV as a babysitter, or eat fast food. The sad truth is, you may end up doing all these things as a mom—even all at once: “Sit down, watch that show, and eat your nuggets!” Similarly, when you were employed, you may have checked off the things you’d never do if you were the boss. But before you know it, you may be asking employees to take pay cuts and put in long hours. Tough moments push all of us in directions that we have to work to counteract.
5. No amount of research will prepare you.
No matter how many times you read What to Expect When You’re Expecting, you can never fully prepare to be in charge of a new human being. Because all babies are unique, moms have to figure out a lot on their own. Start-ups are the same: books and “helpful” essays on Medium won’t adequately prepare you for the journey. Ultimately, you figure out parenting techniques and a business model that are yours and yours alone.
6. Mistakes are 100% guaranteed.
Once, when I was proudly walking with my infant and toddler in a double stroller, it collapsed on them. They were OK, but it was a horrifying mom moment. From then on, of course, I made sure to check the safety latch. Similarly, I’ve made egregious mistakes in business that provided major moments of learning. Even if you’re feeling like a bad mom, there’s no option but to keep going—excellent preparation for the hits you’ll take when getting a business established. Terms like “crisis management” and “strategic planning” are fancy ways of saying that when the stroller collapses, you make sure it doesn’t happen again.
7. It’s personal.
You know that feeling when another kid is mean to your kid on the playground—the racing heart and surge of blood to your face? It’s the same with your business. When folks critique what you’ve thrown all your heart and money into, it’s personal. Stay away from those who, like the mean kid at the playground, want to see you fail.
8. Expect earfuls of unsolicited advice.
As a new mom, you learned to just nod and smile at unwanted baby advice, like when your neighbor explained that a little rum in the baby’s formula would improve their sleep. Similarly, when launching your start-up, you’ll be cornered by relatives and friends—usually male—who say things like, “So, what you gotta do is . . . ” or “Whatever you do, don’t . . . ” Just apply those time-tested mom deflection skills: Smile politely and move on.
9. Decision overload is unavoidable.
Sometimes, when my kids were very young, I’d long for a day when I didn’t have to make so many decisions about everything—what they wore, what they ate, what the rules were, and so on. Start-ups impose similar decision-making demands. After all, this is your baby, and every choice can feel like the difference between success and failure. Of course, when you look back at your kid and your business later on, this usually doesn’t turn out to be true. But in the thick of it, that’s how it feels, and that’s how you roll.
10. Adaptation is essential.
Start-ups, like kids, morph over time: We never really know exactly what path they’ll take and what they will become. The ability to change gears and adapt are essential to raising both healthy start-ups and healthy children. If you find out your kid has ADHD, you learn as much as you can about the challenges and make a plan. Similarly, in business, an initiative may prove less successful than you’d hoped. Stay calm and move on to Plan B.
Parenting with a full heart, creativity, and bravery equips moms with the emotional tools we need to start a business. The journey is rich and fulfilling. The result may delight or perplex others, but in the end, it’s still your baby and the apple of your eye.