Guest Post

Entrepreneurship – The Ultimate Balancing Act

Editor’s Note: Jason Craparo is the founder and CEO of HIO Social, an app for iOS and Android that allows users to network from wherever. A graduate of Babson College, Jason won two of the institution’s top awards, the Roger W. Babson award given to the best all-around student in a given year, and the Sorenson Scholar, the award given to the top academic student. Before  he left campus, he raised $250,000 from an angel investor for what would become his networking startup.

Disclaimer From The Author: This is what’s working for us right now. It’s only working because of specific goals we’ve set. This is not applicable to everyone and is probably not sustainable long term.

I met my wife in 2009 in San Diego. We lived there for six years without children and for the most part without a care in the world. I was able to volunteer with nonprofits and local government committees. Life was great.

In 2015, Lara and I got married. We decided to relocate to the Philadelphia area. Soon after we welcomed our first child — a son. Then in 2017 we welcomed our second — a daughter, then in 2019 another daughter.

Friends and strangers alike have always joked that I must be exhausted having three children under 5 years old and running a startup. 

Many ask for advice on work/life balance. I usually don’t think about it, but it’s an interesting concept and not a topic one you find many books or blueprints for. 

Is There Such A Thing As Work/Life Balance?

What does it look like to be good at work and life? The truth is, to achieve balance 100% of the time is not practical, but sticking to priorities is something entirely doable. 

I knew when we had our first child, that I couldn’t let my career get in the way of my being a great father. 

I didn’t have a father growing up, so this was my mindset from the start. Being present was a big one because for the first few years of the company. I was the only person in the company, which meant if anything was getting done, I was the one doing it. I knew I’d have to evolve as a professional and a parent in order to be the best CEO, husband, and father I could be.

Entrepreneurship is a grind. The moment you take capital from an outside entity, your definition of success is limited to one single event in the future that may or may not happen: a successful exit (sale or an IPO).  Meaning you sell the company to another company for more money than you took in from investors, or you go public and your investors can cash out to some extent. 

The work never stops, never slows, only gets increasingly more important as you take on more and more capital, hire employees, and get your product or service into the hands of your customers. 

There are no awards for 2nd place in business. You either succeed at it or you don’t. 

A System To Balance Work & Life

I’ve worked out a system that is by no means the best, but it has allowed me to thrive at home and at work. I’ve tried all types of strategies and techniques, and failed many times to achieve this “work/life balance.” 

The system is based on priorities. Family first! In a world where the divorce rates for entrepreneurs is almost 50%, how can entrepreneurs keep their marriage, their family, and their future intact? It’s tough out there. Finances, work stress, lack of balance… they all contribute to this divorce rate. 

For the first few years, entrepreneurs don’t make a lot of money. Building a business requires you to put money back into the business, which can make spouses very uncomfortable. Likewise, many entrepreneurs get married before they start their business. 

Spouses didn’t sign up for entrepreneurship, the entrepreneur did, but the spouse ends up feeling the stress just as much as the entrepreneur. The spouse is left with the smallest sliver of time from an entrepreneur and that can easily lead to resentment. 

A Need For More Hours… How I Do It

About a year ago, out of necessity to get more hours in the day, I found the schedule that works best for my family. When we wake up in the morning, it’s breakfast, packing lunches, getting the kids dressed and ready for the day; and then dad usually does the drop offs. 

It’s a great way for me to start my day –  playing songs and laughing with my kiddos in the car and sending them off. The moment I get home, I work straight until 5pm, leaving my desk only to use the restroom and grab food, which I eat over my desk. 

At 5pm we gather the kids and I take a break from work. We all eat dinner together as a family at the table. After we eat, we play with the kids, have bath time, stories, and put them to bed. We all go to bed together… only I don’t go to sleep. 

Once my family is asleep, I head back to my office and start my “night shift.” I usually work from 9 p.m.-2 a.m., which is particularly helpful because there is no one awake and no interruptions. Sometimes it’s earlier; midnight or 1 a.m., and sometimes it’s later; 3 a. m., 4 a.m., etc., and then start back in the morning again. 

This time schedule allows me to be present with my children almost every moment they are in our home. Also, we moved my mom near us and she babysits every Friday night so my wife and I can have a standing date night to connect and enjoy each other’s company. 

It’s not perfect, it doesn’t always work out the way I’ve described: emergency meetings come up in the evenings while the children are home, deadlines need to be met, kids get sick, travel for work, etc. But for the most part it’s been working quite nicely. 

Prioritizing Not Just Family But Work

I prioritize not only my time with my family but also my attention and my efforts. 

As unprofessional as it may seem, my children sometimes make cameos on my software demos, they’ve been to meetings I’ve had with clients (I signed our biggest client while my son was sleeping in a stroller next to me in the office), they have been to investor get togethers, and of course they say hello to my team on group calls when they’re home from school. We don’t try to hide them, per se, we just have children, it’s par for the course. 

With All This Has Come Success

We’ve now raised a total of $2.5 million dollars from 11 different investors. Our team has grown from 1 to 14, with six internal sales and marketing folks and eight software developers through a partner firm. We are now one of the fastest growing event networking companies in the world. Our products are live, we have achieved product-market fit, have exclusive two-year contracts with the world’s largest networking companies and have paying customers.

The Six Simple Tips

I am confident that our business would have failed a long time ago if I didn’t do and follow the following simple tips. Here they are in order of importance. 

  1. Choose the right partner for the journey. I’m very lucky to have my wife in my life. To make entrepreneurship and children work, you need the help of a superhero much stronger than yourself. I have that in my wife, Lara, a full time Clinical Research Associate. She is the CEO of our house and the reason the system works and the reason our company still exists. You could not find a harder worker, a more loving mother, or a more supportive person anywhere in the world. 
  2. Prioritize family over work, there is no work/life balance. It’s tough… the meetings, the emails, crunching out work, building your product, selling it, marketing, networking, events, bookkeeping, producing results… people needing you constantly. I get it, but I’ve heard way too many people tell me “you’re going to miss these days” or “they grow up fast, hold them now” to let these wonderful moments with my kiddos slip away while I’m tied to a desk.
  3. Choose the right investors for the journey. I could not have asked for better, more supportive investors. My investors have believed in both the product and me from the start and they understand the grind that I go through. They encourage me, cheer me, push me, push back on me, and are always there as a sounding board and thought partner. They know I have children, and most of them have children, and they want me to be there for my kids. They themselves have a strong belief in tip #2 above. 
  4. Work your ass off. Your family is prioritized, your investors are onboard, so what now? Use the precious, finite time you have and crush your goals. Work on only the tasks that will move your goals forward. No games, no excuses, no crutches, no bitching.. just work. Work like someone’s trying to take it all away from you. People may be smarter than you, have more capital than you, be further along than you, but time is the great equalizer. No one can tell you what time to wake up, what time to go to bed, or limit how hard you work in between. It’s all you.
  5. Create a work system that works for you. I work from home – Zero commute. Everything I need right here. All our employees and partners are remote. This allows me to pull the best talent from anywhere in the world. We invest in software that helps us do our job easier and allows for face-to-face interactions. I’ve been to almost all my children’s doctors’ appointments, and every single school function from casual “cookies with dad” functions to Halloween parties and more. I never regret anything because I’m always there. Always there for my family, always there for my company. I live up to every single obligation because I commit to far fewer things these days. Which leads me to my last tip: 
  6. Say no to almost everything else. To achieve this work/life balance people talk about is a losing proposition. I recommend you don’t try. Prioritization is key, and prioritize family first. Entrepreneurs are in high demand. People want to you speak, teach, mentor, coach, attend, visit, and give. Don’t let them take from you. Do only what you can in the context of this list, and please say no to the rest. People will understand. You’ll never remember the crowd, the class, or the event. I’m a big believer in being where you need to be, and for many of us parents, that’s home. 

I no longer actively serve on any non-profit boards, no Government commissions, no Rotary Club, no service programs, no formal volunteering engagements. But I still help people all the time, both smaller and larger engagements, but only when I truly can. 

I teach at local universities a few times a year, I attend some functions when I can, and I mentor a handful of other startups when it works out and I intend to do more when my children are older.

Most of the time I’m busy with my three beautiful children or working my butt off trying to bring my company closer to an exit. 

All with no regrets.