Why Parenting Is Like A Silicon Valley Startup

Jared has diaper duty. Forever.

Jared has diaper duty. Forever.

I am going all nerdy on y’all today.

We have been watching Silicon Valley since the very beginning of the show.

At first, we watched with dubious and skeptical expectations. Geeks are naturally dubious and skeptical of other geeks, particularly actor nerds passing themselves off as geeks. I will gladly admit that this show actually gives an accurate representation of what living through a startup is like.  From the subtle in-fighting to the khaki pants to the sloppy button-up shirts, they look and act like startup geeks. Plus, the emotional ups and downs of software vs. hardware, and the reality of hitting project goals, yet making $0 — if you’re lucky.  The endless hours spent at the keyboards, 20-hour workdays, and dealing with odd landlords and nosy neighbors. Plus: Ever wonder how these guys have health insurance?  LOL…health insurance in a startup.  

The thing is, the more I watch this show, and the more I think back to the endless years in startup culture that we experienced, the more I keep thinking: “This is way too similar to parenting.”

 Endless nights working? Check.

Emotional toil? Check.

Your clothes don’t match/fit anymore? Check.

Everyone has a completely unhelpful, and most likely arbitrary piece of advice for you at the worst times? Check.

You set the living room on fire by overloading servers that had the worst cabling on the face of the earth? Well, no. 

But I have set the oven on fire trying to reheat biscuits.  

 Follow me on this nerdy venture:

 5 Ways Parenting Is Like Surviving a Silicon Valley Startup:

 1. Inexperience does not negate your position as the CEO 

If you have never had experience as a parent before, but read about it in a book once, then congratulations! You are perfect parenting material!

And you have the job.

Startups are notorious for putting the one person who couldn’t code as the head of the company, just to give them something to do. Sometimes it worked out and, they did actually rise to the occasion to lead their company to something great … like being acquired. Probably by Oracle.

But as a parent, you have no out. You are in this ship for the long haul, and you better make the most out of naptimes by either actually relaxing for an hour or making a game plan for your new position.

“Today, you may take the bottle, my son. But tomorrow, you take the world.” Check.

 2. Complete lack of “domain knowledge.”

If you have ever had the pleasure of getting conflicting information on key components to raising your infant “correctly,” then you have “lack of domain knowledge.”

“Isoftware engineering domain knowledge is knowledge about the environment in which the target system operates…” Basically, it’s when you know your stuff with what you’re doing.

For example. Let’s say you and your spouse have a baby who gets fussy in the afternoon. You guys can’t figure out what on earth is going on, because the baby is fine for the rest of the day, but right around 2 p.m., she just loses her little mind. And you guys are just at your wit’s end about this — until you realize that around 2 p.m., you have been feeding her mashed peas, and those peas were giving her gas! Problem solved! High-fives all around. You have now acquired domain knowledge.

3. Everyone else wants to give you their domain knowledge.

What works for one startup will probably not work for the next. What worked for Facebook and Twitter will absolutely, totally not work for an app that remotely checks your tire pressure.

In the same way, what works for one baby will probably not work for another. I have five … I have had to change the game so many times, I don’t even remember where I started.

But try bringing up your ideas about cloth diapers, breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, when to start them on solids, or bigger topics like circumsicion and vaccinations in polite company (or so you thought). You will find a circus of domain knowledge which somehow finds its way to you, tout de suite.

4. Companies who ignore revenues in order to keep striving for the “Perfect Product.”

This is a recipe for failure in any company. When the ideal of the product overshadows the realities of finance/growth/customers/lack of customers, the only thing that will survive in the company is that ideal.

I know the image of Norman Rockwell’s paintings of happy, quiet children reading 500-page classical novels in front of a fireplace somewhere in Connecticut is the ideal we have been given for parenting, but it is a big load of idealized hogwash.

Real startups are messy, located in an uninsulated garage, underfunded, overworked, and definitely hitting the wine bar after dinner. Before going back to fix code that you realized was buggy just as you bit into your hamburger.

Similarly, real parenting is long, arduous, emotionally taxing, euphoric, defeated, and … worth it. Completely.

We can’t strive for the “ideal parenting” or the “ideal child,” and expect it to turn out the way we think. What we have is a beautiful child, who is ours to love, and the time available to create a relationship with them to last a lifetime.

5. “The Team Behind It”

Bill Gross, the founder of Idealab, has had many brilliant things to say about how companies live or die.

One thing he said about the teams that make up companies was fantastic:

“I never thought I’d be quoting boxer Mike Tyson on the TED stage, but he once said, “Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the face.” And I think that’s so true about business as well. So much about a team’s execution is its ability to adapt to getting punched in the face by the customer.”

If this doesn’t summarize parenting, I don’t know what does.

Things are going to come out of the blue and hit you in the face before you can even register them, and your ability to adapt to those punches in the face is going to determine how you adapt to parenting.

When our first daughter was 3 months old, our pediatrician said she was a little “concerned” about a clicking in her hips. So off we went to X-rays and experts, only to find out that she didn’t even have a hip joint on her right side, and the one on the left was a little meager as well. Hip dysplasia took us to doctors, harness fittings, and X-ray technicians for years. But we took each doctor’s visit as another bold step in making sure our beautiful daughter had a fully-functioning hip socket that would never give her trouble ever again.

Parenting is never like it says in the pamphlets and books people give you while you’re pregnant.

Parenting is a wild roller coaster of emotions and experiences.

But parenting has been the biggest thing I will ever do, and I look forward to every defeat and every euphoric moment, because I will be spending those moments with the only team I have ever wanted. And if that isn’t succeeding in life, I don’t know what is.

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