Entrepreneurship is an exhilarating and terrifying journey that Reid Hoffman, Co-founder of LinkedIn, likens to jumping off a cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down. During the past year, I’ve embarked on my own entrepreneurial tale, having started a consulting firm focusing on restorative business. I am currently crafting an even bigger project. A month ago, I became the father of a beautiful baby girl, Sofia Grace. I quickly realized that parenthood is a lot like entrepreneurship.
In both instances, you have a dream, execute toward that dream and watch something you’ve created grow from infancy to maturity. Thankfully the infant mortality rate in the US is just 0.6% compared to the business mortality rate of around 25% after a year. Both journeys are filled with feelings of joy and fear.
I always assumed that getting pregnant would be easy. After I was married, my wife and I began to hear stories of couples who longed to be parents, yet were having difficulty conceiving. It turns out that the average couple takes 6 months to conceive while many healthy couples can take a year or longer. Add 9 months to that and you can take 15-21 months before a baby arrives. Entrepreneurship on the other hand can happen a lot faster. It can take as little as four days to register a business in New York.
The Early Days
The first night after Sofia Grace was born, the nurses brought her tiny 7lb frame to our room. Suddenly, my wife and I were confronted with simultaneous feelings of excitement and inadequacy. Who said we were qualified to care for such a helpless creature? At birth, foals (baby horses) can run. In contrast, our little one didn’t even have enough strength to keep her head up.
A fledgling business is similar. You might be a business on paper, but you are likely closer to a newborn. You have no employees, no product and no customers. You can barely keep your head up. As an entrepreneur, I have felt those same feelings of joy and fear when taking care of my newborn daughter.
Last week, Sofia Grace turned one month old and she has already taught me a lot about business. Here is the first edition of a newborn’s guide to entrepreneurship…
The Customer is Not Always Right
Sofia Grace does not enjoy baths. She still does not understand that nighttime is for sleeping. I love her, but the reality is that there are a lot of things that she does not know are good for her. Contrary to the popular saying, the customer is not always right.
I’m a sucker for Häagen-Dazs ice cream. I’ve spent more nights than I care to admit sitting aimlessly in front of the television. It took me several burns to realize that I will never be tan like my Brazilian wife. Most people hate to be told what to do and as customers, we like to have total control. Many companies play to our weaknesses, crafting addictive products and encouraging us to “super-size” our portions. In a fascinating NY Times article entitled “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Food,” author Michael Moss, explains how in the food industry, there is actually something called the “the bliss point,” which refers to the point at which a food product creates the greatest amount of crave. Just as I will not allow my own daughter to go weeks without a bath, I believe companies have a responsibility to care for their customers. Of course, the customers will always have a choice, but many companies can do exceedingly more to encourage human flourishing instead of focusing exclusively on growth at all costs.
Actively Seek Solutions
Several months before Sofia Grace arrived, I began to hear numerous people tell me that you never truly appreciate how much your own parents gave up until you become a parent yourself. It’s only been one month, and those words ring true. Being a new parent is tough. Unfortunately, our little one cannot tell us what she needs. She expresses her displeasure by crying and we inevitably go through the list of possible problems. Is she hungry? Does she have a dirty diaper? Is she sleepy? Is she cold? Parents actively seek solutions for their children’s problems. If parents acted liked most companies, our children would be hungry, dirty and miserable. It is rare to interact with a company that actively seeks a solution to my problem. It is refreshing to interact with those companies that do. Treat your customers like you treat your own children and you’ll develop a loyal base of followers.
Family vs Work
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of interacting with hundreds of entrepreneurs from around the world. They tend to be a driven bunch of visionaries with big dreams and infectious personalities. However, more often than not, I have found that most tend to place their companies ahead of their own families. They may justify the neglect with an investment in the future, but the reality is they are losing precious moments that can never be recovered. One of the few exceptions I’ve witnessed is from David Morken and Henry Kaestner, Co-founders of Bandwidth.com. Bandwidth has a unique culture that orders life in the following manner: faith, family, work & fitness. At Bandwith, employees are kicked out by 6pm so they can spend time with their families during the critical hours of 6-8pm when family dinner, baths and bedtime occur. Entrepreneurship brings freedom and with it, comes the ability to organize work in a way in which family is not relegated as second-class citizens.
In some sense every parent is an entrepreneur. No doubt my little one will teach me many more business lessons over the next 18 years.
Photo Credit: Joel Montgomery