Event Recap: Startups and Family Life

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Photo by Tiffany Knight

On a muggy Monday night at Workbar Cambridge, an expert panel of entrepreneurs broke an unspoken taboo. These business leaders were talking about their personal lives. This ubiquitous but unseen “back end” development drove the event, “Startups and Family Life: An Honest Conversation.” While the house munched cupcakes and drank in comfort, the panel worked through the potentially awkward subject of their family lives with uncanny aplomb, and freely divulged their recipes for splitting success between home and work.

The secret,  it turns out, is that the lines of work and family have become blurred. Since the advent of the smart phone, family and business have had to share time and space like siblings in the back seat. Phones have put work into the weekend, and family into the workplace. A rigid boundary is getting hazy. Workbar’s own Bill Jacobson acknowledged that the modern business climate doesn’t need the traditional work/family compartmentalization, but can feed off each other.

“Family life,” he mused, “is like a startup. We created a business together, had a product launch- without an exit strategy- and now that my kids are eight and ten, we’re in a pretty ‘high burn’ phase of our funding.”

Bobbie Carlton, co-founder of Innovation Nights, acknowledged that we often think of business and family as an either/or proposition, that we think we have to accept “cat food and happiness, or sirloin and salary.” Instead she encouraged fostering one’s side hustle, whether through entrepreneurship or its less risky cousin, intrapreneurship. She did acknowledge that in her own life, her musician husband inspired her to follow her heart in business and embrace the family-fueled emotion that led to her own success.

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“Entrepreneur mom” and “startup mom” had the freedom to choose the hours they worked.  She continued wryly, “They can be whatever hundred hours in the week you want.” While she broke this down for the crowd, her son broke down the fourth wall from above the crowd itself. When she said she couldn’t remember the last time they took a family vacation, her eighteen year-old son lobbed the answer from the balcony, “Universal, four years ago.”

She didn’t miss a beat: “I took you out tonight, shut up.”

When the topic shifted to the feelings of guilt that sometimes plague parents while in the office, blogger Liz O’Donnell volunteered that she was almost 95% guilt free.  The author of Mogul, Mom and Maid understands that what pulls her away from home provides for it. Though she did acknowledge the truth of the maxim that one’s eulogy is more important that one’s resume. In that vein, she said that raising children correctly means, “raising good coworkers.”

Without his own children to cast doe-eyes at him, Brazilian entrepreneur Artur Sousa said he has no guilt, just exceptional pride in his blonde American wife. He followed that up with, “Don’t look at her,” as heads turned and the room chuckled.

When asked if there was anything he’d rather not talk about, Bill Jacobson confessed that he did feel immense guilt when his son’s pantomime of him was of a person typing on a keyboard, but that “once you start on this path, it’s not easy to stop.”

To an audience both listening to the speaker and texting their babysitters, the concept of “having it all” rang true when broken down like this. Part confession, part consultation, the honesty drove home the idea of why we start up in the first place.

Looking to help even out the balance between your work life and your home life? Coworking can be a healthy and professional alternative to a home office. Just click the button below to schedule a tour at one of Workbar's Boston-area locations.  Schedule a Tour

About the Author: Dave Gentry is a fan of progress and recess.  He believes in old English and new fortune cookies and answers to #davertido.

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