Four Atlanta dads share how they balance burgeoning empires and budding households. Here’s the fatherpreneurship advice of Rob Forman, co-founder and COO of Salesloft, David Payne, co-founder of Scoutmob and Switchyards, Rodney Sampson, founder of Kingonomics and partner at TechSquare Labs, and Christopher Turner, co-founder and CEO of TenRocket.
“I find the toughest part is that there are no shortcuts or at least shortcuts you want to take,” says Forman, a father of five, including three adopted children from Ethiopia. “Both are hard. Most things worth doing are hard. Both take intentionality. Both require time, attention and big chunks of your heart and emotion. Both involve people, who are messy and don’t fit in tidy boxes.”
Payne agrees, “Startups are ‘all in’ situations. Going from idea-on-a-napkin to a growing business takes a great deal of time/energy/focus to have a chance of success. Having kids is an equally huge commitment, so the toughest friction is the allocation of time between the two.”
Prioritization seems to be a key thread to co-pursue parenting and startup life. Sampson, a father of six, says, “The toughest challenge of managing a business and a family, in my experience, is time management.
“Do I go to the game-changing meeting or do I go to the zoo? Do I do evening meetings to meet with potential investors at their convenience or do I make it home for dinner? For my wife and I, we’ve worked to create an entrepreneurial lifestyle that is inclusive of ourselves and our children.”
Balancing Fatherhood and Entrepreneurship
To maintain day-to-day equilibrium, Turner, a newly minted dad, says to “[s]et clear expectations…If you know this week is going to be busier than usual, give your partner a heads-up that you may need to stay late a couple nights. Likewise, if you need to be at a doctor’s appointment for your child, make sure you have someone to cover for you at work.”
Over the long-term, Sampson, with a seventeen-plus year marriage and half-dozen brood, says establishing expectations with your family and others are equally important. “No meeting, business relationship, ‘deal,’ or opportunity should be considered at the expense of my wife and family — period. I have learned to discern potential business partners and relationships by how they respond when meeting my wife and family.”
Adding: “[I]t’s okay to look at your family as your first business. It’s okay to look at your children as your MVPs, and the responsibility to ensure that their growth potential is as high as it can be. We’re raising unicorns and not just economic unicorns. We want them to be outliers and high potentials in everything they set to accomplish, and if they fall short, they understand that, too, is a part of being entrepreneurial. We fail forward in all we do.”
Forman says, “There is no one secret. In fact, there aren’t many secrets. It’s the basic stuff. Be humble and coachable with your wife and peers. Lead with trust and love. Admit when you’re wrong. Fix your mistakes. Be proactive. Set goals and direction.”
Setting Expectations and Treasuring Time
These four focused fathers also point out that it is important to carve out time which is just for work and just for family. Equal respect and consideration should be set for professional and personal partners, too.
“Early in my married life I realized the importance of managing expectations,” says Payne. “Originally, I wanted to promise more than I could reasonably deliver. For example, I would tell her that I’d be home by 7 p.m. when it was most likely going to be 7:30-8 p.m.. Over time, I realized that it was much better to plan realistically, so that would be my first tip.
“On a related note, another tip (that works for our family) is for me to have times during the week that I’m expected to be working. For example, one night per week I work late in order to knock out a bunch of things. And I work most Saturday mornings for the same reason. These set times help manage expectations on both sides. And lastly, I would recommend making dedicated family time. For us Sundays are off limits for work and we plan regular family holidays.”
Turner also sets a personal day for himself each week. He and his wife put aside time “to explore our own interests and take a temporary break from parenthood. I’ve used that time to attend startup events, grab a beer with friends, and even have late-night meetings with clients.”
Forman calls this creating a rhythm. “Both at SalesLoft and home, we have daily/weekly/quarterly rhythms,” he says. “The company has daily stand-ups. The family has nightly dinner with ‘High, Low, Loving,’ where we share a high of the day, a low of the day, and something loving we did for someone else. The company has weekly tactical meetings. The family has Sunday night family meetings when we pick up the house and talk about what’s coming up and how we’re doing. The company has quarterly offsite planning. The family has a theme for every 2-4 months, and 1 spontaneous trip where we pick the location as we’re driving out of the driveway.
“I find that rhythm helps mix short-term execution and long-term planning, as well as short-term productivity and long term relational connection. We need both.”
Prioritizing Family When Building a Company
“For most, work usually has its own natural gravity and doesn’t need to be prioritized,” says Forman. “And I’ve met more people who have regretted *not* prioritizing their family more than not prioritizing their work.”
“Work is easier. More exciting. More glorified. Its often something we’re good at, enjoy, feel good about. I don’t get a kudos for showing up each night and doing the dishes, but that’s what it means to love my wife and family well. I sometimes don’t know our family routine if something changes (we’re doing swim team now) and its easy to feel inadequate. Prioritizing it puts me back in the game.
Simply put: “Someone else could be COO at SalesLoft. No one else can be my wife’s husband or my kids’ dad.”
Payne shares similar sentiments, “I’m extremely focused on work projects and will do startups in Atlanta for the rest of my life, but I couldn’t imagine having a full life without my wife and kids. My work is a very important and fulfilling part of my life, but I wouldn’t have a full life without the other (even more) important and fulfilling part. Some people believe that startups are only created by people in their 20s because you can’t have a startup and a family. I think one of the big advantages of startup ecosystems in Atlanta is that you can do both.”
How Parenting Helps Entrepreneurship (and Vice Versa)
“I believe that great founders are students of people,” says Payne, a father of two, including a young son only a few months old. “They like people and learn what makes them tick. If you want to understand basic human stuff, there’s nothing better than seeing it all from the beginning!”
Being able to see the world through fresh eyes, the eyes of their children is “fertile ground for learning each and every day,” notes Forman, who attests servant leadership as a guiding principle as member of an executive team and parenting duo.
“[L]ove and sacrifice buy much more credibility than rank or title,” he says. “That doesn’t mean I don’t hold people accountable. In fact, it’d be unloving not to. I care too much to not deal with conflict or accountability. And I care too much to leave people underperforming or not address my kid’s behavior. They would end up sorely unprepared to enter the real world.”
Turner notes that fatherhood helps him run his emerging company by forcing focus, creating an opportunity to see the “world from a new perspective,” offering freedom and flexibility, and teaching him how to prioritize doing things he loves.
Sampson notes, “At this stage as a father, I’m working on listening more to my children as a guide to what I’ll do and create in the future. I’m intentional about allowing them to explore their authentic selves in order for them to become the person they were created to become. It’s not easy. It’s not perfect; and I don’t believe that I would be the father that I am and the father that I will become if it were not for my wife. She’s my cofounder, chairman of the board, and lead investor in every ‘deal’, or, shall I say, child.
“Together, we’re able to balance the responsibilities of home and the workplace, and even, still, it’s not easy given the demands of building companies and causes from nothing and creating something.”
Final Advice on Life as a Working Dad
“Find trustworthy people and be real with them. You’re not the only one going through whatever you’re going through,” says Forman. “There isn’t anything new under the sun. We think that sharing our struggles or failures will be a sign of weakness, when in fact the opposite is true. Vulnerability is deeply attractive .”
“And hang in there. We often think we are doing worse than we really are. If you’re even worried about how you’re doing, you’re ahead of the game.”