Startup vs family. What the %#@& do I do?

Hi guys,

I’ll keep it simple:

1. I left a comfortable salary 15 months ago to dabble in startups.
2. I’m yet to have paying customers for my latest product. Though I am close.
3. I JUST found a technical cofounder to help me evolve from the MVP to the final product. He loves the concept and we’re a great match.
4. My wife is pregnant with our first child.
5. My wife has had a stressful pregnancy due to the lack of income resulting from me chasing my hopes and dreams. We live in a shitty tiny place to keep rent down.
6. Every day I feel unbelievably excited about the product and my awesome partner, yet I feel terrified and guilty that my wife is struggling. I feel I’m in denial about how much things will change when the baby comes.
7. I know I’ll melt when I see the baby and my perspective will change, I’m a naturally protective person.
7. I feel there is a ticking time bomb over my head and the pressure to MAKE MONEY NOW is a lot to handle.

What do I do?

  • Congrats your soon-to-be fathership.

    Pressure to make money is never a good way to start a startup. It will mess with your head. People make bad decisions under pressure.
    That being said i encourage you to take the risk. Just don’t be stupid and try to learn as fast as possible if people are willing to pay for your product, and howmuch. You don’t need a big product for that, you can use paper sketches…

    Good luck!

  • Congrats on the upcoming baby!
    15 months without income is too much in my opinion. I’m in a similar situation (not married, but different culture..), I wouldn’t quite my job for 15 months prior to a potential startup launch. I think it’s too risky when you have family you need to take care of. I would suggest you to get your job back (or maybe do some freelancing if that works for you) to take care of your family while still working on your startup on the weekends/midnights. I know most entrepreneurs think that way, but sometimes you can’t afford to risk your financial situation and in that case you’ll have to risk more important things in life and get comfortable being uncomfortable (like getting few hours of sleep, working on the weekends, etc… )
    Family comes first after all. Good luck and no matter what happens, don’t give up on your dreams and stay focused on whatever you do.

  • I also think that 15 months is too much. An MVP should take 1-2 months to build and then used to take conversion metrics and test assumptions with a small user base. I would personally put a week aside and do that *immediately* and if the numbers are there, make the decision to follow through or abandon ship.

  • Thank you kindly for your feedback guys. I realized I hadn’t fully explained the money situation..
    – I did leave a salary 15 months ago, but I have been servicing clients since then and paying freelancers.
    – I’ve been taking a minor salary myself the entire time to cover expenses, just haven’t been able to save.
    – With this latest product I’ve been working it for almost 4 months – idea, market research, validation, wire frames, design, testing, MVP coding etc and the full sales cycle. Am very close to paying customers.

    If it doesn’t sell enough prior to the baby coming I need to get a job. Or work out some other way to pay the bills.

  • Been in a startup through 2 kids now. Unless you are living in actual poverty then time, and your attention, is more important than money. You must make time for your partner and kid, not be looking at your iPhone during that time. I carved time out of my startup and it worked out fine. It is tough but you can step away and your co-founder can handle the startup. Don’t buy into those who say a startup is a 24/7 job and you have to sacrifice your family time or go find a 9-5 job. Do what you love, be with those you love, you’ll and they’ll be more satisfied.

    Kids, and the changes they bring between you and your partner, are hard. Harder than startups. Wonderfully hard.

    • So true.

      Two notes: If you think the feelings of responsibility are overwhelming now, just wait till you see the lil bugger. Don’t worry, once you establish new routines things will work out fine. That said, while kids need less than you think to be happy, they’re also way more expensive than you think. Avoid paying for childcare any which way you can. Money pit.

  • Someday you will look back at these days with fondness — “remember when I was starting [company that made me rich] and we were totally broke?” Enjoy your family, enjoy your baby, try not to worry too much about the money. If you’ve got a roof over your head and you’re not starving, you’ll be OK for a couple years. American society tries to sell you a lot of things you don’t need, especially once you have kids. You can survive on much less than you think if you’re willing to give up the idea you need a huge home, hotshot car, neat wardrobe, fancy food, vacations. Enjoy this moment, each moment, each day. Do it for a year, if you hate it and it doesn’t work out, then yeah, probably time to check out and go 9 to 5 for a bit. But don’t expect it to solve your problems — it just replaces one set with a new set. Life’s short.

  • I can always have another startup. I won’t have more kids.
    I can always experience every stage of a startup. My kids will only be kids for a short, precious time.

    I will never, ever look back on the times I chose my kids over my startup. I am already extremely cognizant of the times I choose my startup over my kids.

    Good luck in your path.

  • I’m also in a similar situation. I left my job almost 2 years ago. Since then I’ve brought in a total of 4 months of part time consulting income to help stay afloat as the money has dwindled. I had about 2.5 yrs worth of runway when I left my job and started my company. I spent the first year building a technically challenging product that I ended up pivoting away from. My new product is a few weeks away from launching and we just took a very small seed investment (under 60k).

    I went from a mid six figure salary to making less then $30k a year with consulting. My wife is starting to feel the pressure, every few months she has a minor financial breakdown. She makes enough to cover about 30% of the bills, so I cover the rest with the savings I put aside for this venture. We live in an apartment that is more then I’d like to spent. But we’ve cut in so many other ways. We almost never eat out anymore, we dont travel, we pretty much try to spend as little money as possible. She’s been very supportive, but I can see how this is a strain on her and how she misses the lifestyle we grew a custom to.

    An important part of being a founder is being able to take step back and take a look where you are now and where you’re going. Ask yourself some questions… Why has it taken 2 yrs to get to this point? Have I done all the right things to validate my idea? Can I build something that doesn’t scale to test that validity? Is there a chance to generate revenue soon after launch. Can you charge people now for the service? And the most important question… Is this working? Every so often I sit down with my co-founder and we take a status check of the company: Are we having fun? Do we believe in the vision still? And should we shut down? That last question is the hardest one to answer. You need to know when you’ve given something your best shot and it’s time to walk away. And it doesn’t matter how much you’ve invested, time or money. Leave “pot committed” for poker. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars getting my company started, plus over $200k in forgone salary. I’m not suggesting that you walk away and shut down. I’m just saying you need to have the foresight to know when its time. Look, startups are hard. I wake up some days and think that we are doomed and should shut down. Then the next day I have a good conversation with a potential customer and I’m excited and re-energized.

    So step back for a minute. Take a look at your life, your wife and your business and see where they all piece together. I know plenty of people that start companies with families. Techcrunch glamorizes the teams that work 22 hrs a day and stay up all night drinking redbull. Your startup is not a sprint, its a long paced marathon. I work 10am – 7pm, I go home and spend 2 -3 hrs with my wife eating dinner/watching tv/whatever and then work another 2 or 3 hrs. I pick one night during the week to try and spend a little extra time, maybe do date night (even if its a movie or something free). Weekends i’ll work the mornings and afternoons and try and give her the evenings. Could I be working more hours? Sure. I worked at a started some years back and worked 16 hrs a day, 7 days a week. I was sleeping in the office several nights a week. It ended with me being extremely burned out, sick and regretful that I didn’t spend any time with my family or friends. Also it wasn’t fun. Moral of the story is that its possible to find the right work/life balance.

    No one can tell you what to do. But heres an idea. Is there an MVP you can get out in the next 2-3 weeks? Can you go sell a product that doesn’t exist? I have 5-10 companies that want to join my beta before my product exists. I’ve been sending them product screen shots for the last 2 months to collect their feedback and get them excited. I’m confident that once I launch I can have a few paying users relatively quickly. I don’t know what kind of business you’re building, but can you do something like this? If your business has no model and you aren’t going to raise money, then nothing quick is going to happen, so maybe consider moving it to a side project? But if you can get something up soon, maybe give yourself 2-3 months to see where things go. If the feedback isn’t good and people aren’t using it, then it might be time to re-evaluate. If things are moving forward and you’re seeing signs of early tractions, then thats at least enough to keep moving forward. Also early traction can be used to raise a small seed round.

    Hope this is remotely helpful. Best of luck.

  • Yeah man, you need to relax. If you just focus on making the money, you will spin in cirlces. You may get stuff done, but you will miss a lot of important details in your projects. This comes from my personal experience with a startup. We had designed our product, but I started having financial issues. Couldn’t pay my student loans, couldn’t pay my rent, didn’t have time for a second job and my savings was gone. I’d spent all my credit on the business and I had no money. Finally I had to take a loan just to survive, but I couldn’t spend anymore of that on the startup. I had to slow down. Things had to take longer. We didn’t make any money until the next year, but at least I could afford to eat. Having less fuel to speed up productivity meant we had more time to focus on the details. I guarantee you we would have failed if we rolled out six months sooner. Sometimes limitations are a blessing in disguise.

    Congratulations on the baby, and I hope you make billions.

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