Family, Kids & Startups

    Editorial note: this article was originally written by Chieftain Elina Arponen for Tribe Studios blog. Tribe Studios builds Dramagame – a platform for high quality multiplayer story games. Tribe Studioes was also one of the Arctic15 finalists last year.

    I attended an excellent panel yesterday morning which consisted of Paul Bragiel, Sami Inkinen, Russel Simmons and Aaron Patzer. The event was part of the founder’s week organized by Aaltoes. This topic of having kids/family came up in several audience questions and was a little bit foreign territory for most of the panelists.

    I feel somewhat of a self-learned expert on the area and thought to write about my experiences. I’ve been running with Tribe Studios now full speed for 1 year and 8 months. My husband, Ville-Kalle, is one of my co-founders from the start. Together we have a boy that’s going to be 4 years in August. Currently I’m pregnant with the second one with an ETA in July. So how do we make it work?

    No other hobbies?
    My simplest answer to the recurring question “How can you manage both family and startup?” is that those two are manageable. They even support each other in many ways, but I don’t have time for anything else.

    I’ve been reading books (half of them startup related) and watched some TV-series from DVD, but those would be my main hobbies. Playing computer games is actually work related for me but I still haven’t managed to finish one for ages. The games I play most currently are those that I play together with our son. I have lot of social contacts and meet friends, but these are all friends either from the startup scene or the gaming scene. It’s easy to meet them in conferences and other events.

    A couple times a year there is a bigger gathering when I see my other friends. Luckily I know they are still there. Well to be totally honest I have squeezed in social game nights both online and offline with some close friends.

    But all this talk about being very time constrained when running a startup is probably familiar to most entrepreneurs, even without kids. And it’s also familiar to families with small kids, without the startups. So what else is there?

    This is part of the secret sauce. Finland has really good daycare where our son has been all this time ~8:30am-5pm daily. But you can’t always stop your day at 4:15pm to start your way home. And being in Finland you’ll have to travel abroad a lot too. Both my parent’s and Ville-Kalle’s parents have been very supportive of our entrepreneurial life.

    Roughly once or twice a week one of the grandmas picks up our kid from the daycare and both of us can arrive a little later. When we both need to travel at the same time the other grandma who lives a bit further comes to live in our house for the time it’s necessary.

    Of course this also means that all the events we go together are most likely all work related. We often divide friends’ parties so that either of us goes because we don’t want to be away from our son all the time. Time for just the two of us is also mainly at home after kid’s bedtime.

    If we had only 2 person startup, this would not have worked out. Of course the size of your team depends on your product and markets, but we could not have done Dramagame with just 2. We had six founders and after the peaceful departure of Timo Saarinen for Zorg we are now five founders. Everyone’s doing magic on their own area of tech, art or combining the two.

    Most days I just concentrate on doing the hustle and I know that the product goes forward.

    On top of the founders we’re blessed with some of the most talented and motivated employees, which is now driving us forward even faster.

    Relaxing your brain
    This is where the synergies of a family and a startup show up. Kids force balance on your life. If you know you have to leave the office at 4pm, you leave the office at 4pm. It does not mean your brain stops working. Working while commuting is easily done, but when I’m physically with my kid I just don’t work. I’m not absent minded when I’m there. I try to avoid all related activities too, even tweeting. I only take calls if someone calls me and I will tell my son to wait for the short duration of the call.

    However somewhere in the subconscious those nagging work issues still keep getting processed. Sometimes a thought pops up that gives a solution to something that seemed very difficult at the office. I write that down right away to keep it for later.

    It’s been said that creativity needs a wandering brain. I believe in that very strongly. Getting exposed to non-work related environments feeds your brain. You make new connections and get new ideas. Your brain gets to take a break and relax and that keeps your brain energies up.

    Time management
    Then there is of course the need to manage your time. 20% of what you do yields 80% of the results and you need to concentrate on that 20%. It’s not a static set of tasks, but it keeps evolving. When you are doing your first start-up it can be hard to separate the essential from noise, but it’s all about learning. Every week you know more than the last and can be more efficient.

    Knowing that my daily hours at the computer are limited helps me focus. When I do sit on my computer I dig up any notes or sort out the thoughts I’ve had during my brain relaxation time. Especially if I know I have only a 2-hour slot to execute at my desk, I’ll do that: execute. I don’t idle or do random web browsing.

    I do read startup blogs, do creative Social Media searches and other not clearly productive computer work too, but even that time is usually planned for.

    Rocks, pebbles and sand
    If all this sounds too much or complicated, should you delay having kids if you do startup? Or should you do kids first and then startup? I would not delay either. There is never a perfect timing for kids and the best time to start your startup is always today.

    There is this old story about Rocks, Pebbles and Sand that I like a lot. Although in addition to family my rocks currently include Tribe Studios. The story goes like this:

    A philosophy professor stood before his class with some items in front of him. When class began, he wordlessly picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks about two inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

    The professor then picked up a box of pebbles, poured them into the jar and lightly shook it. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The students laughed. He asked his students again if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

    The professor then picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

    “Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this is your life. The rocks are the important things—your family, your partner, your health, your children—anything that is so important to you that if it were lost, you would be nearly destroyed. The pebbles are the other things in life that matter, but on a smaller scale. The pebbles represent things like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else—the small stuff.

    “If you put the sand or the pebbles into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, material things, you will never have room for the things that are truly most important. Pay attention to the things that are critical in your life. Play with your children. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal.”

    Wise words. In your own life, be sure to take care of the rocks first—the things that really matter. Remember, the rest is only pebbles and sand.