Long hours with no downtime. Nerves frazzled from multitasking. Sleep deprivation. Such is the life of an entrepreneur or a new parent. Doing both at the same time? Not for the faint hearted.
Getting the work/life balance right is a challenge for every entrepreneur on or off Campus and all the more so for young parents running young companies.
It is a particularly tricky issue for women. The work-around-the-clock start-up culture has traditionally dissuaded women of child-bearing age from becoming entrepreneurs. Although the percentage of women on Campus is higher than the norm, they are still in the minority.
A new program called Campus For Mums at the Google-run co-working space on Bonhill Street is highlighting how things are changing. For starters, 20% of the participants that have applied for a place in the next round, which is scheduled to start April 8th, are men.
That’s a good sign, because, say Campus entrepreneurs interviewed, the only way that society will transform is if both men and women step up to their parental roles and decide to make their families and having a personal life a priority. Those who manage to do their jobs well and have a life don’t pretend that it is easy. But they say that it is possible if companies decide to make this a value and core part of their culture.
Everyone on a team — not just the women — can make a firm rule that they leave the office by late afternoon, eat dinner and take part in bath time and bed time stories with their children, then get back online to work from home later.
That’s how Reshma Sohoni, a partner at Seedcamp, a micro-seed investment fund and mentoring program housed on Campus’s fourth floor, copes with a demanding job and 17-month-old Lukas.
Expect the balancing act to evolve constantly
In the late afternoon on a recent weekday Sohoni could be found sitting on the floor, playing with her son in her apartment. People who know her know she does not return calls from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the two days a week when she goes home early.
As with building companies, parenthood is all about teamwork and being organized. Sohoni goes home early on Tuesday and Thursday. Her husband, Philipp Stoeckl, the director of London’s Future Fifty program, relieves the nanny on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. Both get back on their laptops and back to work after Lukas goes to sleep. “If he didn’t take such an equal role there’s no way I could do this job,” says Sohoni. “So for us it’s lots of give and take both ways.”
Her advice to other parents? Expect the balancing act to evolve constantly. From the time Lukas was born until he was three months old Sohoni worked from home; from three to six months she worked four hours a day; from six months to 12 months she worked six or seven hours a day. Now she works eight hours a day and at night. “The flexibility has to change over time,” says Sohoni. “There is constant adjustment.”
Sohoni says she has learned not to be shy about telling others that she isn’t available because she needs to spend time with her child. The person who taught her that it was important do this, she says, was Saul Klein, the chairman of Seedcamp and a partner at Index Ventures, who makes a point of carving out time for his own children.
Get everyone in the family to become an entrepreneur
Other men in the tech sector are becoming more open and creative about how they juggle life as a parent.
Take the case of London native Andrew Crump, an entrepreneur who runs Bluefields.com, a mobile app that makes it easy for amateur sports teams to organize, inform and update players on everything from practice schedules to game times. He has found his own way of dealing with the work/life balance: get everyone in the family to become an entrepreneur. The company, which started out at Campus London, has received funding from VegasTechFund and he now splits his times between Las Vegas and London. Crump says he is able to cope because his wife runs her own company and, until recently, so did his two daughters.
Because the family knew that it might be a while before Bluefields had steady revenues, Crump’s wife, Rachel Baker, launched her own start-up, a UK hair extension business that was designed to generate revenue from day one. Not only did that lessen financial stress, it helped to have his wife share the roller-coaster experience of starting a company, says Crump. Then they got their daughters Chloe and Nicole into the act.
“They made pocket money and learnt lots of lessons”
￼￼￼￼The girls were 8 and 11 at the time the couple started Sockingly Good, a mail-order subscription business selling unusual socks online. “They were involved from the beginning as we started it in summer holidays whilst in the U.S., but Rachel and I led it,” says Crump. “Its original intent was the same as the hair extension business (and as our new maid business in the U.S., Maidly.net): flexibility and revenue.”
Over time Crump and his wife decided not to pursue selling socks online but, he said, it made a lot of sense to pass it over to their daughters, at least temporarily. (The site was recently shut down). “They made pocket money and learnt lots of lessons,” he says. “It was important to us that they gained insight into the journey that myself and Rachel are going through, but also that they started to see the world in an entrepreneurial fashion.”
Being an entrepreneur “can be very stressful but it becomes a way of life; and there does not seem to be a way back to life without it,” says Crump.” It is also extremely rewarding so with that in mind, it seems to make a lot of sense for the whole family to be a part of that life journey.”
Pregnant With Possibilities
One of the goals of Campus is to increase the number of women entrepreneurs.
It wasn’t that long ago when women approaching investors were told “great business plan. What if you get pregnant?” Try telling that to Hilla Brenner, one of the women behind Campus for Moms in Tel Aviv, the model for the program at Campus London.
Brenner, a serial entrepreneur, has raised a total of $20 million for two different start-ups. And she was pregnant both times she pitched investors. Her first company went public. The second is flourishing. Brenner, who helped create a Tel Aviv-based networking group for women entrepreneurs called Yazamiyot, approached Google’s Tal Sarig-Avraham about holding classes for women on maternity leave on topics such as cloud computing and tips on legal issues. Thus the idea of Campus for Moms was born at Campus Tel Aviv.
The response to Campus for Moms in Tel Aviv has been so overwhelmingly positive that Campus London decided to offer the course.
Two babies were born during the first nine-week course in London, says Google’s Sarah Drinkwater, the Campus 20%er responsible for the program. One of the women was back on Campus to participate in class one week after giving birth. How’s that for entrepreneurial spirit?