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Nurturing Your 'Baby:' Starting a Family While Running a Startup

As a father and a CEO of a startup, Jake Gibson offers up insight on how he manages to get it all done.
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When my wife and I decided to try for a baby, I thought it would take some time to succeed, and I’d have at least another year to focus on NerdWallet as we entered a period of rapid-fire growth. So imagine my surprise last April, after one month of effort, I saw her iPhone photo of a pregnancy test with a blue + sign.

That was just the start. When we went to the doctor to confirm, he said, “Yes, there’s the heartbeat.” He moved the ultrasound wand, then added: “And there’s the other heartbeat.”  My wife and I just stared blankly. “There’s two of them,” the doctor finally said.

“Two of what?” I asked.

Related: Richard Branson on Parenting and Work-Life Balance

My son and daughter were born in early December. I can’t honestly say I’ve gotten a lot of advice on work-life balance from my peer group. I’m 31-years-old, and I’m the first among my entrepreneur friends to have children. Like running a startup, you learn as you go.

Here’s what I have learned so far about balancing the needs of two newborns while building a business:

Practice family-first habits early. When I learned I was going to be a father, it was like a switch went off in my head. My priorities shifted immediately from focusing solely on work toward what I need to do as a father. One decision I made from the start was this: I would go with my wife to every doctor’s visit.

I knew my wife would appreciate the support, and I wanted to show my priorities early on. If not now, when? It’s a slippery slope -- I suspect missed doctor’s appointments become missed birthday parties and baseball games down the line.

‘Juggling’ isn’t just a metaphor. Two weeks after the twins came, I had a baby in my arms while listening to a meeting on my headset. My phone was muted so I could follow the conversation, but my team couldn’t hear the screams of my child.

Related: How One Entrepreneur Mom Won the Work-Life Balance Game

Since the twins arrived, I’ve become pit-crew fast at changing diapers. I’ve also learned how to text and write emails with Siri, so I can be hands free while keep doing it. With newborns, the work-life balancing act isn’t just a mental exercis, it’s a physical reality.

Ask for help. Startup people are eternal optimists. Having kids? No problem. Work won’t suffer, family won’t suffer and money won’t be an issue. We’ll just never sleep. And we certainly won’t have any nannies raising my kids. We can do it all.

No, we can’t. The twins brought a heavy dose of reality -- you need two adults there just to get by (three pairs of hands to comfortably do it). Gone are the days when we tell friends “just bring yourselves” when they ask to stop by. Now they come in hand with dinners, diapers and Wet Ones.

Family and friends have been invaluable, but we’ve also hired help. The way I look at that now is equivalent to outsourcing -- delegate the day-to-day stuff like cooking and cleaning to focus on higher-level work, like spending quality time with your wife and kids. 

Reading baby books or biz lit? Same difference.. My wife’s pregnancy coincided with a year NerdWallet doubled its workforce to 50 and laying the foundation to triple this year. So my nighttime reading was dominated by baby and business-management books. For many of the books, I felt you could almost swap out the titles and you’d be reading the same thing.

Scaling an organization is about managing people and dealing with all the people concerns – being empathetic to their needs, coaching rather than dictating what to do and  helping them understand how to help themselves. When you read about child intellectual development, it’s very much the same thing.

Another parallel is discipline. For kids, the books say to lay down clear ground rules and consistently enforce them. That reads similar to management books on performance expectations, where clarity and consistency are common themes. 

Related: A Healthy Work/Life Balance Is No Unicorn