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How To Do A Startup On The Side And Not Lose Your Family (ericfarkas.com)
217 points by speric on May 30, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 77 comments

Make that N=2. This post is very, very similar to my own experience after launching my "startup on the side" last year (http://www.limelightapp.com/) and the advice closely parallels what I'd give to others as well.

>> Get your spouse or SO's buy-in. Until that happens, I'd suggest not going forward.

Agree completely. I think one key to gaining my wife's incredible support was the understanding we both had that Limelight came after her and the kids. Once we had that discussion, she made time for me to work on it once the kids were in bed.

>> Something has to give, and it's usually your hobbies.

I miss Japanese. :-(

> I miss Japanese. :-(


(I assume the downvoter wants a translation? It means "do your best!" [on your startup])

Do either you or the poster have advice regarding single parenting + full time job + nights/weekends-style startup? Possible? Was unclear if you were saying that spouse + support = okay, or just if spouse, then support = okay. Do you rely on the presence of a spouse who happens to be supporting to be able to even get the part time priority on the list below the rung to family?

I'm a single parent (full & sole custody). You said "single parenting + full time job + nights/weekends-style startup"... I mean I'm really, really not a helicopter parent; I have a life apart from raising my kid. That being said I think a single parent who's working full-time AND doing a "nights/weekends startup" would wind up short-changing SOMETHING.

I can't imagine there would be any satisfaction to be had in that kind of stretching.

I just meant, if you have a spouse, then you need their support. If you don't have a spouse, I think you can still pull it off, but as I have never done a startup under those circumstances, any advice I'd give would be purely speculative. Practically speaking, you'd still have nights and weekends to work on your startup.

Are you doing a startup with a cofounder? I'd be worried, from an emotional standpoint, about doing a startup under those conditions without any moral support (from either a spouse or cofounder). Everyone is different but the dark secret of startup life (especially bootstrapped on the side) is that it's tough, and you can get depressed easily for a number of reasons. Having someone in the trenches with you is a great help, emotionally.

That's a tough question. To me, it seems like it would come down to social life (including dating) and the startup. I know that when my wife is out of town, once the kids are asleep, I've got almost a full work day's worth of uninterrupted time to work. But, I'm free from worry about socializing.

I've been doing side-projects while supporting a family for over 8 years now and I share a lot of your experiences. One of them led to being acquihired at a funded startup in the same area. It was a lot easier when there was one kid. Now with 3, like yourself, I find it's near impossible to get any kind of consistent focus. However, I know the hours are usually there, so that's my problem more than anything.

However, I will say this. If you're thinking about starting a startup on the side, don't. That's my advice, don't do it. If you're a young hacker without kids, make a full-time go at it. If you've already got kids, save until you can. While I admire the poster's ability to juggle so many things, this cannot be maintained for more than a year, maybe two before you will come to resent one or more of your job, your family, your partners.

If you do go ahead, make office hours and stick to them. That's the only thing I've ever found to be effective in terms of relieving the need to work on it.

Of course will I take my own advice? Probably not, once you start, it's hard to stop, the allure is too tempting to scratch an itch, solve a problem, or learn a new technology. But, don't say I didn't warn you.

Everyone's different, but I've been doing this particular startup for 2 1/2 years and don't resent anyone yet. I've had times where I felt like burnout was coming, and when that happens I just take a few days "off" from working on the startup.

I am doing this and I dun even got a kid nor a wife and I already resent it after a year... So I can't Imagine what it must be like doing it while raising kids

The most important lesson I learned the hard way was not prioritizing things correctly. At one point in my relationship I was working obscene hours to get a project done by a certain deadline. The timeline was completely unreasonable - and my employer just as much. Sadly, I take my work seriously and will do anything I can to get things launched on time and this sadly involved plenty of late nights in the office just to come home and continue to work after dinner and even pulling an all nighter. This had serious repercussions on my health, my literal sanity and worst of all on my relationship. I have since left that job and have learned that prioritizing your life like this article states is extremely important, and you will be happier staying organized.

I've been doing the same thing for about 5 years now. I think I've somewhat nailed splitting time between family, friends, employment obligations and having a life. I get by on 6 hours sleep a night (my body is used to that amount now, any more and I feel like crap). I stay up late working on my ideas, get up early working on my ideas, use my laptop on the train commute to work (35 minutes), use any spare time I can during my lunch break to work on my projects.

Support of your spouse is a must, no doubt about that. If your spouse see's all of your time spent on the computer as just that, "being on the computer" forget about having a startup the support isn't there. I'm fortunate enough to have a supportive spouse who understands I want to succeed not only for us, but because I'm tired of making other people money and have untamed entrepreneurial spirit.

Great article.

Eric: Thanks for sharing, and great tips. As someone who is in the same boat, I'm always curious as to how others handle the situation. I'm assuming your goal is to leverage the success of your startup so that you can leave your day job? If so, how do you keep focused on your day job, when the excitement of your startup keeps pulling more at you, especially if you are as you start to see success? I'm in a day job that I hate (its soul crushing), but that gives me the flexibility to work on my startup. The allure of my startup is always calling, but its going to be a while before we see profit, and I've got a wife and bills waiting for me at home so I do what I can to stay sane. All the best.

Growing the startup to the point where I can do it full-time is my ultimate goal. I'll admit, it's not easy to stay focused at my day-job. It's not easy to stay focused anywhere for that matter. But I've had to learn to ignore the voice in my head when it's work/family time. Again, not easy, just one of those things you have to do. Learn to live with the excitement eating away at you. My situation is probably similar to yours; my day job, while not in software development, which I'd prefer, nevertheless gives me a lot of time to work on my startup, since I work close to home and have basically no commute, meaning I get home around 5pm everyday.

As Eric's co-founder, I'm encouraged he put this out there. We have regular conversations about staying focused and not letting the "what if" scenarios rule the tasks at hand. I think there is huge value in constrained resources early in the life of your startup and certainly one of the most scarce is time. This external time constraint has to focus our efforts for maximum ROI. Of course this constraint also keeps us agile as we don't have the luxury of excess anything.

An old, wise chicken restaurant founder (Truett Cathy) said in his book, Eat More Chicken, Inspire More People, (paraphrasing terribly) "Growing slowly allows you to grow into your success and your mistakes.". We still dream about success, about trend lines that go up (and they are), but focusing on the resources at hand to make that dream a reality has been our key to date. I'd love for everything to move faster from a growth perspective of course but keeping priorities straight means speed is exchanged for quality of life, agile and lean growth, and the unsung hero in the startup world, sanity.

Good to see I'm not alone! I'm 33 with 2 kids, working on http://www.koonsolo.com in my spare time. I have the advantage that my hobby is my startup: creating games. It's still hard to find the time though. My advice: get plenty of sleep to stay productive. But with a small baby, even this is sometimes hard to get.

Best of success to every spare time entrepreneur daddy! :)

...and mommies too!

Nice writeup, but I would think watching Chelsea win the Champions League is the exact opposite of "an emotionally traumatic experience".

I was on the edge of my seat for the entire 2nd leg vs. Barcelona, and the final was draining. It's "how" they won it that was traumatic.

Great post. Here's the bit I'd like to emphasise:

> When you're with your family or friends, "be there" mentally

You know those ads for laptops with the perfect family plus dog on the beach or at the park, with one of the parents using a laptop? What a horrible lie. Never do that.

It says to your kids/spouse that even when you're there you're not there.

Talk about hitting home. This was me a year ago, except my girlfriend (who I then planned to marry) broke up with me.

> "By far the biggest win in my situation is the support of my wife. She not only tolerates my involvement in a startup, she actively supports me and roots for me. She wants to see us succeed."

Truer words have never been spoken. You don't lose your family by equal parts self-discipline but ALSO having a spouse that supports and tolerates that kind of craziness. It makes sense why doctors marry doctors, lawyers marry lawyers, PhDs marry PhDs...cause someone working the 9 to 5 cannot appreciate, nor empathize, with the other person's extended (and often erratic) working schedule. They'll feel neglected since they have more free time, and it will be tough to relate and feel appreciated. This I know first hand.

The one thing you mentioned in your post but, in my opinion, didn't emphasize enough, is the fact that you have a co-founder helping you with this.

I've found that it's a much easier sell a side project to the family when you have a team mate believing in this idea and willing to work at it with you. That early "validation" goes a long way in justifying time away from the family to spend hacking/coding/selling.

Fair point.

Where do friends fit in? You seem to think that they are expendable since you don't see those Saturday soccer mornings as particularly important.

Friends are certainly not expendable but the reality is, there's just not a lot of time for them during the week. But I don't think this is a "startup on the side" thing; most of my friends who are married with kids don't hang out much anyway. In my particular situation, Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons and evenings are usually when we'll hang out with other families. But again, I think that's more a function of having young kids than of doing a startup.

Yeah I hear ya.

Funny thing is as I get older and most my friends start having families, I end up losing friends. Being single sucks because they rather also hang out with other families too.

Get your spouse or SO's buy-in.

The challenge here is does SO really understand a priori what [s]he is buying into.

I agree-- the ways it affects your SO's life is impossible to understand.

I started a bootstrap startup on the side while married (but before kids) which I eventually sold. Not a huge exit, but we don't have to worry about money anymore.

Here's what I can tell a spouse:

- Prepare for your startup spouse (SS) to be mentally distracted pretty much all the time (even when they're just hanging out with the kids).

- Expect your SS to be really tired. They'll probably try to steal time for their startup by sacrificing sleep. They'll need understanding and kindness when they drag their ass out of bed on under 5 hrs of sleep.

- Expect your SS to be more excited about taking a stay-cation to code than traveling thousands of miles to go on vacation with the in-laws.

- Once your SS has customers or employees, you probably will not have a true "no devices" vacation for 7-10 years.

- Don't pressure SS to get a partner; if they don't already have a partner, recruiting one likely will NOT relieve their workload and allow them to focus on you more. Also, don't expect SS to see value in partnering, since the other person may or may not be good, and could very well create more stress and pressure (not to mention dilute your upside and introduce conflicts over vision/direction).

- Expect NOT to go bed at the same time as your SS.

- Expect NOT to watch the same TV shows (if any) as your SS; once the kids are down, SS will be coding.

- Expect your SS to be really bad remembering details about what's going on with the kids, house, pets, etc. Just remember, they aren't that way because they don't care, they just can't keep those details in their head. You'll need to be the czar of that stuff (or have VERY clear delineation of responsibility).

- Expect to need to plan date nights. I'd recommend buying a bottle of wine and not feeling bad about have a few glasses if that's what it takes to get SS to relax and forget about their project. In general, plan activities that don't let SS get bored-- otherwise you'll be hanging out with someone whose mind has drifted off in thought.

- If all goes well, SS may be able to quit their job, be master of his/her own destiny, and maybe even sell the business and walk away finally independent.

- Understand the upside will most likely be some payout between $1 and $10M which really won't change your lifestyle, but will make you very wealthy with time and options, which honestly, f---ing rocks.

My 2 cents: I just spend 7 hours working each day (5 off 7). The remaining time I just live! Having fun with my 2 kids: reading, playing, practising martial arts. To sum up: enjoying the life, it's too wonderful to spend it working :-)

Thanks for sharing. I appreciate the part about providing for family. It's never easy when you have other people who depend on you and so it's comforting to hear of others who are in a similar situation.

These are things everybody here knows. It just helps to read, and reread it, to keep us focused, and get the support from the community, knowing we all have to squeeze 37 hour days into a measly 24.

It seems amazing what you can find time for, I'm inspired. I'd be very curious to see it quantified in a schedule of your typical (or any) week, to see how it all fits together.

There's no typical week; I try to be as flexible as possible. Maybe in a future post I can just detail the last week. Great idea.

Great Post!

To me, the toughest part is to focus on an idea, because the internet is full of inspiration.

It feels good to know my situation is not unique. Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for sharing. There is more than one path.

What's an "elder?"

In my denomination (http://www.opc.org), an elder is a servant of the congregation, teaching, administering the Lord's Supper, providing counseling to members, and generally overseeing the work of the church, among other things. Elders work alongside pastors. Here's a good summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presbyterian_polity#The_Elder

In the context he used it in, an lay office of a Protestant church. They typically serve as advisors/leaders/mentors.

Usually they seem to be middle-aged or older, IME.

Elder has different meanings in different denominations, and isn't unique to Protestants (it is, however, mostly Christian). Specifically, in the Mormon church, it's quite different.

Not sure, but I wonder how he can be considered "elder" at 29...

While most elders tend to be older men, there's no minimum age requirement. I am young for an elder but there are pastors in my denomination in their early 30's. It's unusual but not unheard of.

This is not reddit, bud.

Up-vote, purely for not misspelling "Lose".

someone on HN believes in God? No judgments, I just thought hacker and atheist were deeply intertwined. Perhaps I just picked up the wrong impression from Reddit.

HN is a more mature environment. Probably the atheist:believer ratio is not all that different from Reddit... but your likelihood of being derided for your religious beliefs is a bit less.

People here are more interested in talking about creating successful startups than in being "right" about their spiritual beliefs.

i'm an atheist myself, but gratified to see this guys beliefs being respected. its one thing i hate about reddit.

I ticked over to the HN comments to see just how many people would be mocking him for his stance, since he made absolutely no apology for his faith. I have indeed been very pleasantly surprised.

I wouldn't rely on Reddit for too many things like that :-)

I belong to the Christian + Hacker set intersection as well.

ditto :)

Reddit can give incorrect impressions on a great many things. Christian + hacker here as well.

I think there was a previous poll on this that said that Christian hackers were ~30% of this site, give or take, but I might have misremembered that statistic.

It would be interesting to know how many Christian Hackers believe in Evolution.

As a Christian hacker, I find it annoying^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H interesting your implication that belief in Evolution (and by extension in all scientific discoveries and methods) precludes people from participation in Christian faith and community (or any religious experience, for the matter).

I think you have in mind a very vocal minority of Christians. Most of us would not even consider taking every sentence in the Bible in a literal sense, if not for the debate with those minorities.

So, no need of technical savviness, advanced degrees or even high IQ. Millions of average Christians will share your intuition of "common sense".

God is not within the realm of science, science is our best effort explanation of the physical universe as we see it. Nor is God within the realm of philosophy for God by definition is beyond comprehension.

God however may be within the realm of history, if at just the right time, God revealed himself in history. That is the Christian claim: Jesus died and rose from the dead in history.

"And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead." - Paul the Apostle (a persecutor of the first Christians before seeing the risen Lord for himself, a Roman citizen, highly educated, he was himself martyred for his testimony, after being tried by several of the Roman magistrates, likely including Nero)

To reject the claim of Christ a priori because of naturalistic views of the universe is inadequate.

Better to examine the historicity of the accounts of Christ. How soon after the events were they recorded? What was the cost to those who gave their accounts? Did it happen? If it happened, what does it mean?

Here are some good places to start:

Paul Barnett - http://www.amazon.com/New-Testament-History-Paul-Barnett/dp/... and see also http://www.amazon.com/New-Testament-Reliable-Paul-Barnett/dp...

FF Bruce - http://www.amazon.com/New-Testament-Documents-They-Reliable/...

God may not be within the realm of science, but most claims of organized religions are certainly incompatible with science. Religion directly contradicts science in many ways. Science is all about learning the truth, by changing falsifiable theories when proven wrong. Religion is all about having answers to every question, even if they contradict each other and reality, thanks to "faith" that lets you believe contradictory illogical things. Religion kills people, puts them in jail, and denies the truth when it's proven wrong. Religious dogma only grudgingly changes when it's forced to, and even then many people still believe the Earth is 6000 years old. If a religion is so wrong about important things like that, and has insisted on many other things we know to be false for thousands of years, and is used to justify hating gays and oppressing women, then why the hell do you trust anything it says for your moral guidance?

Yup, i was just as surprised, but I'm sure I have very similar beliefs to the author of the original post.

Usually hackers are very good at logic, which precludes believing the self-contradictory bible and religious dogma, but some people are very good at compartmentalizing their brains and avoiding applying logic to some parts of their lives, apparently.

Belief in a higher power is not completely illogical. I build/design things, and take apart and analyze other people's designs. Looking at the universe, from the smallest particles to the largest galaxies, I see a beautifully complex system of interdependent cogs that mesh together perfectly to enable life to exist.

I have yet to come across an intricate system that did not have a designer, and it would be illogical for me to believe the universe just exists.

There's a huge difference between a tentative belief in a vaguely defined "higher power", and a confident belief in a well defined organized religious dogma or bible full of self-contradictions and logical impossibilities. Faith in beliefs that are provably wrong is illogical (but EXTREMELY common), and that's the basis of organized religion, which presumes to provide you with all the answers to questions that don't even make sense to ask. Organized religions are afraid to say "I don't know" and simply lie instead.

Most programmers should be smart and logical enough to reject that kind of bullshit, but my point is that some have their minds so compartmentalized that they fall for it hook line and sinker.

Everyone was shocked that Brendan Eich turned out to be a religiously motivated homophobe. He may be able to think logically about algorithms and programming language design, but his thought process about ethics and human rights is so illogical, severely flawed and compartmentalized that he's afraid to discuss it in public. That kind of religiously motivated irrationality is detrimental to a start-up, high tech company or open source project that needs to attract the best people regardless of their sexual preference, race, sex, etc.

There's a reply to this comment that says "belief in god" != "belief in the literal truth of the Bible". I'll add to that "belief in Christianity" != "belief in the literal truth of the Bible", because somehow you seem to equate the two. In fact most Christian denominations/faiths do not believe in the literal truth of the Bible.

In fact, none of the adherents to either Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy that I've met(I live in the middle east, so those two denominations constitute most of the Christian population in these parts) have held a literal belief in the Bible(ie, young earth creationism and all that crap).

There is something that irks me in militant secularism/atheism, it is this attitude of neither wanting to learn about something yet holding extremely negative views towards it and actively fighting it. People like Richard Dawkins are the the worst offenders in this respect.

Although I doubt I can change your mind on this, I hope you'd reconsider at least learning about what it is that you're criticizing here. A very good book on the topic is C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity". It is quite short, extremely well written and therefore can be read quite fast. It does a wonderful job of explaining -- with no denominational bias that I can detect -- what it is that Christians believe and what it is that they don't. I doubt you can read that and still come out thinking that Christianity is provably wrong or even that illogical/irrational. You may still disagree with it(in fact you almost surely will), but you won't hold the current just plain wrong attitude towards it(and by proxy all religions) that stems from ignorance.

What's terrible is that many Christians who claim not to believe the bible literally still pick and choose the few parts of it that are anti-gay to justify their homophobic bigotry. So "disbelief in the literal truth of the Bible" != "not homophobic bigot". I'd wager that Brendan Eich doesn't believe the bible literally, yet he's clearly a homophobic bigot.

That wouldn't be picking and choosing parts to interpret literally. Even though some parts aren't interpreted literally(the creation story in genesis for example) the message about morality still holds(otherwise let's just discard the whole thing and burn it, it has no content).

And while I don't want to discuss this issue here(we've veered way off topic) let me just state that "does not think gay marriage should be legal" does not equate to "homophobic bigotry". You can have gay friends, have no problem with them as people, but still believe that marriage is something that has a very clear definition(sacred bond between husband and wife, for life, for the purpose of building family) which doesn't include same-sex relationships.

As an atheist, I just don't see the point in picking a religious fight and insulting people for their religious beliefs in a thread about managing a personal life while also creating a startup.

Well said crusso, I'm not sure of the point of militant secularism either. How the hell does it have to do with startups?

Bringing it back to discussion and finding relevance..

It's fine and wonderful to have different points of view to be able to discuss and learn from... but when one brings a "you are a _____ so i think everything you say is ____", it seems as presumptuous and blind as the blindness being pointed out.

It just reeks of the kind of closemindedness no one likes to see or put anyone through, and is frankly kind of embarrassing to have to read through. Respect as a currency gets so much further, no matter what the subject is.

Militant secularism is it's own belief system. They're as pushy about their beliefs as the well-dressed folks who knock on my door with "information" pamphlets...

Hear hear!

"I have yet to come across an intricate system that did not have a designer, and it would be illogical for me to believe the universe just exists."

This is called the Teleological argument for the existence of God [1]. Its been around for a long time, is the basis for creationism and intelligent design, and criticism of it goes all the way back to David Hume. Its just a weak argument.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleological_argument

It's illogical of you to not recurse and ask the question: "who designed the designer?" If you can't explain a complex system, then introducing a vastly more complex system to explain it is a terrible explanation, and hardly logical. It's intellectually dishonest to make such an argument, since it's so obviously flawed. No competent programmer doesn't understand recursion.

Sorry, I'm a bit confused. Before we point fingers to look at others, mind clarifying a few things for me?

These are honest and serious questions, if you feel more comfortable talking by email I welcome it.

Are you saying:

- All belief systems are identical, incomplete and short sighted as the one you are speaking of?

- How much of what you believe is based on judging your own experience with one belief system and applying it to every other belief system?

- Have you actually learnt about each belief system yourself?

- Is there no other way to see things except how you see them right now?

- Is there no way anything can exist outside of your understanding?

- People compartmentalize themselves but it's different if you compartmentalize anyone who has a belief you don't agree with?

- There is no interpretation of any teaching that is remotely religious or spiritual that could have any scientific backing

- If a particular experience of a group involves a bible or a dogma, any other group that doesn't have a bible or dogma is as well painted with the same brush?

If you're curious where I'm coming from I'll try to clarify up front. I'm not a particularly religious or non-religious person. I don't have a clue what kind of trauma you've been through with the bible or religious dogma as it's not a belief system I've first hand experienced. I guess one could say my religion is curiosity that leads me to have insight on myself.

Fanatics look the same to me when they say their way is the right and only way.

I'm not talking about one particular belief system, just organized religions that have religious doctrines or bibles that contradict themselves, contain logical impossibilities, or scientific inaccuracies. That covers most of the mainstream religions, but I'm sure you could gerrymander your own personal belief system to avoid my definition. I don't claim they're identical, just that they're wrong because it's logically impossible to be true. And my point is that there are some programmers who understand logic and should be able to think their way out of believing logically impossible dogmas, but they don't, because they're mentally compartmentalized and intellectually dishonest.

Brendan Eich for example should be smart and logical enough to figure out that gay people marrying don't effect his own marriage or harm society. Yet he gave $1000 to the Proposition 8 campaign which successfully overturned the right to gay marriage in California, so his money had a negative effect on real people's lives. And that rightfully pissed off a lot of his co-workers and community.

As Tom Morris writes: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/proposition-8?before=1333669269

"Brendan Eich’s actions are homophobic and disappointing.

Want to know why it is disappointing? Frankly, I expect more from techie programmer types. Being bullied mercilessly for being a spotty, out-of-shape loser who prefers Star Trek to sports usually helps instill some solidarity. As the Jargon File puts it: “Hackerdom easily tolerates a much wider range of sexual and lifestyle variation than the mainstream culture.” You have to be reasonably intelligent to do well in the programming game, and usually people become pretty critical and questioning and skeptical in the process, and outgrow the bigotry (even if they do occasionally have social awkwardness and cluelessness).

It is disappointing when that doesn’t turn out to be as true as one thought."

See, this is exactly the kind of comment I'd expect from Reddit.

"Belief in the literal truth of the Bible" != "Belief in God".

And that's why I explicitly said "self-contradictory bible and religious dogma". Of course the vague hippy-dippy handwaving and misused pseudoscientific buzzwords of Deepak Chopra is pretty stupid and illogical too.

Love is often illogical too.

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