Let's start with the assumption -- and I think it's a good one -- that the end goal of starting a business should be to create something that can one day thrive without your personal involvement. That way, you'll have all of your options open: run your business forever without the stress of dealing with the details, install a manager and become a shareholder, or -- if the price is right -- sell it.
Parents have a very similar end goal for their children -- to raise them to one day become self-sustaining, successful adults -- but the stakes are much higher. It's a process that requires a great deal of dedication and emotional maturity. So, does that make moms and dads better startup founders? You bet. Here's why:
Parents know what unconditional commitment means
The decision to have kids and the decision to start a business are similar. It's best to enter into both situations knowing that they will require years of unconditional commitment.
Inexperienced startup founders can be impatient when their business fails to show a Facebook-like growth trajectory. But as parents, we understand the idea of long-long commitment. You can't just switch kids when yours starts teething or talking back. The parent is in it for the long haul and does her best with whatever cards she's dealt.
Parents can put their emotions in perspective
I've never actually had a baby, but I've watched two being born. From what I could see, it is a messy, gut-wrenching process that involves intense emotional highs and lows. Contrary to the case of childbirth, I can speak firsthand about starting a business, having started four of them, and the first few days are also spent swinging between delirious excitement and paralyzing fear.
Being a parent has a funny way of putting emotions in perspective. Before I became a father, I would take work problems home and let them fester. Now, when I compare work problems to the importance of raising happy, healthy kids, the office screw-ups seem somewhat trivial. Parenting gives you the perspective to temper the emotional peaks and valleys of company building.
Parents know the grunt work isn't glamorous
Being the parent of a newborn is not glamorous work. Chronically sleep-deprived, you spend your time trying to keep your new creation from crying. At the first sign of fussing, you triage the situation: Is he hungry? Tired? Wet? Thirsty? Bored? You're constantly reminded how fragile your infant is and how dependent on you he is for the essentials of life.
Likewise, in the first year of starting a company, your delicate business needs you to feed and nurture it, and no one is going to give you special recognition for what you must do in the early days. You're on the hook to do everything from registering with the government and setting up a merchant processing account to getting a website and business cards and you do it all because one day you'd like your little baby to do it on her own.
Parents are better at setting boundaries
Think of the "terrible twos." When your child starts walking and exploring, he or she needs barriers in front of every staircase and locks on everything from the car door to the knife drawer. Responsible parents start to develop a sixth sense for these potential dangers before the child is even within 10 feet of them.
Once a business makes it through its first year, it often starts to wander away from the founder's original mission. New ideas, concepts, and business models lure the founder at every turn, dangerously tempting him or her to stray and often sopping up precious cash in the process.
Parents understand boundaries and know when to set them. Everyday we tread the fine line of protecting our kids while giving them just enough room to roam.
Parents are better coaches
Eventually your child becomes a reasonably self-sufficient little person, using the toilet without aid, feeding, and even entertaining himself for a while. Your role as a parent shifts from command and control to coaching, leading, and correcting when you see a "teachable moment."
It wasn't until I become a parent that I truly appreciated the difference between being a boss and a coach.
That's my case for why parents make better company-builders. Obviously it doesn't take into consideration that the time it takes to be a good parent will take away from the hours you need to devote to your startup. But on balance, learning how to parent a child into a self sufficient person provides an unparalleled roadmap for creating a business that can thrive without you.
More from Built To Sell:
- Are You Creating a Job or Building a Business?
- How to Pick a Mentor: Take a Cue From Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt
- How the 20 Richest People in America Made Their Money
- Why You Need to Sell Less Stuff to More People