The story of overcoming adversity as a new business owner… the story of facing fear square in the face when starting your own company… the story of a young worker quitting her job to pursue her dreams with little money and everyone laughing in her face…
These are important stories.
True stories. Stories of real courage. Stories that need to be told over and over again…
But what about the stories of those who SUPPORT the dreamers?
Why don’t we hear more about them?
In 2010, my husband and I set to work living on our own terms. This meant quitting our jobs and setting up shop – beginning several businesses and testing them out, some succeeding and some failing, until we finally came to one idea that we really cared about. It was a tech startup idea- an online service that we believed was important. Because neither of our backgrounds were computer science or programming, we really needed an unconventional plan to make this idea a reality.
With a small amount of investment financing, we decided to move to the tech hub of Europe – Berlin – and build this product ourselves from scratch. We’d learn programming on our own as we went. In order to successfully bootstrap our startup, we needed a cost effective plan. We decided to ask my husband’s parents if we could move in with them until we made it work.
For context, we’re both in our 30’s and we have two cats. The standard response from most parents would be: stop dreaming and go back to your real job.
But the response from my husband’s parents was anything but standard.
We never anticipated the tremendous amount of support and love we received from them after they said yes. Their support is the real story of entrepreneurial beginnings that rarely gets told
The following interview is a look into the mindset of a woman who has unconditionally supported her son’s entrepreneurial startup endeavors, a story that should be heard.
A story that needs to be told:
What is your definition of courage?
Leaving my homeland and creating a new life in a foreign country is definitely one of the things that come to mind first, because I did that in my own life. Another story that comes to mind: I remember in my old apartment on New Year’s, a rocket fell onto our balcony. I was the only one in the family who was able to deal with it when everyone else was in panic. I simply went outside and put a blanket over the rocket and the fire went out and it did not explode. But everyone was scared in the beginning.
I just realized I wasn’t scared myself.
Always in the back of my mind, I wanted to show off if I felt I was doing something courageous. I have this tendency to want to take care of everyone around me, and in doing so, I forget about what most people might be scared of, and just face it head on myself. Even when I was a little girl in school, I would be the only girl who could squash the intimidating insects with my bare hands. I guess for some people that can be seen as courageous.
What’s your working background?
I am an architect, but I am currently retired.
What were your first thoughts when your son made this request to move back in for his start-up company?
It’s indescribable. It’s actually very difficult to put into words! (Brief pause)
Pure happiness…Only happiness! No second thoughts, no doubts… only happiness. Mostly the reason for my happiness was just because I knew I would be spending a lot more time with him and you (me, the daughter in law.) But also because I really do believe in you both as a team and I know my son- that he’s unconventional, and that he needed to do something for himself. I am glad to be a part of that.
Once we moved in, were you scared or worried?
Well, yes. On some levels. We’ve (my father and mother-in-law together) lived in this house for 15 years alone. We had a system and a structure, and when you guys moved in, everything changed.
At first, although I was enthusiastic to let you guys do this, I was nervous about the reality of what I had done- letting you guys do your own business like that. I had moments of fear. You didn’t seem to be doing the things that needed to be done from my perspective, and there was no indicator on how committed you were or how important this “project” was to you, and I was even confused as to what you were doing, until later on. So I started to get scared.
I also noticed your unconventional schedulev- sleeping during weird hours and working all night… maybe it was jetlag from moving to a new country, but since you were sleeping during the day I couldn’t connect with you guys more and have conversations. I was also worried that you were missing all the sunlight, and this was bad for your health!
Seeing the lifestyle of self-employed people is difficult to watch sometimes!
Of course this all started to change little by little, as I was able to see the commitment, and you explained the project to me clearly, and got into a more daytime schedule. I saw the things you were building, writing, and working on, and I could see the enthusiasm with which you were talking about your project and I finally was able to relax and understand why you guys were doing this.
How is your work ethic different from your son’s/daughter in law’s?
I don’t feel like there is a huge difference because I had very similar working habits and systems, especially when I was a freelancer. I worked till 3 am and then slept all day. Sometimes I didn’t leave the house for 3 days straight… this is part of the reason I was worried about you guys, because I understood what you were going through.
Before I was a freelancer, I had a transition period. I started out working full time at an office during East German times at an architect’s office, but later I negotiated a way to work 3 days at home and 3 days at the office, and this was the best setup. When I was in the office I had the community and feedback of my coworkers- even though there are so many distractions… and then when I got back home for the next three days I was able to laser focus on my work and get a lot done. I feel like it was a really good model. Although unfortunately it doesn’t seem like to be the norm with most offices these days. I negotiated this setup because I was ready to quit but they wanted to keep me. They agreed with this schedule and working style. I was very fortunate for this.
How do you think the working world has changed in the last 30 years?
Man, so much has changed. I started working in ’73 as a young architect. I think where I see the most change (in my own profession) is in the introduction of the computer. I used to draw everything by hand. Drafting tables and tools were the norm. We drafted drawings and built models by hand.
Then I got my first computer in 1992. Then everything after that was different, changing year by year, and changing so fast after 1992. I remember it was Windows 3.1… I did use DOS for about 2 years before the windows interface was introduced. I still remember the tools and working instruments from the drafting days. After the computer, a lot more work was done, faster, by less people. I saw the change with my own eyes. It was incredibly interesting to see. I also saw a lot of architects resisting to using the computer at that time.
Are you interested in the technology startup world?
Only to the degree that you guys are working on a start-up. (Laughs)
It doesn’t seem to reach us…I mean, my age group and generation. I realize that I am using Windows, Microsoft and the internet. I see those more as established companies… not start-ups. The new start-ups seem so far away for us, especially the things on the smartphones. I don’t imagine myself using those things. I guess in my mind I don’t make the clear connection with these things I use, with the idea of a “start-up.”
In your opinion, do you see any value in working in such a start-up/your own business?
This is a difficult question. I can’t really evaluate. I believe that you’re doing something important, but I can’t judge what that means in terms of technology, the future and what start-ups will mean more into the future. I don’t think it matters if it is a tech startup or your own brick and mortar business. I think what matters is that you pursue this idea if you feel like this is what you need to do in life. Nobody should block you from that… And in the end, how can that not have value?
When your child didn’t pick a typical profession like architect or doctor, and decided to start his own business and learn programming, how did you feel about this?
I felt like it was really positive, a good choice, and I believe this is the future. I believe it is the right thing to do right now, which is why I stood behind this choice 100%.
Why do you think you are so open-minded about tech and entrepreneurism, as compared to some other people in your generation/other parents?
I can only answer for myself and my husband because I don’t know that other parents are not as supportive of their children starting their own companies… maybe that’s true! From my point of view, it’s probably related to the fact that we have a lot of education, we come from very creative families with artists and other unconventional careers, and finally of course that we use the computer very intensively even now and that’s probably not typical for my age group. This is because we used to computer a lot when we were working full time as well- as architect and my husband as an engineer. These days we use the computer and the internet for everything from travel to reading the news to communicating with our kids and designing logos (a new hobby of mine).
I don’t like the idea of comparing parents. Every parent is different because they are all people- not thinking of them as parents but individual people with very diverse background and life experiences. I don’t see why it’s not possible- as a parent- to support your kids being entrepreneurs, even if you don’t know anything about the internet or computers or online businesses… because there are many other ways to give love and support to your kids even if you don’t agree with them.
What was your most important priority when raising your children- that they gain an understanding of?
I never really thought about it in that way, but because I am a human I know I did influence my kids. I can’t put it into words, but however I represented myself to them as a person, I know I must’ve projected onto my kids. Besides that I never tried to give them some kind of doctrine or philosophy of learning. I actually was also really busy working and never had the time to plan those types of things out!
Do you believe we will succeed in our current endeavor?
Yes. I do. Because I can see the passion in what you’re doing. When I see you guys working hard every day, it gives me what I need to believe and understand the value in it, the future of it, and it encourages me because I can see how important it is to you both. More than what you’re working on I think it’s the how you’re working part… I think what makes me feel this is the manner in which you are working that gives me the assurance.
What makes you believe in us and our success?
I know you are a really good team, complementing each other well, and I think that means whatever you do, if you keep going at this level of commitment, you will succeed.
Aren’t you also working online, designing logos? When did you get interested in working online with logos?
Yes, I design logos for companies and small, new businesses. I’ve probably designed hundreds already. I got introduced to logo design through my sister. A lot of my families back home are into graphic design. I got into it quickly as an architect because it is very related to design, and I was able to use my skills as a designer. It used the computer, colors, design concepts, and other ideas I was already familiar with, and this was all very intriguing to me. I never had the time to focus on more graphic design work before but with this new time I was able to work on these logos. It’s fun, and intellectually stimulating (with the benefit of giving us additional side income.)
Do you think of this as a second profession?
No, I was and always will be an architect.
How do you feel about entrepreneurship, and people (like your son) taking an unconventional path in business and money-making?
I think it is very admirable.
I know it is very difficult to make your own path, be successful in business, do it on your own without a job or using the career ladder… and….(brief pause) I think it is the greatest thing you can do as a person.
Do you sometimes wish your son chose a more stable traditional path?
Yes! Of course. I think no matter how visionary your child is or is not, this is always the case because we are all human, and as parents, we wish for happiness and security for them. This is because I know it is stressful to make your own business sometimes, and it won’t be an easy path for him! Even though I support his entrepreneurial spirit right now 100%, I imagine how it might have been if he chose to live a “normal life.”
Are you in any way worried about the future of your son?
If I could answer this question directly, it would be a very philosophical one! It’s hard to answer this because my beliefs here might not be conventional. I think the way of the world is unknown. I don’t believe it’s good to waste time worrying about things that you cannot predict. You can’t predict the future and what’s possible, and what’s not possible so why try? I only believe in doing the work you believe in doing- just going for it.
You’re young. You’re at the best age. And so I think: why shouldn’t it work!? (smiles) Why shouldn’t you guys be successful? I am only optimistic about this!
I can’t judge the future but I still believe it is worth it to try it out if you have an idea. The risk is in not trying it out! There is no safe path. Honestly, if I really think about it, you don’t know when you’re going to lose your job, so having a job is pretty risky too. A company I worked at for many years went bankrupt two years after I left. If I had stayed there, what would that have meant for me? You just never know. You have to do what you have to do!
Do you feel like you’re being courageous by supporting your sons entrepreneurial pursuit?
No… I don’t really see it as courage, because I don’t see another choice. Like I said, I think this is the way of the future (to make your own path) and I do think it’s important to do something for yourself when you really want to do it, get it out of your system. This goes for anyone who is really interesting in doing this!
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Jesicka Labud is co-founder and editor at Two Non-Techies, Empowering Non-Techies to Learn to Code and Build Awesome Start-ups, and co-founder of Tipabl, a social giving platform. She’s put on hold her past life as a project manager and architect in order to pursue her dream of living life on her own terms while learning how to program.