Insane Growth Podcast Ep #7: What I’ve Learned About Being A Dad And An Entrepreneur

My two biggest focuses in life are building great businesses and being the world’s best dad for my two beautiful girls. In this episode I’m going to share the 6 lessons I’ve learned over the years that have helped me continue to work hard on my businesses while still being present as a dad. Those lessons are:

  1. Spend your 20s building wealth so you can be present as a dad in your 30s
  2. It’s all about work-life integration, not work-life balance
  3. Figure out what your wife would like her typical day to be like and make it happen
  4. Fit the kids into your schedule, not the other way around
  5. Be around as much as possible for their formative years (their first 5 years)
  6. Keep your perspective on what really matters

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Okay, hey hey, Mitch Harper here, welcome to episode number seven of my Insane Growth podcast, which I’ve called What I’ve Learned About Being a Dad and an Entrepreneur. What I want to do in the next 10 or 15 minutes is really spend a bit of time just sharing with you guys some lessons that I’ve learned from friends, from reading a lot of books, from trying a lot of different things, essentially about how to combine my love of being an entrepreneur, of building companies, and my love of being a present dad or father, which are two things that are really important to me, that my entire life revolves around.

When I was growing up … I didn’t talk much about my story publicly, but you know, domestic violence, abuse, drugs, things like that, from my dad and my step dad when I was growing up, so really that set me on the path of doing everything I could to become an amazing dad. Saw all these things when I was growing up that no kid should ever have to see, and that built resilience in me and made me just know that when I was a man, when I was married, when I was older, when I had kids, I wanted to be the dad that I didn’t have. That’s driven a lot of motivation in me to, to be successful, for lack of better term, to work my ass off to do everything that I needed to do to make sure, number one, that I could have everything that I wanted and to make sure that when my wife and I brought kids into the world, that they could have … not everything they want, it’s not about spoiling the kids, but that they could have a foundation where both parents are present, where they never have to want for anything, and where they’re brought up in an environment that’s safe, fun, educational, and everything like that.

That’s really what I wanted to share with you, some of the tips and strategies and everything that I’ve learned over the last few years now. I’ve only been a dad for almost four years. My oldest daughter turns four in a few weeks and we also have a one-year old, or more specifically a 15-month girl, 15-month old girl as well. Two girls here, the boss has said we’re not having any more kids so I’ll respect her decision, but yeah, two beautiful girls.

When I reflected on the things that I’ve learned and the things that have worked well for me as a dad … there’s also a lot of things that didn’t work that I’ve tried. I see being a great dad in the same way that I see running a company. You try a lot of different things, some things work, some things don’t. So essentially split testing being a dad.

A few lessons that worked for me that I wanted to share with you now, the first one really has nothing to do with being a dad. It’s the advice that I give all 20-something year-old guys, and you know, girls, right. That advice is to spend your 20s essentially getting rich and covering your ass financially so that you can be present as a dad in your 30s.

Most 20-year-olds, anyone that’s 21, 22, 24, 25, they’re probably not thinking about the next decade. They should be, because you can do some things in your 20s — you can work crazy hours, you can work 20 hours because you have no commitment. You’re not married, probably; you might have a girlfriend which is fine, you see her a few times a week. You don’t have kids, so there’s nothing that you have to deliberately be present for that can pull you away if you like from building your business.

That’s the first bit of advice that I will give you. If you’re in your 20s, and I know most of my audience are kind of like me, in their 30s, in their 40s, men, married, kids, but if you’re in your 20s and you don’t have a wife and you don’t have kids, then definitely think about using your 20s as a way to work more than you ever will in the rest of your life. Go and work 18-hour days, 6–7 days a week, because that’s the wealth-building period, where you can actually set yourself up so that in your 30, when you do have kids, which is when most people have kids, you can take some time away. You can maybe work part-time for a few years while your kids are born and get all the time with them. That’s the first bit of advice I’d give if you’re in your 20s listening to this.

The second thing is work-life integration, not work-life balance. I’ve spent a lot of time writing about this. I teach this to all the various founders that I mentor and the companies that I invest in. What that basically means is instead of trying to kind of box out your life or box out your day where work during these times and then this time is for family, that’s never realistic. It never really happens that way. Stuff’s always going to pull you in different directions. I’d try and treat events with my wife and my kids in the same way that I would treat things in my companies.

The one thing I write a lot about is if I have a meeting scheduled with someone in a work context in my calendar, I would never delete it, skip it, and miss it. The same thing for me in my calendar. If I have something with one of my daughters, with my wife, I’d treat that with the same priority I would if I was meeting with a client, a partner, an investor. I never skip it, I’m never late, etc. I’d turn up on time and I’m present.

A typical day for me. This is something I write down more just to give you guys an idea of what an integrated work-life day might look like. I’m normally awake at about six o’clock in the morning. Some days it’s earlier, having two kids under four, some days it’s five o’clock, five thirty, I’m sure you guys know what I’m talking about if you’re the same with young kids. Six to seven, normally breakfast and playing with my girls. It’s getting warmer here in Sydney now so that could be the trampoline, that could be the spa, that could be the pool out the back, that could just be running around and kicking a ball.

Seven o’clock for me is shower, thinking about my goals for the day, writing them down, and spending some time getting clarity of thought. I don’t meditate, I don’t do affirmations or anything like that, but I will, normally for me in the shower or as I’m shaving or brushing my teeth or something, I’ll really just stop and think about where my mind is at, and I’ll try and make sure that my mind is focused on getting an outcome or result for the day which is based on the goals that I write down.

Normally about 7:30 I’ll head into the office. Eight o’clock everyday, whether I work from home which is where I am now, or whether I’m in an office, I’m always at the desk by eight o’clock. Non-negotiable, every single day, no matter what. That’s just how I am, and I like to start at about eight. Normally, about three o’clock a few days a week, I pick up my oldest daughter from school. I’m back in the office by about 3:30, stop at about 5:30 for dinner, kids’ bath, bedtime and everything like that. By 7:30 the kids are back in bed, so I have some time with my wife, or I might have some friends over, go out to dinner, whatever it is, have someone come over and look after the kids, and then at 10 o’clock I’ll normally get back into it, so I might do some more work.

What I tend to find that works well for me at night is lots of YouTube. Lots of learning, lots of listening to keynote speeches, lots of watching podcasts … I’m not much of a podcast listener but I do like watching podcasts. Then I’m normally in bed by about … anywhere between 11:30 and kind of 12:30 at night. I tend to sleep for about six hours, and that works for me. I don’t need a lot of sleep. I know some people say you need eight or nine hours sleep. I get by really easily on five or six hours.

That’s kind of what a typical day looks like for me, integrating picking out my daughter from school, integrating being there for family dinners and bath time and breakfast and talking with my kids and my wife, and still getting work done but not working for a long stretch, and then doing the family time. It works well for me in terms of context, which … and there’s normally gym in there at about 11 A.M. or 12 o’clock in the day as well.

A lot of what I do may not be practical for you, but it’s more about the principle of integrating your work with your life, not boxing them off separately because that never works. So that works really well for me, that means that everyday … if I look at what I’ve written down here, when I was preparing to record this podcast, I’m spending, at a minimum, three hours with my kids. I know there are people like Gary [Vaynerchuk 00:08:22] who might see their kids for an hour; Grant [Cardone 00:08:24], maybe 45 minutes a day. Three hours works for me. I’m a present dad. One of my life’s goals is to be an amazing father, and also an amazing husband. I see that as equally important as building my companies. Yes, I want to build companies and help a lot of people through their businesses and employ great people and make a lot of money, but that’s all pointless if you have a family and you have kids that don’t know you, that don’t respect you, that you don’t ever talk to. That’s my personal view.

Now, the next thing I wrote down here, which is really important, is to figure out what your wife would like her typical day to be like and make it happen. Really, really important here. If you want a cohesive, happy relationship with your wife, you both need to be on the same page about what parenting means. You really need to understand her aspirations, and when I look at my wife and when I look at the wives of my friends and everyone else, they kind of fall into three different camps. There are some women who love to look after the kids all day, everyday. That’s their life purpose, that’s their passion, they love it. There are some wives that need a balance. They want to look after their kids some days, they want to go to work some days. Then there are some wives who just love work. Of course they love their kids, but maybe they’re just not wired that way to spend all day or even a few days a week with them. This goes for me, as well. I’m not being sexist here, I was a stay-at-home dad for the first 12 months of my first daughter’s life, I love it. This works either way, but I know most of my listeners here are men, so I’m speaking that context now.

For me, my wife loves a mix of the kids and also work, so we have a nanny coming into the house two or three days a week, and during those two or three days, my wife goes to work. That works really well for her, and the other two or three days, she’s with the kids or at least with one of the kids. I think the important thing is that being an amazing dad means you’re part of a team with your wife, so you need to make her amazing as well. If her average day ends her being frustrated, being tired, not making progress on something that’s important to her, then you fellows probably know, you’re going to wear the brunt of that. She’s going to take it out on you. So I see it as my job to enable my wife to have a great day everyday, and that’s to figure out what she wants to do everyday that makes her happy. I’m a big believer in that, and in providing what she needs to help her do that. That was the third tip, so figure out what your wife would like a typical day would be like and make it happen.

The next thing I wrote down that I wanted to talk about is fitting the kids into your schedule, not the other way around. One of my closest friends, we’ve been friends for about 20 years since high school, gave me that tip when my first daughter was born. It really changed how I thought about being a parent. The main idea is really that you don’t hold back on doing the things that you want to do because for example, your kids are on a nap schedule, or want to be, for lack of a better term, dragged around. You take them with you so they can experience the things that you want to do and that your wife wants to do in life. No one wants to sit at home waiting for their kids to wake up from a nap. No one wants to do the same routine every single day where you isolate yourself from society just to look after the kid. You’ve got to integrate them into your life.

I think one of the best ways we’ve don’t that is with travel. I’ve spoken before that we’re in Maui two or three times a year, Fiji two or three times a year, mainland US, once or twice a year. We do a lot of travel. My wife had a friend, Justin, and he basically told her before we had kids that him and his wife at the time just took the kids all around the world, and it’s one of the best decisions they ever made. Her cousin did the exact same thing. I think they’re living in Vietnam now. They’ve lived in Africa, they’ve lived in Australia, they just moved around all the time.

I had that idea in my head that you know what, when we have kids, and this was five or six years ago, when we have kids, we’re not going to be that husband and wife that I see everyone do. It’s not right or wrong, it is what is is. They say you know, “We’re not going to travel for the first five years while our kids are little. It’s too hard to fly. It’s too hard to get organised.” Yeah, it’s hard as hell. We just got back from a three-week trip around the US — LA, Vegas, and Austin, which I spoke about on last week’s podcast, and our flight back from LA was 18 and a half hours. It’s normally meant to be 14 or 15, so it was delayed, we were on the runway for two or three hours. When we landed in Sydney, there was another delay, someone was sick, so we had to stay in the plane, so it was an 18 and a half hour flight back.

It was tough. Yes, we were on the front of the plane, so we got beds and the girls slept and everything, but man, 18 and a half hours on a plane with a three-year-old and a one-year-old will send anyone insane, right? But the thing we realised, my wife and I, is that you don’t remember those bad flights, you don’t remember how hard it is to get to the airport and drag all your luggage, and even if you have help, right, you remember the fun things. You remember the memories of the trip. You remember the happy times, and then you want to go on another trip.

Not holding back on living life, fit the kids into your schedule, it’s how you make them worldly, it’s how they experience new cultures, new foods, they meet new people. They come out of their shell. A big thing we do on holidays is make our oldest daughter pay the bill or pay the check in the restaurant. I’ll give her my credit card and she’ll have to walk up to the host and hand them the credit card and say thank you and all that kind of stuff. It’s to build confidence. We do that in all the restaurants all around the world wherever we go to, to give them that perspective, to bring them out of their shell.

The second last thing that I wrote down is to be around as much as possible for their formative years, which is the first five years. Time flies. You probably know this. Think about five years ago, what we’re doing five years ago. That five years has probably flown by, I know it has for me. The big thing that I always think about is will we be happier in five years from now if … let’s say you’ve just had a baby. Will you be happier in five years from now with more money or by investing more time with your kids?

I’m a big believer, whether it’s a core business, a new business, you can always make more money. Money is an infinite resource. The time you spend with your kids and the time that they’re in their formative years, the first five years, is finite. You can never get that back. For me, in a way it comes to hard decisions, such as do you go to their ballet recital or do you go into the office and meet with a client? My view is you should always make the decision that positively affects how your kids perceive you. Just my personal opinion, because they’ll remember that. If you think back to when you’re younger, what do you remember about your parents coming to your big game or your ballet recital or … you’re probably not at a ballet recital if you’re a guy, but you remember when they were there for big things that mattered to you.

I don’t want my girls to look back on those big moments for them … they do ballet and swimming and piano and dance and all that kind of stuff … and remember that mum was there, but dad wasn’t there. That would break my heart as a parent. Even if it’s hard, I always make the decision to go for the event or the outcome that my kids will remember as opposed to a business outcome. 100% of the time. It hasn’t always been that way, but when I look back on making those decisions and I reflect, it was the right decision every time, even if it was hard in the moment.

The final thing I wanted to talk about was keeping your perspective on what really matters. It takes 7–10 years to build an important business. It takes a lifetime really to create a child that, let’s be honest, we want them to be how we think we should be. We don’t want them to be how we were, in most cases, growing up. You and I, we’ve probably done a lot of things we’re not proud of. We don’t want our kids to do those same things. It’s all about putting them on the right path and helping them avoid the things that we may have done or got caught up in and everything like that. The more time you can spend with them early on, the more you’re going to shape their view of the world, their self-confidence, especially if you have daughters.

One of the best things I’ve ever read in “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters,” which is a great book I was recommended a few years ago, is even if you just spent time everyday with your daughter or daughters watching television, even if you just sat next to them on the couch watching TV, that has the same effect on their self-confidence and their positive emotions around how they see themselves as if you were sitting with them doing their homework or out running around with them or really deeply engaged in conversation with them. That was something that was really interesting to me. I’m not saying sit with your daughters and watch TV, that will rot their brain, but it is interesting that … basically that book said you don’t have to try too hard as long as you’re present, as long as they feel your presence, that’s going to have a massive impact on their self-confidence and they see themselves as they grow.

I’m sure you know as well as I do, there’s a lot of crap in the media [inaudible 00:17:46] Kardashians. That kind of stuff does my [inaudible 00:17:49]. For me, if either of my daughters ended up anything like the Kardashians, I’ve failed as a father. The mother is important as well, not denying that, but what this book says is the impact only we can have as dads is transformational on how our daughters end up growing up. That’s probably a book worth reading, “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters” I believe it’s called. Really great book.

That’s pretty much what I wanted to talk about today, the lessons that I’ve learned being a dad and being an entrepreneur. This is is just what’s worked for me. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m not saying do everything here, I’m not saying how you approach things now is wrong, it’s just what’s worked for me and I wanted to share that with you.

A little bit off topic, but I believe if you want insane growth in your business, you need to have balance, and you need to take care of the areas of life that are important to you. I’m not going to be the guy, I’m not going to teach you how to be the guy that has millions of dollars that never sees his wife, his kids really hate him or dislike him. That’s failure to me. Take all the money. Take all the money away from me that I’ve earned over the lat 15 years and give me kids that love me, respect me, want to hang out with me, [inaudible 00:19:02] for a wife. That is worth more than money. As I said, money is an infinite resource. You can always go and make more money. There’s always problems to solve, companies to start, etc. Your kids, especially during those first five years, those formative years, you can never get those years back. Doesn’t matter how much money you have.

That’s probably what I’ll leave you with at the end of episode number seven. Thanks for listening, I hope you found value. If you do like the podcast that I’m doing, please go on iTunes and leave me a five-star review. I read every single review that I get. I’ll come at you next week. Thanks for listening, I’ll talk to you soon. Bye.

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About Mitchell Harper

Mitch is a 7x company founder, advisor and investor. He is best known as the co-founder of BigCommerce. His companies have generated over $200,000,000 in total revenue and he is currently building an online education company and a SaaS company.

Read his story or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.