How to Have a Startup and Young Kids

Last Updated Sep 20, 2011 2:03 PM EDT

I'm going to tell you that it is next to impossible for women to have a startup and young kids. A few weeks ago I wrote a post called Blueprint for a Woman's Life. The post gave controversial advice, for sure -- like don't get good grades in school, focus on having kids, and get Botox. In the end, relatively few people disagreed with the post. (There are, at this point, 2,000 Facebook "likes" on the post.) But the big disagreement is about startups.

People hate hearing that women don't do startups because startups are not good for women. But you know what? Women need less cheerleading and more straight talk about the real problems facing the female workforce.

Here they are:
  • From Working Mother Magazine: Women think it is ridiculous that corporate jobs still do not accommodate flexibility, personal lives, and ballet recitals at 3 p.m. Women have pushed and pushed, and the progress we have made in the flexibility department is almost nothing.
  • From the Bureau of Labor: Women start as many companies as men. But unlike most men, women do it to get control over their lives. Women are fed up with other options. That's why they launch companies. Starting a business is scary and risky. Who in their right mind would do that if they thought they had a better option?
  • From Pew Research: Women do not want to work 10-hour days when they have young kids. Sure, some do, but it's such a small majority that it's not worth talking about. It's not helpful to women. It's like talking about how to help the Obama girls overcome racial prejudice. They are such a special case that it's actually an incredibly boring topic.
So here's what we're left with. What can women do so that when they have young kids, they will feel capable of running a startup without going crazy?

1. Get a track record for success before you get pregnant.
People will believe in your ability to run a company if they have seen you do it before. A lot of women wait to start their own company until they can't stand corporate life anymore. Which is generally after they have kids. But at that point, it's pretty hard to do something you have never done before. After all, that's what having kids is -- doing something you've never done before. It's hard to do two of those things at the same time. In any life.

So start a company before you have kids. Even if the company doesn't do well, or you get sick of it, the experience of having done it will keep a lot of options open to you after you have kids.

2. Start small and stay small if you can.
When you have a startup, you work for VCs. The VCs have one goal in mind: exit. They are not funding your company so that you can have a good life. They are funding your company because they think it's fun to have a lottery ticket for a big win. They feel smart if they get a big win. In the VC world, a big win 20 years later is no good. VCs are about moving fast. They want fast exits so they can take the money and reinvest it. If VCs have all their money tied up in companies that don't exit, then they are unemployed because they have no money to invest. So VCs like high churn. If you can, build a business that doesn't need funding -- at least not at first -- because it's the only way to really work for yourself.

3. Make friends with VCs before you have a baby.
Even if you want to stay small and don't plan on taking funding initially, start talking to investors just in case. It's easier to navigate the VC world before you have a baby. Your brain changes after kids, and there is no way to hide it. The business world, especially according to VCs, is set up for people who have singular minds, singular visions, singular passions. But women generally don't have that after kids. (Note, many men still do. The majority, in fact. Which is why men's earning power increases after kids and womens' decreases.) There is something special about being in your late 20s. You may not notice this until you are well beyond your late 20s, but here are some statistics: Women are happiest at age 28, and women are most appealing to men in their late 20s. Whatever is true for you, this means when you're in your 20s, you're likely to be the most fun for VCs to meet. So meet them. It will help you later, when you may need them to believe in you even though you have kids.

Be realistic. The best thing you can do is make plans for what you know now. Accept that almost all of us are not exceptions to the rule. Even though almost all of us wish we were exceptions.

So let's just stop telling women they can do everything. We can't. It's lousy advice. Today, women do not need empowerment. We have the power to do whatever we want. We need knowledge so that we can make good decisions. I hope this post contributes to that knowledge base that leads to more effective decision-making in women's lives.

Flickr photo courtesy of Lars Plougmann, CC 2.0

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