• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

What To Expect When You Are Founding

ned-the-neuron-strong

Giving birth, like the first days of a company, is often remembered through rose-colored glasses.

By Jessica Voytek (Co-Founder & CTO, Kizoom)

My business partner jokes that our company is her first baby. As the mother of a 1-year old baby human and an 8-month old baby company, I can tell you there are more parallels than you might think.

The decision to start your first company, much like the decision to procreate, is fraught with uncertainty. Questions like, “am I cut out for this?”, “can I afford it?”, and “am I ready?” are inevitable. But my mother has always said that if you wait until you know you’re ready you’ll never do it. Of course some preparation is necessary, but at a certain point motherhood and entrepreneurship both require a leap of faith.

So in January of this year, my partner and I started Kizoom, a company with the audacious aim of teaching neuroscience to kids through interactive books and games. We hope to capitalize on the growing public fascination with the brain and a small but growing niche with a craving for nerd culture.

Giving birth, like the first days of a company, is often remembered through rose-colored glasses. Ask a new mother what it was like to give birth and she might use words like “excruciating.” Then ask the same woman 10 months later. Her answer is likely to change to something like “it was intense, but totally worth it.”

I’ve heard it said that mothers have to forget the gory details for the continuation of the species; the same is true for startups. Romantic notions of intrepid geniuses, hard-working loaners, and big breaks are required because the gory truth is much more mundane. There’s a lot of paperwork, lawyers, and pouring through poorly designed boring government websites to register copyrights and search for trademark infringement. And very little romance.

Once you’ve established your company you’ll enjoy a calm few weeks where everything is easy compared to its birth. You get to “spitball”, “ideate”, and use lots of post-it notes and colored markers, but then you have to start making decisions. Should we build native or use a web app framework? Should I go back to work? We should use a web app framework, that’s where our core competencies lie, and yes, I think I should go back to work, my mother did and I turned out OK (I hope).

What combination of web technologies is most appropriate for mobile app development? Should we go with home-based childcare, center-based, a nanny, or nanny-share? Backbone.js seems like a good choice, and hardware accelerated CSS3 animation is supposed to be fast. Should we conform to standard formats and compromise on features? Should we be good environmental stewards or get the plastic-filled-landfill-clogging-12-hour-super-sponge diapers?

Decisions in entrepreneurship, like child rearing, are not always clear-cut. Experts will espouse their theories but the only person who can choose a course from the often-conflicting options is you.

Then one day your baby is old enough – his immune system, like your idea, can withstand the stress of contact with the public — and you launch a Kickstarter campaign. Much like bringing your baby to a party, people will tell you how cute, charming and incredibly intelligent he is. But, unlike your friends and solicitous neighbors, your funding goals require more than kind words (ahem… wink, wink, nudge nudge).

At some point though the similarities end.

Entrepreneurship, unlike motherhood, is an overwhelmingly male occupation. Of course, many organizations, including Women 2.0, are working to change that (more female entrepreneurs that is, not more male mothers… although I say more power to any guy who’s up for the challenge).

Similarly, entrepreneurs will lament the fact that they’re always “on”, but compare a last minute feature request to the siren wail of a colicky infant and tell me which will command more attention. And of course, if your first company failed, it would be heartbreaking, but nothing compared to the loss of a child.

In the end though, children, like startups, are all about hope. They embody the dreams of their parents and the wellbeing of a nation. They delight and amuse, and often confound. The average happiness of parents and entrepreneurs might be lower, but the depth of emotion is greater: the lows are lower but the highs are so much higher. Nothing can truly prepare you to take the plunge into entrepreneurship, but the awesome responsibility of creating a tiny human certainly puts things in perspective.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Jessica Voytek is the Co-Founder and CTO of Kizoom, making an interactive activity book titled “The Adventures of Ned the Neuron”. Contribute to her Kickstarter campaign. Jessica and her business partner, neuroscientist Erica Warp, PhD make mobile games, eBooks and apps that help kids know and grow their brains. Jessica lives in Berkeley, California with her husband, neuroscientist and data blogger Bradley Voytek, PhD, and her cute, charming and incredibly intelligent son Gavin.