Should a Soon-to-be-Dad Start a Business?

This is definitely a tough question and one that every Dad, aspiring Dad and unintentional Dad may have to tackle. Though there is no definite answer, here’s how I approached it and a bit about how things are working out. A big component in my book is going to surround how entrepreneur parents approached the same decision.

John and I had been friends for a few years since working together at Eastern Mountain Sports’ SoHo flagship. We both came from different sides of the design world and we discussed how we might put our backgrounds together to make some cool gear for ourselves. Our first project was the Bear Star, discussed in early August 2011. After some meetings, emails and sketches we were on our way to a prototype, but I was also planning to leave NY at the end of March 2012 to find some new adventures.

Fast forward to early November 2011 when John and I pulled in to Tuxedo, NY and were hiking towards our go-to campsite. Just days before, I’d learned my wife, Whitney, was pregnant. After only 6 months of marriage, this was definitely unexpected and certainly not “planned.”

John became the first person to hear that my wife was pregnant, so this creates the fork in the road. Leaving NY was not an option now, but was it a good idea to start a gear company?


Decision 1 : Do You Have Strong Partnerships?

This is the most crucial decision in whether or not you should start a business with a child on the way.

The first partnership starts at home–how are things with your wife/partner? Are you 1000% certain that he/she is behind this decision? How are you going to manage child care? Will someone stay at home? Whitney had a contract job that ended March 31st prior to the delivery. We decided that she would join my freelance work, making both our lives a bit easier. It was a really fun few months!

If your business is going to be a partnership or team, what is their opinion of kids or their understanding of work/life/family balance? In high-pressure environments, there’s a lot of people who have zero understanding of what’s involved with raising children–or preparing to have them. The last thing you want, is to enter a partnership/team and constantly feel like you’re behind because you have to go home at night. Luckily, John loves kids and has been hugely supportive of Whitney and Charlie. It’s important to remember that if we don’t take the time to properly raise our families–none of us would be here!

In your absence, are there people you trust who can help your wife/child along? This can be relatives, close friends, neighbors etc. We are extremely blessed to have a sister, friends, neighbors and an incredible church community who stepped in to help after delivery, offered advice before, gave hand-me-downs and spent the night when I was away. Whitney also started the Brooklyn Summer 2012 Moms which is now over 100 Moms in our neighborhood, with babies in the same age range. It takes a village!

John and I in Ohio, touring the factory that does our titanium cutting.

John and I in Ohio, touring the factory that handles our titanium cutting.

Decision 2 : How Viable is Your Business Venture?

Market testing is important, whether you’re opening a venture-funded web app or a lemonade stand. John and I aren’t number crunchers by nature, but we did extensive visual, marketing and brand research into where things are heading in our industry and in peripheral spaces as well. Because BushSmarts is a hybrid company, situated between the camping and design world, we definitely had our work cut out for us. The good news is, the writing on the wall shows that people are into making the outdoor gear market a little more design savvy, and urban folks dig our rugged style.

Also in this vein, how much experience do you have in the realm in which you intend to sell? Will you need additional education, training, tools or resources? John and I have both been camping and taking outdoor trips for decades, and I’ve spent years teaching skills to Scouts and consumers alike. We both have been working as professionals in the design industry for years also, so our major need in skills was in the account/legal/programming world. This is fairly common though, so for us we felt like making an outdoor gear brand was pretty rational for both of us.

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A younger me, at Scout Camp. Who knew this would lead me to starting a gear company…haha.


Decision 3 : How Far are You Willing to Go?

DO NOT turn your business venture into a money pit. Set the amount you are willing to invest and stick to it. If that means a time limit, then set the point at which you will leave the venture if your goals are not reached. It’s way too easy to let ego, pride and selfishness completely submarine your family’s future–and it’s NOT worth it.

Also remember that things change. If your wife/partner or business partner/team is in a transitional state, you have a responsibility to have regular meetings about this issue and stay on top of it. When people are flexible and realistic, it’s very easy to operate a business that doesn’t end up in personal fallouts and implosion. John and I keep a totally flexible schedule about when we work, and we communicate about what we can and can’t do. Never throw your partner under the bus, about anything, ever. We’ve been working on Bush Smarts for over a year and a half, and we still have discussions about how we want to operate. Adaptation is sanity!

Key Takeaway

+ Receive and give grace
    Know that you’re not perfect, and that no one else is either

One of the pastors at my church said that grace is “being forgiven for something for which you don’t deserve forgiveness.” Whether you’re on the receiving end, or the giving end–remember that you make mistakes and your decisions often hurt and inconvenience others. Recognizing this and sending this to others will change the shape of your business.

There are many times when I overstep boundaries with John (being late, forgetting things, making typos and not checking them, etc) and with Whitney (not communicating my schedule, working late, overcommitment) and it’s eye-opening to realize how gracious people are when they’re still willing to put up with you. Have the courage to  forgive your vendors, your customers, your partner, your spouse. It may lead to a radical transformation in your business, and your life.

What’s Your Story?

I’ve written this from the perspective of a self-funded, online-based, cottage industry business. What were the key decisions you faced in starting your business with kiddie on the way?

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