Spire Wire: The Toddler Phase of Business

Mike Gellman
Jan 15, 2019

About two years ago, after my son was born, I wrote a piece comparing having a baby to launching a startup. Now, the little stinker is well into toddlerhood and those magical days of watching life spring from nothing are a distant memory. These days, we’re dealing with tantrums, potty training, and the constant concern about whether or not we’re raising this child in such a way that he’ll become a viable human being.

This is much like what follows the startup phase in business, when the glow of new funding, initial market interest, and the realization that this is actually happening is replaced by the very real reality that you’re going to have to do what you said you were going to do. Your business has become a toddler and it’s going to need much more than a tight swaddle, a boppy, and a pack n’ play in order to thrive.

While parents have to decide whether they’re going to be authoritative or permissive, CEOs have to decide whether they’re going to be Muskian or Bezosesque. While parents have to beg, bootlick, and bribe to secure the best nannies and spots in the finest preschools, CEOs have to offer ridiculous packages and benefits to compete with FAANGs and decacorns for top engineering and design talent.

It’s a new world where everything matters and most everything is difficult. Putting a diaper on a kid is easy, but training him to regulate when, where, and how he relieves himself is a Sisyphean task. Same goes for arming a sales team to sell what, why, and how much you need sold.

Being the arbiter of how a child will communicate with others is a major responsibility. How she speaks and what she says will determine so much about what this kid will be in the future. Same thing in business. How you brand and tell your story now will affect how the company is seen and interacted with for years to come.

All sorts of big decisions abound: How much screentime/PTO do you allow? When should you schedule playdates/build partnerships? How do you stop the use of binkys and bottles/social media and fantasy sports? When do you trade the crib for a bed/the coworking space for standalone downtown digs? Will he prefer the firetruck or the dinosaur in your Amazon shopping cart/are her consumer preferences in line with the features on your product roadmap?

Then there’s my least favorite part of fatherhood — tantrums. Your kid is suddenly frustrated and can’t explain why, so he does everything he can (very loudly) to get your attention and get what he wants. This, my friends, is almost exactly what post-startup managers have to deal with on a daily basis. Employees can be like young children in many ways, and this is one of the worst.

The toddler phase in both parenting and business is a lot like learning to walk. It comes easily, but not naturally. And there are lots of missteps and falls. It’s your job to help your child and your company try and try again, erasing the failures and chasing the successes.

It’s all pretty thankless, but there are great moments. Enough, in fact, that I’m doing it again (parenting, not business). My next startup, a baby girl this time, is due in July.

With that, here’s what else is going on at Spire Digital, everybody’s favorite digital product development firm.

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