Traditionally, family only factors into entrepreneurial discussions in the context of the holy grail of balance. However, this is problematic given the role the family plays in not only the entrepreneur's journey, but the impact parents have on their children.
We owe it to our children — and ourselves — to step back and create a plan that integrates the two. In our home, we embrace the idea that family is an essential element of our entrepreneurial life; we don’t compartmentalize the two.
After all, family is the most important upstream factor in determining your business success. Entrepreneurs who are supported by their families (financially, emotionally and at times physically) are the ones who not only survive, but thrive.
Our parents’ impact
My husband, Kai, and I were both raised by single mothers — strong women who worked hard to support their children. They couldn’t afford the risk of full-time entrepreneurship, regardless of any dreams or aspirations they might have had. They were workers, and we were raised to be workers too.
But if you grow up in an entrepreneurial family — and you learn firsthand what it means to invest in yourself — you are more likely to go out and do it yourself. And you’re more likely to be supported by your own family when you do.
In fact, Robert W. Fairlie, a professor of economics, points out that the children of business owners are two to three times more likely to own businesses than those whose parents don’t own a business.
And there’s more: When entrepreneurs work in a family business before starting their own, their businesses are up to 40 percent more successful than they would be otherwise.
Although we were raised to be workers, Kai and I knew we wanted something different for ourselves and our family. We wanted more freedom. We wanted to pursue something that was ours.
Still, early on, we didn’t have the support of our families, and because we didn’t have their full support, we turned to Corporate America to be our teacher.
When we had saved enough money and were ready to take the chance, I told my mother I was quitting my job to start a business. She was excited for me, but she also noted that Kai would need a stable job so he could support his family. Some degree of risk aversion is healthy, of course, but a high degree is paralyzing for an entrepreneur. As business owners, we can teach our children how to balance risk and make educated choices.
Yes, money matters
It’s no secret that children who grow up with access to money have an advantage: They’re more likely to grow up near great schools. They’re more likely to have college funds — and therefore, less likely to graduate college with significant student loan debt. That has a direct impact on a person’s entrepreneurial pursuits, when you consider that, according to a 2009 Kauffman Foundation study, the average cost of starting a business is $30,000.
When Kai and I were starting out, we had student loan debt and car loan debt and then took on a mortgage too. Getting “started” out of college meant we had to set aside our dreams, goals and business ideas because we couldn’t financially afford to act on them. We also wanted children, but didn’t have the means to raise a family the way we wanted to. So, we spent the first nine years of our relationship working our way out of debt and the following three years focused on creating a plan to move forward and save money.
And don’t be fooled into thinking that venture capitalists and angel investors are the saviors. Angel investors fund just 0.91 percent of startups, according to Fundable. VCs are even worse, funding a dismal 0.05 percent of startups.
So, how do startups … well, start up? For 57 percent of them, it’s personal savings, loans and credit, and 38 percent turn to family and friends.
And again, if you don’t grow up with money, it’s unlikely that your parents will be able to help fund your business today.
Our role as entrepreneurial parents
So, we know that family contributes to entrepreneurial success — through example, through moral support, through access to capital. What do we do now?
We can’t change our past, but we can change things for our children. Kai and I want independence for ourselves and for our son, and we believe entrepreneurship will lead us to the independence we seek.
Through our entrepreneurial endeavors and our focus on work-life integration, we are building a legacy for our son. As he grows up, he will see what it means to have hard-working parents — who, despite their commitment to their work, were always there for him. Because we integrate our work and family lives, he has also been exposed from a very young age to entrepreneurial ideals, and we’ll be able to naturally incorporate business principles and skills into his education, whether we send him to a traditional school or opt for homeschooling.
Through the steps we’re taking in our family, we seek to improve our son’s chances of success. And if business ownership isn’t the life he wants for himself, we are confident the skills he’ll learn along this journey will empower his success in any number of pursuits.
It’s only through the true integration of work and family that we can harness the power of these lessons and build a stronger family and thriving businesses.