Like parenting, founding a new startup is a labor of love. As both a parent, a founder and now working with early-stage startups at Techstars, I see a lot of comparisons. Often, the work far outweighs the reward. The days are long and filled with self-doubt, exhaustion and little fires that combust without warning. You work, and fail, work and fail again, and learn from your failures, but begin to realize that the road ahead is filled with many ups and downs.
Most entrepreneurs love their company like it's their baby. We have the same intense passion and commitment for their companies as parents do for their children--which often makes it easier to keep going in the face of glaring risks and lackluster ideas.
It makes sense that some of the most successful parenting strategies can be applied to the startup world. Here are five such approaches, and how you can leverage them to obtain and maximize seed or series A funding:
1. Delay gratification.
Self-control and the ability to delay gratification are arguably the most important skills for success.
The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment examined the outcomes of self-control in young children. In the study, a young child was offered a choice between one marshmallow given immediately, or a two marshmallows if they waited, unsupervised, for 15 minutes.
The small reward was left in the room with the child, to evaluate whether they could restrain themselves from taking it and waiting for the larger prize. Researchers followed the children for decades after, and found that those that were able to wait had overall better life outcomes than those that could not.
The same principle is evident in starting a business. Entrepreneurs who jump at the first offer they receive or the first application in the door are inadvertently rejecting potentially better offers that may come later.
2. Manage time.
It's critical to demonstrate sound time management to run your business. Provide timelines that convince your board, your employees and potential investors that their time, effort and money will be put to good use.
Coming to the realization that time is limited drove me to adopting new methods to help me stay organized and have the ability to retain a work-life balance both at home and at work. One of my most valuable organizational methods takes place every night before I leave the office.
I make it a point to go back over the tasks that weren't completed that day and move their due dates to give myself more time. Making sure that my inbox reaches zero by the end of each day is something that keeps me sane. This allows me to go home with a clear mind - no tasks due, no emails.
It takes discipline to do this, because once you let yourself get behind, it feels like every other aspect of your life falls to the wayside as well.
3. Find limits and consistency.
A parent that is strict one moment and a pushover the next will struggle to keep their kids' behavior in check. Likewise, an entrepreneur that is inconsistent in their strategy or unable to define the boundaries of their company's mission, is not likely to secure confidence from anyone.
Show up to all meetings with a clear map of the limits in which the organization will operate and how it will compete in the market. Then, be ready to say "no" when the limits are stretched in ways that don't make sense and "yes" to ideas that fit.
4. Exercise strong communication.
Solid parents are the epitome of grace under fire. They talk in a way that makes their children want to listen and teach their children how to do the same.
Startup founders will make little progress without similarly strong communication, especially in tough situations. You must have resilience in the face of challenging questions from potential investors, analysts and even journalists.
Radical Candor by Kim Scott has been one of my greatest resources as both a parent and founder. It taught me how to focus on building strong relationships with people, while simultaneously delivering direct feedback--a strong communication skillset that allows your whole team to be on the same page.
5. Be flexible.
It's essential to know when to pivot and to be able to do it without drama. Often, investors will believe in you, but not have room in their portfolio for your idea.
They may ask you to consider joining a different endeavor to leverage your skills for a different business. Or, they may ask you to make a few modifications to the message or go-to-market strategy.
The ability to be flexible when it is needed can go a long way in opening doors to more opportunity.