How I Started My Family and My Family Business
And 10 lessons I’ve learned along the way
By Matt Warner
I’m what you’d call a “Work-at-home Dad.” I’m also an entrepreneur in Catholic new media.
What all of that means – when you have a 4-month-old and a 2-year-old – is that I spend most of my day changing diapers, feeding babies, playing games, building things, reading books, giving baths, doing dishes, going to doctor appointments and running errands. And in between all of that I run my own startup company in an industry that, until recently, was virtually non-existent.
It isn’t exactly how I pictured it. Here are some lessons for those who are thinking of starting a “start-up.”
Lesson #1: It will probably not be how you picture it.
Rewind three years: I was 27 years old. Newly married. No kids yet. My wife and I were both well into successful careers of our own. However, I had a growing passion to do something for the Church using my skills and experience in new media technology. I had a degree in engineering and had recently received an MBA in entrepreneurship that I was anxious to put to use. That – combined with the fact that my wife was getting increasingly annoyed with how many additional hours I was spending each week pursuing my new media passions – led my wife to ask the question: Why don’t you just quit your job?
I’m not sure if she was just asking the question or giving approval, but I assumed the latter. And after a lot of prayer and thought, that’s exactly what I – I mean, we – decided to do.
Lesson #2: Have an amazing marriage. If you are married, no matter who does the direct work, starting a business is a “we” endeavor. It’s something that will test your marriage – not fix it. If you have a strong marriage, it will make it stronger. If you have a weak marriage, work on that first.
Five months after I quit, we were pregnant. Nine months later we had a beautiful baby boy. Three months after that my wife was back to work after maternity leave. We still depended on her income to pay the bills. Startups generally don’t make any money for a while.
Lesson #3: Be patient. It will take you longer (probably a lot longer) than you think to get going and turn a real profit.
Sure, we knew children were an impending possibility when I quit my job. In fact, we planned on it. But I guess we figured we would just cross that bridge when we got there.
So there I was, at work – I mean, home – with a newborn. I hadn’t yet comprehended the hit this would cause to my workday productivity. On the other hand, how many dads get to spend all day, every day with their newborn?
Lesson #4: Find the good in every challenging situation and run with it.
Work was harder. Progress was slower. But each day I brought God my “five loaves and my two fish” to Jesus and amazing things were happening.
Lesson #5: If your work is rooted in God’s plan, a lot can happen with a little.
Sixteen months later our daughter was born. Three months after that, there I was, at work – I mean, home – with a newborn and a 20-month-old. Life just got a lot harder. We weren’t to the point yet where my wife could leave her job, as all extra revenue was being reinvested into the company. And we really wanted our kids to spend the majority of their time during the day with one of us – and I was the one available. Now come the hard choices. Your time and energy are scarce resources. I decided that for my new company (flockNote.com) to be successful, it was time to do some prioritizing.
Lesson #6: Be prepared to make tough choices and sacrifices.
Between my marriage (always my top priority), our kids (our top priority together) and this company, there was simply no way to do much else in life and make it work. So it was either give up or make some sacrifices with how I spent my time. That meant getting honest about time spent online, emailing, watching TV, playing games, hobbies or doing anything else that wasn’t directly contributing to my primary goals. It sounds extreme. It is. But it doesn’t mean we didn’t have any fun or enjoy life. It just meant we had to be smarter and more deliberate about it. Going through this process actually helped us enjoy life even more because it led us to value each moment of our day like we should – as precious.
Lesson #7: Live modestly. Doing so will free you up to do some extraordinary things that most people simply never have the option to even consider. This applies to your spirituality, too. But it was still tough. There were, and are, days when I wonder if it’s worth it. If I wasn’t so passionate about flockNote and what we are going to do with it in the Church, I would have given up a long time ago.
Lesson #8: Whatever you do, make sure you’re passionate about it. Life is too short to spend it working really hard on something you’re not passionate about. And if you’re not passionate about your new business, you probably won’t make it through the difficult times anyway.
Lesson #9: It doesn’t matter how much passion you have if you don’t also have a good, practical idea. An idea that you’ve tested rigorously, calculated the risks and carefully planned your path forward.
Starting a business is risky, of course. But so is not starting one. So is staying still. So is everything we do in life. The key is to weigh your options, calculate the risks and make informed, smart decisions. Your family deserves no less. Too many people take careless risks with their family’s future based solely on a gut feeling or passion. That’s just lazy. And they rarely succeed.
So are we succeeding? On many levels, yes. And there were a lot of failures that led to that success. We’re expanding, investing further in flockNote and doing some really exciting things in the coming year. We have every expectation this adventure will continue for a long time. And we hope to have my wife working at home in the near future, too – Lord help me (us). That said, success is not really the goal anyway.
Lesson #10: “God doesn’t ask that we succeed in everything, but that we are faithful.” – Mother Teresa
Do I believe God has amazing plans for our family? Absolutely. I also know that it might look differently than I expect. And I know that if I’m faithful, then it will end up successful and fruitful in more profound ways than I ever could have imagined myself.
And that’s the power and beauty of God’s plan. In the end, you’ve got to use your head as far as it will take you, and then you’ve got to just be faithful. God will do amazing things with the little you give him – especially if you give him your best.
Matt Warner is a Catholic husband, father, tweeter, blogger and entrepreneur living in Texas. He is the founder of flockNote.com and his personal blog, FallibleBlogma.com. Matt is also a featured blogger for the National Catholic Register at NCRegister.com. He has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Texas A&M and an M.B.A. in Entrepreneurship.