10 Lessons I Learned Starting My Family and My Business

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I’m what you’d call a “stay-at-home Dad.” I’m also the founder and CEO of my own company.

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.

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, particularly using new media technology. I had a degree in engineering and had recently received an MBA in entrepreneurship and was anxious to put it to use. That – combined with the fact that my wife was getting increasingly annoyed with how many additional hours (to my full-time engineering job) I was spending each week pursuing these other entrepreneurial 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 (hoped) 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. 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 spend 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.  And it meant we quite simply couldn’t do some of the things we wanted to do, for the sake of doing the other things we wanted to do more. But 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.

Passion was not enough by itself, though. I also needed a good idea. And that’s exactly what we had spent the previous two years testing. flockNote worked. It served a real need. It brought in revenue. It was growing.

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 prayerfully discerned, 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.

— This article originally appeared at FathersForGood.org in a shortened form. —

25 comments Add comment

Brandon Vogt July 19, 2011 at 10:32 am

Man, this is one of the best things you’ve written. As a young, working father I found it especially compelling.

The love you have for your family is a great model for the rest of us fathers.

Matthew Warner August 19, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Ditto to you, Brandon!

Devin Rose July 19, 2011 at 10:33 am

Matthew, thanks for these insights. Can you share anything about how you found health insurance for your family, being self-employed?

Matthew Warner August 19, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Devin – fortunately, we were able to get health insurance (and still do) through my wife’s job. Once (Lord willing) she is able to leave her work there, we’ll likely have to get some independent insurance. Which, from what I’m seen, is just slightly more expensive, but not impossible and not all that bad. But I’m still learning more about that. If you have any insights in this regard as well they are much appreciated!

Angela Santana July 19, 2011 at 10:35 am

Thank you very much for this post, Matt. It means a lot to me that you took the time to write out this reflection and share it.

I hope and pray that a lot more of us involved in Catholic media will have the guts to listen to the Spirit, pray, and take the plunge into entrepreneurial work. We also have to pray that the Church will support us in new endeavors. Thank you for being a great role model.

Jared Dees July 19, 2011 at 11:20 am

Wow, powerful stuff. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Matthew. The work-life balance is such a challenge especially when you are trying to get something going on the side. Living a passionate life comes with a lot of challenges, but the reward for you and your family will surely be great. Keep up the great work and God bless your ministry/business.

Sam Alzheimer July 19, 2011 at 11:58 am

Great piece! You are so right about the challenges of running a startup, balancing family life, and trusting that God will make it work. I’m sitting here holding our fourth baby, just one day old, and somehow not fretting about all the work I need to do in the office. I’d add an eleventh point: find good advisors and seasoned partners in higher places. That’s been invaluable for us at Vianney Vocations.

Beth July 19, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Very inspirational – thank you! I am at home with 2 toddlers (that are 14 months apart) while working hard to start a business in hopes of staying home with them longer. It is a lot of work but so rewarding! Oh, and as for #9, you and your wife will find your groove being home together! My husband is a state trooper and we spent the first 5 years of our marriage hardly ever seeing each other. Now that I am home with the kids, we see each other almost all the time! It took some adjusting but I marvel at how well we work together as a team and love how much time we both have with our kids!

Martha July 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Beautiful, Matt. You couldn’t have said (written) it any better. God bless you and your beautiful family.

Craig July 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Good stuff Matthew. My wife and I were talking about all of these same things last night.

Jim Oberschmidt July 19, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Thank You! Your experience illuminates good choices when at a crossroads in life. Peace be with you. Jro

Stephanie Jenck July 19, 2011 at 11:59 pm

I, sadly, had no idea that you had your own startup company. I obviously went to check it out and it’s really amazing! I definitely just sent an email of a link to your site to my parish and college Newman center because I think they could really benefit from this great approach. Amazing!

Matthew Warner August 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Thanks so much! We need all the help we can get! I really appreciate it!

Lisa@SoundMindandSpirit July 20, 2011 at 9:18 am

Matt,
This post was exceptionally insightful and touching for me. My husband left his job to start his own business 10 years ago when we were newly married with no kids. Our story sounds very similar to yours except just a little further down the road. The passion you have for your company and faith that it is what God is calling you to do will help temper the bumps in the road along the way. Having your own business is like a roller coaster. Ups and downs and lots of prayers. Thank you for sharing. I have to send it to my husband now.

Allison Welch July 20, 2011 at 9:35 am

Hi Matt,
Congratulations on having the courage and strength to follow your passion. My husband quit his job and started his company while I was pregnant with our second son. That was eleven years ago. God has blessed us more than we could ever have imagined. I pray the same for you and your new family. Now my husband (a convert) is starting the Diaconate in the fall… We’re not sure what plans God has for my husband’s business (internet development in the furniture industry), but we’re trying to be faithful. I was wondering if you see flockNote working within a school community. Communication is always an issue there! I have been wanting to find a way to reach students outside the classroom, to share relevant songs, videos, blogs etc. with them and the school community-at-large. I’m a little overwhelmed about where/how to start (not to mention if I should!). I get conflicting messages about about using technology with youth…

Matthew Warner August 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Allison – thank you so much for sharing. And yes, flockNote certainly works perfectly within a school setting. Let me know if you need any help getting going or trying it out at your school. Peace!

Micaela Swift July 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm

very good piece. very practical and honest. God bless you and your family.

Dean Soto July 27, 2011 at 12:51 am

This was an amazing post and very humble. Thanks for sharing your entire journey.

I especially like:

“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.”

Do you think you would have been able to learn this without first starting and trying? I know that flockNote seemed to evolve over time and the business model changed.

I completely agree with Brandon that this is one of the best posts that you’ve ever written.

Matthew Warner August 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Thank you all for reading and for the kind words of encouragement. One of the best blessings I’ve received on this journey has been getting to know so many people like you!

Dean – that’s a good question. It’s not a black and white issue. And faith and prayer certainly played a huge part in the discernment process. I think, however, that basically the answer is no, I wouldn’t have been able to really learn how good the idea was until trying it out a bit. Fortunately for us it wasn’t very risky to take that first step and try. So we felt we had enough evidence to take that small risk at the time. By the time we started having kids, we had learned a lot more and were able to verify more concretely how plausible the venture was and if it was worth taking continued risks and making continued sacrifices. You’re right, it took some trial and error to finally get flockNote where it is today, and it wouldn’t be there if we hadn’t taken those first initial steps. Like most things, it’s a process and there’s a good balance of things that went in to discerning the path forward – no easy answers…that’s for sure!

Carson Weber January 7, 2012 at 8:20 am

Matt, I just read this post at 6:20a this fine Saturday morning, and it has given me inspiration and strength. Thank you.

Shea May 16, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Hi Mattie,

This was very inspirational to read. I am not religious, but this is a very inspiring post and gave me extra motivation.
You are an awesome person!

Thanks Cuz :)

Matthew Warner May 17, 2012 at 9:16 am

Thank you, Cuz! You’re an inspiration yourself! Miss you.

Oko Catherine Godwin November 12, 2012 at 5:18 am

This is Divine intervention. I actually have an intent to start a business by next year. Thank you for this insight.

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