It is all about the exit strategy

I posted this on Medium this week.  Thought I’d share.

IMG_2758Over the past few years, I have given this advice to founders who are in their late 20’s and early 30’s:

If you have been in a serious relationship for a long time, or are married, think about having kids now.

Then I drive home the message by saying, “Having children is not about the start-up phase. It is about the exit strategy. You do not want to be 75 when your kids go off to college.” Generally, the lightbulb turns on.

Fast-forward a few years, and more than a few of them have taken my advice. Then I have female founders come to me and say, “I have something I need to tell you.” There is a pause before the announcement that they are pregnant. My answer is always full of excitement. The next thing I say is,“When you tell the rest of your investors, I do not want you to apologize, and I do not want you to come up with a list of how you are going to manage it. I just want you to state the facts and move on with the conversation. Women have children; men can’t. You are the founder of this company, and you will figure it out, just like you figure everything else out.

I wanted to have our first kid by the time I was 30. I guess I thought that 30 was the right milestone. My husband and I had been together since college, we were married at 25, and it just seemed like the right time in our careers. We were ready for the next phase of our lives.

The reality is, there is never a perfect time to have children.Women wonder if they should be farther along in their careers, or perhaps that they won’t get any farther in their careers if they have kids too early. Yet the longer you wait, the harder it is to have kids.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Kirsten Lambertsen

    “When you tell the rest of your investors, I do not want you to apologize, and I do not want you to come up with a list of how you are going to manage it. I just want you to state the facts and move on with the conversation.”I like that a LOT.I had my first child (of two) at 41. Certain aspects would have been easier if I’d started earlier. But I do believe I had my kids at the right time for me and my spouse. I think I’m a better parent now than I would have been at 30. And I’m banking on it keeping me young 😉

    1. Gotham Gal

      Definitely will keep you young.

    2. meredithcollinzzz

      I like that a lot, too. You set the tone and the expectations. I don’t have kids, but I’ve found the conversation going around about interviewers at business conferences asking accomplished women how they manage it all rather than discussing their business accomplishments like they would with a man (even tho he has kids) to be really eye-opening. It speaks volumes about how women in business are perceived, even by other women, and it’s up to each of us to change the conversation and set the expectations.

      1. Gotham Gal

        It is up to all of us to change this conversation!

        1. meredithcollinzzz

          Exactly. It’s all very subtle, but also very powerful.

      2. Kirsten Lambertsen


  2. pointsnfigures

    Yup. We had all our kids by the time we were 31. I didn’t want to go for a trifecta of girls! It’s totally awesome now in our 50s to have kids in their 20s. We never looked at it that way when we were having them. For startups, I agree, pregnancy shouldn’t be a hurdle. The trick is to figure out how to manage the first 3-6 months. Life seems to settle into a more predictable pattern after that.

  3. Kirsten Lambertsen

    I should have mentioned that I had both my kids while running a startup. Without skipping a beat. It can be done if you have the necessary support, either paid or volunteer. I was lucky that I was able to pay.I didn’t take any kind of leave, but I honestly didn’t feel I needed it. Being my own boss meant that I was in charge of my schedule.

  4. LE

    Well I would give one exception to your advice above. Before you have kids, and I can’t stress this enough, make sure the relationship is good. Having kids and then getting divorced puts an entire extra strain on your life (financial, time as only two factors) regardless of whether you are involved in a startup or not. Better to not have kids and have them later (in a stable relationship) then to have kids and then get divorced. Of course it’s difficult to predict that divorce might happen but my guess is that there are a few people who probably knew the relationship wasn’t going to improve but still kept on thinking that it would.So the perfect time to have children really depends on how “perfect” the relationship and the bond is between the two parties.Separately, getting divorced with kids is not like getting divorced w/o kids. For one thing “the ex” (man or woman) will never leave your life you will interact with them and be around them forever and ever. In a dating or even a marriage breakup that is not the case.

  5. LE

    I just want you to state the facts and move on with the conversation.I actually have that same philosophy with many things. I typically never state why I can’t do anything that is asked of me. I just say “I’m really sorry but I can’t attend” or “sorry I’d like to but I can’t do that” without making an excuse even if I have a valid reason. [1]The reason for this is rooted in the fact that people are generally not empathetic to something that they have no close personal experience with themselves. So early on when I was in business if I was to say “sorry I am working on weekends so I can’t” people (friends family members) would then question why I had to work that way. Since I am not interested in explaining or justifying why I do something [2] and it’s not anyone’s business why I choose to spend my time a certain way.[1] Not the reason but if you make an excuse there is always the chance that someone will come up with a work around to the excuse and you will be trapped. If you say nothing that can’t happen.[2] People will always push you but will never clean up the mess if you don’t calculate correctly or spend the correct effort to do what you have to do. It will all fall on you in the end.