There is a reason why entrepreneurs warn people that co-founding a company is very similar to getting married: The long hours, budget concerns and heavy commitment create an intense bond. People either thrive or flounder.
Champ Learning Academy founders Jigar and Radha Champaneria doubled down on the concept. A Bay Area couple with three young kids, Jigar and Radha launched their tech-focused aftercare center in the summer. They shared some interesting tips on how to keep things strong when you go home with your co-founder every night.
What is Champ Learning Academy?
Jigar: We're an aftercare center: Elementary school ends around 2 pm, but most parents aren't free and the idea of having your kids be alone at home isn't popular. We're starting with basic enrichment classes this year and will shift to a more robust aftercare program after that.
Radha: The average kid will spend 3-4 hours here. They can get their homework done from school and participate in the aftercare programs, too. We want to get them exposed to computer science with coding, Lego robotics with connecting the pieces and programming them to move and even art classes focused on history, not just painting pictures.
Jigar: The classes are from 45-75 minutes, giving them time to interact with other kids, too.
Not everyone starts a new, physical business when they have three young kids at home. What stops them?
Jigar: Whether you have zero or three kids, the reason to not start a business is fear of the unknown or fear of failure. We've had other business ideas before and did some research--and, to be honest, we could have made the other ones work, but didn't pursue them because of fear... and maybe some laziness. They never got past the ideation phase. I then spent some time in a startup and it opened my eyes that just doing the first step towards a goal can help give you momentum.
We realized we had a good idea, but we didn't want to just jump into it. "How can we figure out a low risk way of doing it?" and "How can we manage all this with three kids?". But before we had three kids, we would have been afraid of doing it with two kids. It's all perspective.
Radha: I agree, and because we have kids we are commited to having good learning centers with aftercare. Our kids will benefit from it in the long run. It's still tough, though: Early mornings, late nights, and lots of babysitting and helpful friends.
Jigar: And even what we have now is based on adjusting plans. When we first idealized and strategized, we were going to start with the full-fledged aftercare program that we now have slated for 2016, but we came to grips with how we'd have to adjust our lives. About four months ago we decided to pull back and slowly ramp up: In going too quickly, we risk not just failure of our business, but making our lives more crazy than they need to be. We decided to go step by step but we didn't start with that attitude.
It's bootstrapping now, so you both still have your full-time day jobs. How do you keep it together?
Radha: We try not to take time away with the kids, like dinnertime. What we do now, though, is get to work after the kids go to bed. It takes away from our personal time, but we talked about it and decided we have to sacrifice certain things. We also do our best to press pause on the weekend: We'll stop to get a drink, hang out with friends and catch up with our kids.
Jigar: We argue and discuss different parts of the business, like any couple, but try not to have that affect the kids. Personally, I do quick tasks within my spare time that I used to spend, say, reading online or doing a less productive activity. It helps me feel less stressed when I'm actually with the kids as I'm not worried about a big to-do list.
Radha: I plan everything, from the family calendar to our business schedules. I used to teach preschool in Singapore, so I understand how important it is to have organization.
Jigar: I've learned from that, as I used to swing from having no plan or writing absolutely everything down. Now I used things like Google Tasks: Have a top-level map, and have 15 under that, and have more under that. It helps to have a to-do list that is simplified.
Was the intention to work together? What advice would you give to other families looking to start a business?
Radha: We always wanted to do something together as a couple. We also live in the Bay Area, have three kids and need to have two or more incomes. It worked out perfectly with our needs.
Jigar: We've had other ideas: Radha had her own cupcake business, I had a photography business. But we always set out to have one where we could work together.
Radha: No matter what your business is, you have to know where you draw the line. There will always be a ton of work, whether is a startup or another business. The business will always be there. The time with your family, though, will not always be there.