Entrepreneurs Have Biological Clocks, Too - 1

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Entrepreneurs Have Biological Clocks, Too - 1
Aaron Dinin is a Duke grad and author of two books. He's also a web developer and co-founder of RocketBolt, a website plugin that automates the process of increasing online engagement. RocketBolt is in the current class of The Startup Factory.

Ask even the most disinterested technology observers to summarize the allure of building tech startups, and they'd only need a day of reading TechCrunch and Hacker News to tell you about glamorous concepts like investor pitches, multi-million-dollar raises, and nine-figure exit events [1].

In the shadow of all those things that make tech startups sexy, I'm going to argue that the Triangle startup community should promote something incredibly unsexy: Family Friendly Entrepreneurship.

I know, I know, the words 'family-friendly' don't mix well with the glorified tech startup lifestyle of ramen wages and Red-Bull-fueled coding binges. Sure, feeding a family of four on ramen still wouldn't break the bank, but who needs copious amounts of caffeine when there's a newborn to keep you up all night?

Personally, I don't have kids [2], but I do have a wife [3]. I bring her up because her move to Raleigh for grad school a couple months ago was the trigger that brought me into Triangle's burgeoning startup community. Now that I'm here, I've discovered something amazingly unique:

Every successful entrepreneur I've met in the Triangle has a family.

Let me contextualize just how unique that is. First, my company, RocketBolt, is in the current class of— shameless plug warning— AMAZING companies at The Startup Factory, so I've met plenty of area entrepreneurs. Second, I've been involved in tech startups for a decade, and I've been involved with startup communities from Seattle to New York to Philly to Austin to DC to Phoenix to Chicago to Boston, and, of course, the Valley. While I can't necessarily make any definitive statements about the family lives of every tech entrepreneur I've met in those cities, that's kind of the point.

Rarely do startup people talk about our families, especially us young entrepreneurs in the trenches building companies. When we do reference families, it's usually in hushed undertones or with a sense of defiance: "I'm here at this networking event despite my wife being in labor with triplets because I'm the most hardcore startup founder ever!"

Once, someone even advised me to remove my wedding ring before an investor pitch.

I don't mean to suggest that Triangle-area entrepreneurs end meetings by flipping through baby pictures [4]. However, more often than not, at some point in a conversation they'll casually reference a child or a carpool or a recent family vacation to Disney. The implication is clear: "Yes, I have managed to build a venture-backed company while attending my share of tee ball games where no one keeps score and everyone wins."

In the startup world, we do keep score, and not everyone wins. In reality, most of us lose. So it's in our best interest to take every competitive advantage we've got, and in the Triangle, our competitive advantage is that we can appeal to a natural human instinct for procreation.

I don't want to turn this into a debate on the merits of having a family. I definitely don't want to turn it into a debate on whether or not successful entrepreneurs can or should want to have families. I'm writing this to point out the Triangle's competitive advantage in the quest to attract successful startups.

The Triangle—Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina—is a great place to raise a family. It's got great schools, a low cost of living, world-class amenities, tons of diversity, good weather, and plenty of opportunity. As a startup community, we shouldn't just be embracing that identity—we should be selling it to the rest of the startup world.

I realize labeling ourselves as the 'family-friendly' startup community isn't the sexiest brand, and it certainly won't appeal to every tech entrepreneur. But it doesn't have to. Brands are built to attract specific markets, and a brand of being 'family-friendly' lets the Triangle attract a huge market of incredibly talented and underserved people who want the TechCrunch-inspired glamour of venture-backed startups and the Romantic-Comedy-inspired happily ever after of two kids and a dog.

I don't know exactly how many of those people exist, but now that I'm living in the Triangle, I know I feel much less pressure to hide the fact that I might be one of them.

By promoting the Triangle as a place where entrepreneurs can balance the demands of a startup life with the demands of family life, we have an incredible opportunity. Not only will we attract talented entrepreneurs with families, we'll also attract talented people in the corporate world who've spent years ignoring their startup dreams because they've been told the only path to familial bliss is by working in a '"stable 9 to 5."

Oh, one more thing. In the spirit of following my own advice, here's my message to any of you 9-to-5-ers reading this post while dreaming about startup glory during your third "smoke break" of the morning: Don't be afraid to trade your corporate cubicles for Triangle coffee shops. In addition to having free WiFi, they also serve coffee you can actually afford, even on a ramen budget.

[1] ExitEvent—the name of this website. I just got it!

[2] That I know of (zing!).

[3] The greatest wife ever because, among other wonderful things, she lets me publicly joke about siring illegitimate children without threatening divorce.

[4] That's what Facebook is for.