15 lessons that Entrepreneurs can learn from Dads

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The last 12 months have been crazy to say the least. Becoming a Dad to twin girls and co-founding a bootstrapped startup was always going to be a pretty awesome ride but I never saw the parallels until now. It turns out having kids and starting a business have much more in common than I’d ever have imagined. The two journeys couldn’t have been more in sync if I’d planned it. The lessons from one reflected in the other, the confidence from one applicable to the next.

These are personal lessons, things that appeared important or applicable at the time and will hopefully be of use to others setting out as either a Dad, a Founder or both.

  1. Jump in – Out of everything this is the advice I would give myself if I could travel back in time. Just jump in and get your hands dirty. Whether it’s taking an idea that’s been rattling round your head to the next step, killing off a product feature or changing a nappy – there is no better way to learn or find your limits than getting stuck in. You’ll suddenly find nappies are the easy bit.
  2. You never know it all – No matter how licked you think you have something, life has a way of kicking you in the butt and reminding you that mastering things is a process. In this respect having kids and starting a business are very similar – they are iterative processes. No two days are ever the same and there is no end goal just moving targets. Ambitions, aspirations and milestones maybe but these are journeys that need to be your life’s work.
  3. You’ll always question yourself – Am I good enough, will I do it right, what if I mess up, will I be as good as others? But what I’ve learned is other people we tend to benchmark against are probably thinking exactly the same. I’ve seen some of my biggest role models open up and share vulnerabilities that their profile would never allow you to assume. Worrying about this and comparing yourself to others only takes up time that you could be using to get on with being the person you want to be. It’s also one of the hardest lessons to learn, or it has been for me. Same goes for being a Dad, comparing yourself with what others appear to be doing and social media only makes this harder. Best advice I heard was don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.
  4. When you love something you’ll always do your best – Let’s be honest, what more can you do than your best. The important thing is that when you look back you can say I gave it everything, I gave them everything, I did it because I believed it was right. And when you really love some one or something you do that. It’s nice to feel it, it’s nice to do things because you truly believe it is right or it is for the right reasons. Having kids has this amazing ability to put everything in your life in perspective – it can make things much clearer. It gives you a point of view – a focus.
  5. Ignore advice – Books, blogs, podcasts, forums – it can all get a bit overwhelming. It’s only natural, you want to consume everything you can – you have millions of questions and the more you learn the more questions you have. But I’ve found the only way to truly learn is to get started. It’s back to the first point – jump in. The most frustrating time is waiting – the last few weeks before having kids is the hardest. As a non-technical founder the time between initial concept and working product is the hardest. It’s this phase for me when I have all my doubts – when I can’t shut my mind off for working through scenarios or tasks wondering what is going to happen, what else could I be doing. But do you know what, for everything I’ve read, no matter how good or insightful it’s been – it hasn’t beaten doing the job in hand. Not all advice is created equal and what works for one person, one startup, one family doesn’t always work for the next. The fun is in finding your own path. Easier said than done!
  6. Commit, commit, commit. This was a big one for me – realising that doing is not the same as committing. Doing tasks is not the same as committing to a goal, being with your kids is not the same as committing your mind and your body to the moment of being with them. This has lead me to trying to improve at being in the moment which I find really hard. I have a mind that has always been prone to drift and to dream but there really isn’t any replacement for being in the moment.
  7. Don’t give up. With taking ideas into the real world it’s all too easy to give up. In the early stages it’s only you that you are going to disappoint and you can always claim you had that idea before someone if it comes out in future. Having kids teaches you that it’s easier than you think to keep going. With kids you just don’t question it. It doesn’t matter what people might think, how much time it will take, how much money it will cost, you’re fully committed, you’re in and you wouldn’t have it any other way. And do you know what, it works out alright. You find solutions, you think on your feet, you smile and you get ready for the next challenge. It’s made me dust off some old side projects which I’m going to see through. They may not work as I expect, they may fall flat on their face,  but giving up no longer seems a reasonable outcome for an idea I still have belief in.
  8. Routine saves the day – I wish I was better at putting this into practice in my work life. I’m certain that routines have helped made having twins the amazingly enjoyable experience it has been rather than a more stressful, anxious time. (I have my wife to thank for this one!) Between the four of us we know what is happening and when. The girls know when it’s time to eat and when it’s time for bed. From fairly early on we got a full nights sleep. Don’t get me wrong, we have days when this all goes out the window, we have moments where we don’t know our ass from our elbow but on the whole it works out pretty good. Maybe we have been lucky but I also know that Donna worked really hard to get them in the routine. I know she planned things meticulously and stuck by that plan regardless to get it to work. I know she taught me the routine to make sure I didn’t mess it up – and it worked. With all the jobs that require doing, or that we expect of ourselves, when starting a business this kind of focus can make a huge difference. I really, really need to keep working on this one!
  9. Sleep is important. This is another weakness for me. I’m a night owl. It’s past midnight now and I definitely should be in bed. I was up until 2am yesterday as Erin had to go to the emergency doctors and had a pretty interrupted sleep after that. This morning I was all for going to bed early but get to the evening and I’ll cling on to every last bit of the day I can manage. I will be pay for this tomorrow. Mornings are mornings, the girls get up at 7 no matter what. Or 6.30 – it’s their choice 🙂 The only option is go to bed early however, the evening is the only time I get to catch up on reading blogs, writing posts and finishing off any jobs I’d meant to get done in the day. It’s not easy but making time for sleep is important so every week we make sure that we both get at least one really good lie in. Having kids, starting a business is pretty demanding and the tired me struggles to stay positive, to have great ideas, to be productive. Weekends are fast becoming days of lower expectations. That sounds negative but actually it is really awesome. Some days we just do what we feel like. If it’s my lie-in I might get 10/11 hours sleep. I’ve been known to have the odd afternoon nap too (I have to own up – this is one sided as I still haven’t seen Donna take a nap yet.) Although I’m crap at going to bed and probably don’t get enough sleep during the week I know it’s important, I know I’m a better me when I do sleep I just have to keep tweaking this one to get a routine that works.
  10. Teamwork makes things a shitload easier. Whether it is co-ordinating a weekend of activities with the girls around household jobs or getting your product to launch nothing beats a good team. I’ve lucked out on both and seem to have epitomised the saying of surround yourself with the best people you know. I’m inspired on a daily basis by Donna and what she does for me and the girls and by the Slidecraft team for making what was a crazy ambitious idea a reality. Anything can be overcome with the right team alongside.
  11. Celebrate the little wins. It’s easy when you have a big end goal in mind to miss the little milestone but these are things that will keep you going and get you where you want to go. Celebrating milestones is not something that just happens, sometimes it takes effort but it is always worth it. It pays to lift your head up every now and then and look at the bigger picture, where you are, where you’ve come from and give yourself a pat on the back. It makes the next few steps a little easier.
  12. Celebrate the fuckups. My mum told me this a few years ago, well perhaps a little more eloquently but the sentiment was the same. At that time I didn’t get it. I was out of school (OK this was more than a few years ago) and the education system had brain washed me into thinking there was a right and wrong but that’s not the case. There is just what is. If you’re going to be creative, if you’re going to push yourself, push other people or if you’re throwing yourself into something you’ve never done before, like having kids, you’re going to fuck up from time to time. Things aren’t always going to go amazingly, things aren’t always going to work. But they’re not supposed to and this isn’t wrong. When doing new things you’re learning as individuals, teammates or parents. There is no right or wrong it’s just experience, a series of experiments with learnings that we can celebrate and move on from, one little bit wiser.
  13. Everyday is a school day. Every day is different and there are things to learn from each one. Some days you’ll be open to them, some you won’t. Some days I find I’m open to them but choose not to listen. Change is hard.
  14. Coffee is your friend. I don’t notice the caffeine impact so much but I’ve come to enjoy my moment with a coffee. It’s 5 minutes to stop, put a brew on and let my head catch up. Don’t rush your coffee, savour the moment and make it a part of your day. (Unless your little monsters start screaming in which case, coffee break over!)
  15. The job is never done. One milestone leads to another, one task ends another starts. It’s an iterative journey and one that I find easier when I can step back and see it for what it really is. Sometimes it’s too easy to get your head down and plough through ticking off jobs and getting focused on one thing. But these little tasks, this one big thing is just a small part of a much bigger thing, a job that is never complete until the fat lady sings as they say. Looking after yourself and living by your principles is as important as any of the above. It’s not selfish it’s just something that will help you be better at what you do. Not easy when time is in demand, but finding space and staying healthy is the only way to give your best to others. On that note I’m off to bed, nothing worse than a grumpy Dad at breakfast.

So, if I could travel back in time and summarise this for my younger self what would I pass on? Listen to none of it and just jump.

Whether you read productivity and lifehacks or not I’m sure everyone experiences at least some of the above and more likely many more I haven’t picked up on. The important lessons for me have been to try and keep my eyes and ears open, to listen to my instinct and to learn and apply what I can to every area of my life. There is no substitute for raw experience and we are all capable of much more than we’d ever give ourselves credit for. So here’s to the next 12 months and to jumping in more often.

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About the author

James Qualtrough

I live on the small but beautiful Isle of Man with my wife, Donna and our twin girls Ella & Erin. I'm Head of Digital Media at Home Strategic and Co-Founder of Slidecraft.

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James Qualtrough

I live on the small but beautiful Isle of Man with my wife, Donna and our twin girls Ella & Erin. I'm Head of Digital Media at Home Strategic and Co-Founder of Slidecraft.

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