Thursday, November 20, 2014

Startups are children; please be kind to the parents

There is a reason why you often hear entrepreneurs say something like, "I have three kids - two daughters and a startup." It's because parenting and being a founder have countless similarities. They are not identical since a startup, unlike your toddler, isn't going to bite you. And despite the biting, you don't really want to sell your child, but eventually hope to do that with the startup. Still, the comparison resonates because kids and startups are both rewarding, exhausting, exhilarating and life-changing. You never stop thinking about them, you worry ALL the time, you panic, you don't sleep - and yet, despite it all, you still have another kid and start another company.

What puzzles me is how often people lash out at founders and criticize and question our motives and decisions. Why? I have thought for a long time of writing a blog about this, and a major Twitter storm yesterday that accused us of being EVIL finally gave me the needed push.

We have given up our jobs and careers, have made enormous sacrifices, have subjected our families to financial difficulties and worries because of the crazy drive to create Of course I want to make money on this. But the real promise here is not the lucrative exit but the opportunity to change science communication. It's the opportunity to save society billions of wasted dollars every year and to speed up research.

So when someone accuses us of trying to stifle innovation and science communication, it hurts much more than any random mean Twitter comment ever should. It reminds me of the person at the park who criticizes a mother giving a bottle to her infant, "Don't you know that breastfeeding is so much better for your kid?" Why the assumption that the mother is a bad parent who doesn't care about the kid? Maybe the mother's milk never came in or she had a mastectomy. Maybe she tried her best and after two months of excruciating pain had a nervous breakdown and switched to formula.

Parents and founders need help and support, not vitriolic criticism. And keep in mind that neither parents nor founders are experts. At ZappyLab, we have degrees in math, molecular biology, computer science and business, but none in parenting or startups. That's because there is no PhD for these. We are all amateurs who learn on the job. That means we are all trying our best and we are all making mistakes.

If you disagree with what we are doing, just consider that there may be valid non-nefarious reasons for our decisions. But if you are sure that what we are doing is a mistake due to lack of experience, please do reach out and advise us. We crave feedback and help. Most parents and founders will welcome the advice.


  1. I think you guys are doing a great job! I also think that actually doing something in reality requires making some pragmatic decisions that not everyone will like, especially some of these hyper-openness types. Well, if they think they have a better way, then let them do it. Impact in this case is about helping real people do real work. It is important to keep in mind that that is the true goal here. If the ideals of openness helps you get there, well, fine. If not, then that is also fine, in my opinion. I think you have struck a good balance in this regard.