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Single People Should NOT Do Startups

Last night, my 1 and half year old didn’t fall asleep sleep until 11pm (normal bed time = 7:30pm) and then woke up at 2am and screamed till 5am. He is cutting his eye teeth. On top of that I have worked 16 hour days almost the entire week, I am on heavy coding deadline(s) and working constantly with guys in Indonesia & China all night long. It sucks, I’m super sleep deprived. But. I will make it all happen and still be there for my family.

You see, there is this weird meme in the startup world that says “families” + “startups” don’t work. Dave McClure doesn’t help with his family life mocking “Don’t do a startup, you will fail”.

I, in fact, also got an up-close look at this “anti-family-ism” recently at a young startup office where the mid-20s founders insinuated that “you can’t have kids and a startup”. It drove me nuts (to the point that I felt obliged to write this article).

First off there is a whole range of great entrepreneurs locally here who have successfully done both. David Crow (@davidcrow), Tara Hunt (@missrogue), Shyam Sheth (@shyamsheth), Michael Garrity (@mgarrity), myself (@dpmorel) and many others manage this struggle. It is definitely difficult but it is do-able. I’m sure lots of them have good tips (like… work after your kids go to bed… also when single folks are out at the bar).

In fact, this week I am here in New York at the Peek office. We split our offices with another startup, who have several young single founders. My new theory is this – YOU SHOULD NOT BE SINGLE AND FOUNDING A COMPANY.

Why?

  • Startup founders are not sexy. They constantly look tired (and are constantly tired). Most entrepreneurs who have been in business for a few years have this disheveled, haggard look to them and wear the same clothes near every day (men and women alike). I have not had my hair cut in about 3 months and my sideburns may be a living creature. I am staring at a female founder in the office who has the classic entrepreneur red, weary eyes with giant bags under them.
  • Your mind will flick over to some business problem on a dime, which makes you a boring date, and you’ll have a hard time keeping relationships going.
  • You likely won’t have much time for other hobbies, so nobody will really be interested in you in the first place. “oh you work 18 hour days, yeah, very exciting”
  • Entrepreneurs are basically living Zombies. They have no emotions. You keep hitting them with stuff and they won’t stay down or react. They just get up mindlessly and keep going forward with arms out. They also maybe eat brainz.
  • When you have sex, you’ll probably get interrupted constantly by emergencies and “important people”
  • You can’t get drunk – you don’t sleep enough for your body to handle it properly, you don’t have time to drink that much, and you probably have an important meeting first thing in the morning. And we all know how hard it is to find a new mate without the social lubricant of drinking.

I could go on. But generally new relationships take so much time… you have to keep this veneer of your “perfect self” and do things for the other person all the time and spend time with them on weeknights. No, no, no… its an impossible work-life balance.

Startup relationships + startup jobs = NO.

It feels like its a lot easier to do a startup with a long standing relationship and understanding partner who will support you emotionally and mentally. Having kids adds to this – all your problems melt away and disappear as you chase your kids around or play some silly game, a wonderful reprieve from the constant stresses and to-dos of your under-resourced, over-leveraged business.

How about the rest of you? How do you find balancing your startup gig + your current life stage? Other family folks – I’d love to hear how you balance your busy family + busy job in the comments?

45 Comments

  1. Oh my goodness you folks are hilarious! All of you! These debates about founding a startup, running a startup and best conditions for doing that are too funny. Here is the SCOOP: it does not matter! The startup world – like all other environments – is made of all kinds of people: married ones, un-married ones, with kids, without, with dogs, fast cars, motorcycles and boats of just bicycles. What you nailed David is this: build a startup (or research project or a solution to world famine) with people who will support your goal. These individuals can be anyone, your wife and kids, your best friend from college or a complete stranger or even your god damn dog!

    Happy startup-ing!

  2. Couldn’t agree more. There’s no better way to lift my spirit than getting back home depressed only to find my 2 year old son running at the door smiling to jump in my arms.

  3. I thought this to be a funny read but completely asinine. Just because you are a busy entrepreneur does not mean you can’t get a haircut, get new clothes and be an interesting date. I think you confused ‘entrepreneur’ with ‘inefficient’. If you can’t take care of yourself and a business simultaneously – you are doing damage to both. You first priority has to be yourself – a strong confidant person makes a great leader. Why hinder your self esteem and social value by ignoring your overall well-being? I personally gravitate towards the entrepreneurs who run marathons, put themselves together and do well in business. They can be single or in relationships, that is irrelevant. What matters is that they have control and balance. I don’t care if you run the most interesting and successful business in the world. If you can’t figure out how to eat right, be physically active and to put work aside for a bit to enjoy other things in life – you are actually missing out. 

    I am running a very successful business and I pride myself in my lifestyle habits which also include spending time with people for matters unrelated to work and travelling once or twice a year. I spent years doing the zombie entrepreneur thing – and it’s valuable for year 1 and 2 but not a necessary extreme. Don’t use it as an excuse.

    And for the love of nature – please don’t take a phone call from an ‘important person’ during sex. That’s just disturbing. 

    My advice to you would be to read “Making it all work” by David Allen. That’s a man who has perspective. 

  4. I read Making It All Work, and I even did GTD for about two days a few years ago.  I found it to be a waste of time and I found I spent most of my time getting GTD done.

  5. I am on the far side of 30 year career, so take my comments as you will.

    Be careful before you devote your life and the support of people who care for you that it is something worth doing. If it is just another venture aimed at the payout, or another variation on social marketing, you risk losing it all – the payout, the satisfaction, and the best years of your life. Single or married, start up or corp job, try to keep some perspective.

  6. You did GTD for 2 days and you found it to be a waste of time? That’s like training in a martial art for 2 days and dismissing it saying you weren’t getting better at it. 

    GTD takes years man. It’s a discipline that in it’s nature makes you more effective and organized. How do you even ‘do GTD’ for 2 days? I baffled by the notion of that. Or at the very least confused as to what ‘doing GTD’ for 2 days comprises of.

  7. If someone want’s something bad enough – the juice is always worth the squeeze, no matter how little sleep they get, or how much they look like a troll. Obviously it’s great when you can find people to help you carry the weight  – but it wont always be the case. Some people have a hard time keeping relationships going, even they aren’t involved in a start-up. LOL.  

  8. Dan,

    I can’t say that I agree with our thesis, although offers solid for food thought. It did get thinking about whether older people can do startups so I put together quick post: http://www.markevanstech.com/2011/07/21/can-older-people-do-startups/

    cheers, Mark

  9. after reading this article i’m unsubscribing from your RSS feed , this is terrible content.

  10. exactly!  the intent of the post is to point out the absurdity of pointing out any group…. because the arguments I hear from folks about how people with family can’t do startups are blatantly absurd and akin to  racism/sexism… except that for some reason there is this low-level acceptance of “anti-family” arguments in the startup community.

    Perhaps some of the angry comments below can now appreciate how those of us with families feel when we hear “you can’t have a family and do a startup”.

  11. Too funny. 

    I actually completely agree with your comments on single startup people looking like hell.  Actually all startup people look like hell, including myself.  There is just too much to think about in the startup to think about your own beauty and hygiene needs.

    Having a startup with KIDS is the hardest challenge that you can imagine.  Dan is correct to mention the sleep depravation, but anyone without kids or a startup will NOT understand just how bad it really is.

    In November our first daughter was born just when my startup, Shiny Ads, was taking off and getting funded.  Running both together at the same time has been the most challenging thing that I have ever done in my life.  BUT, I don’t think it hurts a founder.  I do think it increases your resolve to succeed since failure will not only affect you, but now would affect your wife and kid(s) as well.  It makes you work HARDER.  

    So while all of the single 20 something startup founders are out getting drunk with their new financing rounds ;-), the founders with kids (& spouses & mortgages) are busting our asses because we have a lot more riding on our success.

  12. Startup work-life balance is hard, no question. But it is a total myth that the best startups don’t work 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year. 

    Having a (supportive) wife / husband / girlfriend / boyfriend / pet, nets out a positive in so far as you have a trusted person who can help you focus on what is important day in day out.

  13. I love it. I work 70h a week and have plenty of quality time with my 3 kids. As a designer working with startups, I am pretty sure 75% of my clients have kids.

  14. Whats up with watching Glee all the time…, There are thousand other great/more fucked up shows to watch…

  15. “Startup founders are not sexy”? Really? – a startup is the single sexiest thing that exists – everyone wants to do one but not everyone can. Can’t get any sexier than that. 

    Aydin.

  16. > But.

    ‘But’ does not constitute a sentence. It’s as bad as using ‘However!’, ‘Although!’ as complete sentences.

  17. I have a startup, TribeHR, another ‘startup’ with lots of other startups to watch over, VeloCity, and 3 startup humans (kids) + wife + startup wife (co-founder). Without my wife none of it would be possible. Besides that, without a supportive network around me I am pretty sure I would still be doing web dev work for someone. 

    I am reminded of something I learned growing up north around Ojibway culture where they believe it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a community to build awesome startups. Regardless of relationship status ;)

  18. And why are those bad? Are you also going to get on my case for starting a sentence with “And”? Or for putting my question mark outside my end quote? Or for beginning *that* sentence with “or”? Uh-oh, recursion! Here’s my point – you understood what he meant when he used “But.” as a full sentence. It almost certainly even got his point across – that he was transitioning from the problem statement of his article to its conclusion – better than “, but” would have. In just the same way, “However!” and “Although!” get the point across that you are transitioning to a counterpoint that is exciting. Getting points across is the, well, *point* of writing, so why would you leave any tool that helps you do that out of your belt? Just because your english teacher told you it isn’t proper?

    (Can’t believe I wrote all that to rebut a know-it-all grammarian, but my pet peeve is narrow-mindedness in reading what others have taken the effort to write.)

  19. I’m about to find out how running my business and raising a kid go together. I expect it will be a lot easier while my wife is staying home rather than working. :-) I also expect major adjustments.

  20. “I have not had my hair cut in about 3 months and my sideburns may be a living creature”

    this is hilarious!! at least you have a great sense of humor. I hope you succeed.

  21. You sound like a woman who was told she can’t do a man’s job.

    Then she becomes a feminist, and says “All men belong in the home.”  Grow up.

  22. i think you’re misinterpreting my deck.

    we’ve invested in moms, couples (8 of them), i’m a dad of two, my business partner christine is a recent mom last week.

    we aren’t anti-family at all, rather we take seriously the effort to be either a parent or a founder — both are massively important undertakings.

    good luck with your projects, be they children, startup, or both.

  23. The support that a spouse provides allows me to remain focused. My wife manages a lot of the day to day stuff. The support she provides is critical to my ability to succeed.

    And, when I was younger and single I worked 80, 100+ hour weeks. They were never all that productive, just long. My spouse reins me in.

    But, I don’t think there is any one way. It comes down to a good idea, and then the hard part: execution.

  24. Dan, great post, all that was missing was that you have to
    be 21-year-old drop out of MIT working on your 5th successful startup.
    It seems that if the startup world was to follow the “rules” no startup really
    would get started at all, because we all fall into at least one of the
    categories of “you shouldn’t start a startup”

    I for one is glad to break the rules of : over 21, have a
    family, being outside silicon valley … etc.

  25. Cool post, Dan.  I’ve found that my social life has drastically deteriorated as my startup progresses.  It’s interesting, you quickly learn who your real friends are (the one’s that hound you to come out for a beer) and those who fall into the Google+ circle, “acquaintances”.  

    Regarding relationships, I’m lucky enough to have an arguably too understanding girlfriend.  She puts up with me leaving the house before she’s out of bed and going to bed while I’m still working away at the computer.  Any week night quality time includes her watching tv with me at the desk on the computer, working and chatting behind her.  I try to reserve at least a half day on weekends to spend some actual time with her, but even this can be difficult.  Having to bail last minute on social functions with her happens more often than not and has had undesirable results, such as her having to go to a “couples wedding shower” by herself.  

    I don’t know how she deals with it to be honest…

  26. Totally agree with you Leila. All this talk about being married or too old or too much of a big-company type is complete BS in my book. Basically, these guys have been successful in the the past and now want to apply their formula to everyone else. If it attracts others like them, that’s great, more power to them. However, it makes me sad to think how many people get dissuaded by this talk from taking a risk in their life with a great idea because they’ve already been pre-judged according to things that don’t even relate to the product they’re building. If these guys were in larger companies, HR would have shown them the door for this type of discrimination. 

    On the other hand, these guys do remind me of college professors that have classes full of freshman. They’ll completely overwhelm them and freak them out for the first week in the hope of getting them to drop their class. It’s a win for the professor and students. They both have a smaller class and can be more focused. I really hope those putting out presentations like this are more like the professors and just trying to spook people a bit, but afterwards really trying to help them. Sadly though, their spook tactics end up becoming mantra and probably do more harm than long-term good. 

  27. … plus, distasteful as it may seem on face, if the world is to survive … geeks must reproduce.

  28. Great read. My entrepreneurial career started while I was single, and I am thankful for that. 8 years into it I met the most amazing woman who understands why I do what I do. She has the patience to ride the ups and downs and pulls me back to reality when I’ve been “away” too long.  A great friend once said, “Assuming you get married, the single most important factor to level of happiness you have in life will be who you choose for your spouse.”  I loved your bullet points and can relate to each one from some stage in my career thus far.  Cheers-

  29. Wow, 16 hour days and a kid that only let you manage 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep, yet you still manage to write a blog post?

  30. I think its so important to have balance in life! Yeah, you can be obsessed with what you do, and that’s great! But you can still have a successful business, and still have a life outside of it. It doesn’t mean you can’t be successful only because you have a girlfriend/boyfriend or family.

  31. it took me a week (seriously).  Usually this type of post takes about 1 hour.

  32. I feel like its hard to mis-interpret “You want to kiss your kids goodnight” & “You love your spouse > your startup” – but I suppose actions are much louder than words… and investing in moms, couples, etc is a pretty impressive action.

  33. the map is not the territory. as you might have guessed from the overall tone of the deck, it’s not expected to be taken literally.

    what i DID mean is that doing a startup is not to be entered into lightly.  in the same way as a parent might wonder about having a 2nd or 3rd child, and what impact that has on their time & budget & ability to be a good parent to the 1st child — this is how one should think about doing a startup.

    i’m no more anti-family than i am anti-multi-kid parents.  (i have 2 kids, and waaaaay too many startups :)

    – dmc

  34. Classic post Dan-having a wife is much,much easier than running around looking for one…

  35. You shouldn’t do a startup if (check all that apply)

    __ you are single (see this post)
    __ you are divorced (because it’s a sign of failure)
    __ you are a woman (because i’ll whack my head on the glass ceiling and it might hurt)
    __ you are a mom (because my son will resent me for wanting to give him a better life)
    __ you are a minority (because i’m Chinese)

    I check all the above. And anyone who funds someone like me would be taking a huge risk. Thankfully my investors (including Dave McClure) are f*cking crazy.

    There is no one ideal startup founder type. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and get to know a ton of them over the last few years thanks to GeeksOnAPlane, etc. Everyone has hustle in common and the ability to get sh*t done no matter what life situation they’re in. It’s this specific type of person who has the ability to go after what they are passionate about regardless of obstacles that makes them exactly the right person for doing a startup.

  36. I guess I did it ALL wrong – single AND kids – eh? ;) but seriously, it is what it is. you do what you can. you have to find some balance/resilience somewhere, and we all find it in different places. great job of teasing out that there are opposites to every assumption, pros to every con, etc.

    no doubt in my mind that both my singleness and my parenthood lent me as many strengths to keep pushing thru brick walls as they did “cause” challenges too.

    and great line about the absolution and refresh in romping with the kids. I swear it is those two who sustain me above all else.

  37. founding a company without my husband to support me would be a nightmare!  you need a social buffer to keep things going so in 5 or 10 years when you come up for air you will still have friends! = )

  38. this can easily be turned into a best seller. Although I do have to say from experience is that Quality is the result of Constraints.

  39. but to all those ambitious people who want to build a successful start- up, the main points to keep in mind is 1) make sure you can invest the time 2) make sure you have a Viable Business model 3) have a Strong Team behind you who will invest the time and execute for (Sweat Equity) 4) depending on your model Distribution is king. and last raising capital.

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