09/06/11 | Uncategorized

My Baby and “My Baby” – Startups and Children as Labors of Love

By Elizabeth Kiehner (Co-Founder & Principal, Thornberg & Forester)
As a 35 year old business owner with a 20 month old daughter, I can only stress one thing: I wish I did it all sooner.

That goes for both the business and the baby, though most importantly the baby.

Having met several other successful entrepreneurs in Manhattan with whom I share strikingly similar backgrounds, I’ve begun to recognize a pattern — after being raised in rural areas or suburbs by stay-at-home moms, it seemed to us all that there was nothing more important than having a career first and postponing motherhood as long as possible.

As a neighbor once astutely pointed out, “There are a lot of old parents in New York.” Yet my reasoning for longing for an earlier start to child-rearing encompasses far more than this preoccupation. Now that I have made it halfway through the most rigorous, poignant decade of my career, and with the clock ticking, I am not racing to conceive another child. In addition to all these elements, my husband and I live far away from any grandparents or family, so unfortunately now is not an ideal time to be raising a baby.

Looking back ten years, I honestly doubt that even I would have been receptive to this advice myself, but I can now attest that if women like you and I do want to have children, perhaps we should start thinking about it earlier. Our generation seems to be caught in this sort of reactive rubber band effect, so I can only hope that my daughter, Agnes, will have a more balanced perspective on the matter. All that being said, in my personal experience, having a child and starting a company have proven similar in a myriad of ways.

To begin, it took careful planning to conceive of both my company and my child. In fact, funnily enough they both incubated for nine months before “launching,” so to speak (my daughter, however, did not launch so easily, as I was in labor for over 30 hours). Beware, for the first year of life for both these “babies” holds little to no sleep.

Additionally, you will be pushed to your limits, and you might even think you have made a huge mistake (though rest assured, you did not). Under no circumstance should you have a child during your first year of launching a startup, unless your parents live very close or you have an au pair. Even then, this would be questionable timing, as both business and children require constant attention and nurturing. Essentially, one only gets out what one puts in, and there are only so many hours in a day. Also, in either realm, if you are too sleep-deprived, you will make mistakes. It’s important to create a routine and set a daily schedule: this in turn makes a child’s life more comfortable and predictable and your business life more efficient and focused. If you are like me, you may juggle high level management with sales, HR, and financial tasks. Switching gears can be jarring for even the best multi-tasker, so just make specific time slots for your internal tasks as well as your meetings. Also, if ever you are feeling unmotivated or overwhelmed, remember that just being a mom makes you work more efficiently since, more often than not, one wants to get home to see her child, so there is less time wasted during the day.

Having a child also helps you in your personal life as well as your business life, especially in terms of prioritizing who and what is important to you. I often find myself spread too thin, engaged in too many professional groups, boards and other activities. Reflect on the fact that “no” could be one of the first words that your child learns, and for good reason. For many women, saying “no” can be difficult. I feel like I often fall into this category. Although in business discourse I strive to say “what if,” rather than “no,” when it comes to making decisions about my valuable time and energy, “no” is so important. If you start a company and it is successful, invariably people will come out of the woodwork with a keen interest in occupying your time. While this can be flattering to some at first, it is ultimately most important to protect your time and really measure if taking that meeting or having a seat on that group truly aligns with your values. After having a child, you immediately and inevitably start thinking about your legacy both in terms of what you are creating and what you will ultimately be leaving behind. Make quick decisions but be very mindful of what you choose to sign up for — what it means to you.

On a final and obvious note, don’t underestimate the power of naming, in both business and with regards to your child. In both cases this has a profound impact and will shape the way your company (or child) is perceived by the world and therefore how he or she perceives the self. For instance, I was almost named Wilamina. In the context of my life now in New York, perhaps that would actually even be a cooler name than Elizabeth, but growing up in a backward coal-minding town in the middle of Pennsylvania, I imagine my childhood would have been challenging.

Hopefully juxtaposing the work involved in bringing up a baby and a “baby” company has served to reveal manifold similarities as well as differences, and has at least sparked another layer of consideration of different paths to success.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Elizabeth Kiehner is Co-Founder and Principal at Thornberg & Forester, rebuilding the traditional agency model. Elizabeth brings years of management and business development experience to Thornberg & Forester, giving her a deep knowledge of how to both lead a team and produce powerful, experiential branded storytelling experiences. The great-granddaughter of a coal miner, Elizabeth left rural Pennsylvania to study visual media at American University and FAMU in Prague. Follow her on Twitter at @kiehner.



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