During the many years I've been building many businesses, I have also been building many Edelharts. I've raised six kids to adulthood. And now, as my youngest heads out into the wider world, I've come to reflect that my rich experience of parenting has had a deep, and positive, impact on me as an entrepreneur and investor.
BELIEF IS ESSENTIAL, BUT NOT ABSOLUTE BELIEF. At first blush, it might seem that a parent should have absolute, blind belief in his offspring. And I've found that true, but only to up a point. Kids aren't actually always good, always right or always gifted. And when they’re not, belief must be tempered, even withdrawn in the moment: You are a good person, but this was a bad act and I reject it; You are capable of good judgment, but didn't exercise it here and now; If you take this particular risk, you may really hurt yourself, us, your family, your community. For kids to develop as effective decision makers and interpersonal interactors, they must learn the reality of boundaries and limits. Same for startup teams. The board must love the CEO, but only to a point. The CEO must have faith in the team, but not absolutely. The successful company engenders deep belief in its customers, but not total belief; they can be stolen in the night. And the smart team knows it.
TELL THE TRUTH, EVEN IF IT HURTS. How often have you heard the parent on the sidelines praise the slow, uninterested player-child as the next coming of Pele, Bobby Orr or Babe Ruth? Or wildly overpraise that youth theater performance? Or, treat that B+ term paper as if it deserved the Nobel Prize. I have found that kids know when praise is empty. This doesn't actually boost their confidence; quite the contrary. Since this praise is empty, perhaps all praise is empty. So I have always told my kids the truth, with love, but without frills. When they were great I said so, or even when they were so-so. When they did poorly, I never said you can't do this. I said, “You realize just how much work you need to do to reach the level you seek?” Commit to putting in the work or go do something else. In some cases, they decided to pass, in others they committed to doing what it takes. Both, in my view, are wins. As an investor, I have found that CEOs who are unsparing truth tellers are the biggest winners, by far. And teams that face the realities of the market without pretense, or fear, are the ones that see the big problems and solve them, instead of ducking them until it is too late.
A LITTLE FEAR IS A GREAT THING. Humans seek comfort. We are genetically programmed that way. We don't like to be afraid, feel unprotected, operate in dangerous spaces. Overcoming these innate tendencies is the focus for Marine Corps boot camp, boxing training and marathon prep. At their core, all these systems are about forcing the mind to see the danger, the pain, the real possibility for failure, harm, embarrassment and ignominy… and then compel the body to go there anyway. Conquest comes from successfully confronting and taming fear. I have worked hard to instill this in my kids. Here's your Metro Card 12-year-old daughter, and a map. Find your own way downtown. Don't tell me you can't do it. Tell me what it takes for you to do it and I'll support you in that. All startups are born in fear. They are likely to fail. The ideas will not hold. The audience will not come. The money will run out. The best startup leaders open every single one of those dark doors, screw up their courage and look deep inside them. They face their fear. They don't quash it; fear won't ever go away. They sublimate it, they create actions that minimize it, they use it as a point of focus. In short, they translate fear into action. And their teams can feel it and respond accordingly.
What I've learned from parenting is that startups are a microcosm of life. But that isn't really surprising, is it?