2.5 Keys to Balancing the Roles of Parent and Business Advisor

2.5 Keys to Balancing the Roles of Parent and Business Advisor

Communication Parenting Relationships

The challenge of being both a parent and business advisor to a young entrepreneur is formidable.  Keeping the parent-child relationship and the business advisor-entrepreneur relationships separated was, at least for us, a major challenge.

We always viewed our jobs as parents as that of teachers, spiritual guides, counselors, confidantes and disciplinarians.  Our parenting style is a very hands-on, values and rules oriented, sometimes in-your-face approach.  While we welcomed hearing the opinions of our kids most of the time, ultimately, we tried to guide them in learning how to make good decisions on their own and made those decisions for them when necessary, usually much to their displeasure.  However, being a business advisor was a completely different kind of relationship with Joshua, our young entrepreneur.  I saw my role as helping to educate, advise and connect.  I didn’t do things for him and I didn’t make business decisions.  In my view, that was part of his learning process.  He needed to own what he was doing.  It was on him to educate himself about product development and business, and somehow balance all that with school.  It was a test of his passion and his drive to succeed.  It was the only way I knew to prepare him for the challenges of an entrepreneurial life.  He had to succeed or fail on his own merits.

Here are some of the things we did to make it all work:

1.  We kept our business and family conversations separate – We learned the hard way that we needed to do this. Joshua and I found ourselves mixing many of our normal family conversations with business discussions.  The stress this put on our relationship resulted in some rather heated interactions.  Gwen, my wife and Joshua’s mom, was inadvertently thrust into the roles of referee and peace maker.  We all knew we had to do something different and Joshua and I began to plan our business conversations just like any other business meeting.  We did our best not to discuss business at other times especially family meals or when we were around extended family and friends.  

2.  My business advisor role was confined to educating, questioning, advising and connecting – I don’t believe I ever told Joshua what business decisions to make. I did the best I could to help him figure it out by understanding his options and the potential outcomes.  Most of the time he sorted it out and made a sound decision.  He learned to make decisions without all the information he really needed.  He also learned to own the outcomes of his bad decisions.

2.5  You have to watch them fail – This fits closely with #2 and it was a tough one.  To allow your child, excuse me – my business advisee, to make a bad decision that you know will have a negative impact on him is one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do.  The parent side of me wanted to nurture him and step in to take over before it all went south.  Unfortunately, failure is part of learning and is sometimes the only way to get the really important lessons in life.  As a teenager, Joshua was also trying to carve out his own place in the world and be independent.  He thought he knew more than he did sometimes.  Teenage naiveté and an entrepreneurial ego are not always a good combination. My philosophy was that it is okay for young entrepreneurs to hit the ground once in a while.  My job as an advisor was to make sure he hit the ground hard enough to get his attention, and hopefully learn how not to make the same mistake twice, but not so hard that he didn’t want to get up and try again.  Hard to watch and hard to manage but I’m convinced that this is the only way certain young entrepreneurs will learn some of life’s most important lessons.  Always having a soft landing doesn’t teach us much.

THE TAKEAWAY – It is impossible to completely separate the roles of parent and business advisor with a young entrepreneur.  However, with a bit a structure, strategy and everyone understanding their role, it can be managed successfully.  There were times when I felt I was too tough on Joshua.  I told him once that “if he survived me he would be prepared for just about anything life might throw at him”.  I guess you’ll have to ask him how it all turned out.

3 Keys to Good Communication in an Entrepreneurial Family

3 Keys to Good Communication in an Entrepreneurial Family

Communication Parenting Relationships

As our entrepreneurial son, Joshua, and I became more intertwined in business, issues began to arise regarding our communication as a family.  Joshua and I talked about business frequently.  Those conversations began to replace family conversations about school, friends, and how things were going with others in the family.  Compounding this issue was the fact that we were speaking the language of business, a foreign language to my wife, our daughter, and many of our friends and family.  Joshua and I had unintentionally isolated ourselves from people we loved and the world around us.  This was clearly not sustainable and we had to make some changes.

This is what we did:

  1. Schedule business conversations – Joshua and I found ourselves mixing many of our normal family conversations with business conversations. It all came to a head one day when I praised him for doing a great job at an investor pitch and then proceeded to chew him out for not picking up his room and getting his school work done.  Those kinds of surprise twists and turns that could happen in almost any conversation put us both on edge.  Gwen, my wife and Joshua’s mom, was inadvertently thrust into the role of peace maker.  At that point, we all knew we had to do something different.  Joshua and I began to plan our business conversations just like any other business meeting.  We did our best not to discuss business at other times and especially avoided talking about business during family meals or when we were around extended family and friends.
  1. Educate those closest to you in the language of business – If entrepreneurship is a major part of your life and who you are, you owe it to those closest to you to involve them in conversations about what you are doing. Unfortunately, most people aren’t familiar with the language of business.  Even if they have a traditional business background, they may not be familiar with the language of the startup community.  This lack of a common language made Gwen, a great elementary school teacher, feel isolated from the entrepreneurial life.  Had she and Joshua been working together on an education project, I would have had the same struggle.   She felt embarrassed when she couldn’t explain to her friends and coworkers exactly what Joshua was doing.  Joshua and I had to be intentional about involving Gwen in some of the casual business discussions that popped up in normal conversation.  We also made sure that we either explained the terminology we were using or used more common terms to help Gwen be more engaged in what we were talking about.   Once we did a better job of involving her in the entrepreneurial life, she felt more comfortable talking to others about it and we found that she contributed great insight from time to time regarding people, relationships and communication.  Her insight was, and still is, very valuable.
  1. Provide routine updates – In the fast paced world of a startup, events and transactions occurred daily about which Joshua and I neglected to inform his mom.  There was no daily briefing so when she dipped into the startup world every few days she felt lost. “So when did that happen” she would ask in frustration.  As if that trend was not enough to make a mother feel sad and out of touch, because Joshua and I spoke multiple times a day on business topics, I was also the parent that he informed about everything else that was going on with school, friends, where he was and where he was going.  It was up to me to keep Gwen informed and I did a poor job of this and, at times, still do.  This had the effect of putting a strain on the relationship between Joshua and his mother and also on my relationship with my wife.  Not good.  As the saying goes, “if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”.  Other than my relationship with God, my relationship with Gwen is the most important one in my life.  If it’s bumpy, everything else just gets harder.  That’s why, when we realized how this journey was changing all of our relationships, we made a point of doing a better job of involving everyone in routine updates on business and family matters.

THE TAKEAWAY – Many books have been written and studies done on how important good communication is to being successful in business.  It is equally important with young entrepreneurs and their families.  Raising an entrepreneur is a bit like running a startup company.  It takes a team to be successful and if that team isn’t engaged and communicating with one another, the journey will be unpleasant and the odds of success will be significantly diminished.

3 Ways to Fight Isolation as a Young Entrepreneur

3 Ways to Fight Isolation as a Young Entrepreneur

Relationships

It sounds crazy that isolation would be a problem for entrepreneurs, right?  How could this be when what many people believe about entrepreneurs is that they have a fun and exciting life, meet lots of interesting people, and are popular in the party scene.  Those things can be true if you are successful.  However, starting out as a teen entrepreneur can be quite different than that.

For Joshua, our young entrepreneur, the year after high school was the worst.  In high school he was reasonably popular, elected Vice President of his senior class, and involved in typical high school things when he wasn’t working on business projects.  After graduation, however, he found himself in no man’s land.  His friends had all gone off to college and he was still living at home.  He decided to pursue growing the company instead of attending college.  In order to conserve investor’s cash he wasn’t taking compensation from his company, so he couldn’t afford to move out.  His company was in a trademark dispute with a large gaming company which caused their progress to grind to a halt while they were in legal limbo.  His co-founders had another company to run which was their primary focus. That’s a lot to handle at eighteen.

Joshua felt very isolated.  He was gradually creeping into a dark place.  He didn’t see his friends often. His peers in the entrepreneurial world were all at least ten years older than he was and he felt he had little in common with them.  His relationship with us, and especially me, was deteriorating.  He didn’t want to be where he was, but he felt trapped.

What resources are out there to help with this?

  1. Join a school club or start one – Involvement in clubs either as a member or instructor is a good way to interact and maybe even help others. Many young entrepreneurs I’ve met already know much more about business, product development and technology than the typical high school student in Junior Achievement or Future Business Leaders of America programs.  If that is the case, ask the program director or sponsor about being an instructor for some of the topics.  If there are no clubs like this in your school or area, start one.
  2. State associations and maker spaces – There are a number of associations and networks that provide a forum for interaction with other young entrepreneurs. If you are in a highly populated area, odds are there is an association or maker space located near you as these entities have proliferated in recent years.  If you are in a more rural area, search for regional or state organizations and get connected with them.  The network has value.
  3. National associations and networks – At the national level there are a number of associations and networks for young entrepreneurs including:
    1. Youth Biz 
    2. Young Entrepreneur Council
    3. Young Entrepreneur Academy 

In addition, there are lists of national and international organizations for teen and young adult entrepreneurs.   Teen Business is an informative website specifically for teen entrepreneurs.

As we look back on our experience, as a young entrepreneur, Joshua was always a bit isolated from a normal teen life.  While he was a likeable person with a good personality, his interests and priorities were different from his classmates.  He wasn’t involved in many extracurricular activities because most of his time outside class was spent working on his company or other products and projects.  Once he stopped playing basketball and soccer, making things became his sport.

For Joshua, his situation improved when the legal matters were finally settled and he was able to move in with some of his high school classmates who were in college.  That restored his sense of independence and the company could finally move forward again.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Being a young entrepreneur can be exciting, but also lonely at times.  You are only alone if you want to be.  Don’t let yourself become isolated when you are surrounded by resources.  Reach out, get the support you need and stay engaged.

4 Keys to Managing Business Relationships for Young Entrepreneurs

4 Keys to Managing Business Relationships for Young Entrepreneurs

Relationships

We spend much of time in the entrepreneurial space talking about products and technology, but not as much time on the relationships that are required to make it all happen.  As entrepreneurs, how we initiate, develop and nurture these relationships matters.  Amazingly, it is not all about us.  With few exceptions, there is no product or company without people.  So what do we need to know to manage these relationships?

To get a product to market and have people or companies spend their hard earned money to buy it takes vision, a tremendous work ethic and people.  The founder can provide the initial vision and sweat equity but at some point he/she will need other people for co-founders, connections, advice, mentoring, product development talent, vendors, operational support, etc . . .   The thing is, while a few of these folks will be transactional relationships to gather information or buy a component, most will require some sort of meaningful relationship for them to provide what you need.  So here are a few suggestions for developing these relationships:

  1. Relationship building is a 24/7 activity. Does it make sense that someone you’ve never paid any attention to, and doesn’t know you, is going to spend their time to help you, especially if you expect them to do it for free or to give you some sort of special deal?  NO!  Their time is at least as valuable as yours.  Respect that.
  1. Investing your time in people is inefficient. Getting to know people, and letting them get to know you, takes time.  Will you need to attend meetings and events that turn out to be relatively unproductive regarding networking and relationship building?  ABSOLUTELY!  DO IT ANYWAY.  You cannot predict, with any level of accuracy, where those inefficient activities may lead.  Looking backward, I can say that serendipity, fate and luck are all elements in the equation of success . . . and we can’t control any of those variables.  Some of the people with whom I have the most valuable relationships were placed in my path seemingly by accident.  Life is funny that way. 
  1. Digital media is no substitute for face-to-face conversation. Many young entrepreneurs who have grown up using social media for the vast majority of their communication may consider this ridiculous.  Social media, email, and texting are tools for communication and, like any tool, have their place depending on the content, timing, and complexity of the conversation.  A conversation may begin with digital communication, but it is challenging to sustain a meaningful relationship, especially with an advisor or mentor over 35 years of age, with digital communication alone.  A meaningful relationship, one that may yield inner circle connections, investment, access to talent, or special favors, is personal.
  1. Give before you get. Many of us in business target people with whom we want to develop a relationship because we believe they have something we need.  Instead of our introductory conversations being all about us, why don’t we make our goal to listen and learn all we can about the other person?   As we learn about their history and interests, we learn more about how to engage and serve them.  This is a process that takes time and at least a few visits.  Again, the time to start a business relationship is not at the point of transaction when we need something.  It starts weeks, months or years before by giving, not taking.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Getting begins with giving.  Giving your time to listen and learn about a person starts well before you get the information, service or contact you need from them.  Seek first to serve and connect.  The rest will generally take care of itself.  Meaningful business relationships require thoughtful, continuous investment.