Startup Diary: Manifesto on Work Life Balance

Startup Diaries is a new section of our website where founders can post their startup stories in blog form, describing their entrepreneurial journey; the challenges and highlights, eureka moments, lessons learned and laughs had along the way. The idea is to build a collection of first person anecdotes from women building businesses, as a resource for other female founders. 

Our favourite Startup Diary blogs will be posted on our home page, like this one from Jo Goodson, Founder, Any Friend of Ours Ltd.

If you would like to write a Startup Diary, email our Editor for details.

In 1998, aged 34 and with no dependents, I co-founded MediaGold and ran it for 5 years with my business partner who was based in Germany. I built the UK from scratch and within 3 years we were turning over £10m on behalf of clients.

Even then I think I recognised the importance of having a work/life balance. I worked 10-11 hours a day but tried to structure things so I didn’t work after 8pm and as much as possible did not work weekends.

In 2011, I started my next business, Any Friend of Ours, an online private membership club for second home owners, recently featured in the Sunday Times Home section. By now though, life was very different. I had a husband and a son, aged 8.  I made a decision early on in my son’s life that I didn’t want to look back and regret not spending time with him whilst he still wanted to! So I knew finding the work/life balance was going to be even harder but that I had to do it.

Luckily, with the arrival of the internet and a move towards more flexible working, business has changed.

Whereas years ago people never mentioned where they were going when they went to pick up their children or watch the school play, people are now much happier to be honest about where they are going.

I work with an increasing number of highly successful women who are happy to be what the US now call ‘Mompreneuers’, juggling home and work well. 

I have two business partners and we each work from home, meeting every one or two weeks to discuss major issues but speaking on Skype much more frequently. I am very clear that I cannot be in meetings most days after 3pm but that I am very happy to speak after 7pm and well into the evening or on Saturday mornings (TV time for my son) and I do work intermittently between 3.30 and 7pm if needs must.  Admittedly, this doesn’t always work as there are many urgent meetings or networking events which take place around 6.30pm. On the flip side I can find myself needing to take a call when my son needs help with homework because it’s the only time an important contact can speak.  However, I try to make it work most of the time and appear to be succeeding.

One of the keys to being able to sustain this is the support I have at home. I don’t have to do housework (I’m lucky) and my husband is very supportive and flexible where he can be in working around the times I do have to be elsewhere. I also have a group of amazing friends who will help where required.

The other is that you need to be incredibly well organised and structured as you are jumping from one part of your life to another.

The downside of all of this is that I do sometimes feel as if my head is about to explode as I feel so overloaded, but if that’s the price I have to pay to work and spend time with my family, then so be it.

I see so many women around me who would love to work but are unable to juggle work and the need to be with their families after school. There is, of course, the option of getting a nanny for those who can afford it or want to continue working full-time, as many of my friends do. However, I do feel  that businesses need to give women (and men) choices if they do not wish to work full-time but still wish to have a meaningful role within an organisation. Rather than dwelling on the negatives of what they cannot do (less international travel, fewer meetings late in the office after work), they should focus on what they are able to achieve. Work is incredibly rewarding and the loyalty a company inspires when they do allow flexibility far outweighs the negatives of someone not being available every minute of every day….it’s not just with children where quality not quantity counts!

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a top US official, set out her manifesto for women in the Sunday Times recently and I thought I would share that with you.

  1. Having a supportive mate may be a necessary condition, but it isn’t sufficient!
  2. Establish yourself in your career first but still try to have children before you re 35 – or else freeze your eggs whether you are married or not.
  3. Make use of technology to be able to work more from home, in the evening after children have been put to bed or when they are sick, or at weekends.
  4. Think about the climb  to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope but as irregular steps, with periodic plateau(and even dips) when you turn down a promotion to spending a year or two working fewer hours to help your family situation. Count on peaking in your late fifties and early sixties rather than late forties and early fifties. After all, women live longer than men.
  5. Don’t be shy about talking about your children. This doesn’t mean expecting colleagues to coo over baby pictures, but if you’re late for work because it is your turn to drive the children to school, be honest about it.
  6. Push to make school timetables match work schedules. The present schoolday  is based on a society in which stay-at-home mothers were the norm. Yet the system hasn’t changed.
  7. Stop accepting male behaviour and male choices as the default. Women must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate their choices too.

It will be interesting for me to see how well I am able to maintain the work/life balance as the business grows and, particularly, when we raise investment.  

The NextWomen have kindly asked me to share my diary so I will keeping you posted on the ups and downs of my journey over the next few months. 

Jo Goodson started her career in and around the software industry in 1999 when she joined Broderbund as their second European employee and grew revenues from £0 to £12m in three years. She then went on to co-found MediaGold, which, with further offices and bases in France, Italy, Spain and Germany, created an entity that gave US software publishers access to the European market place. She sold that business to Avanquest in 2003 following years of solid growth and profitability. 

During 2005 and 2006, Jo acted as interim COO for Julie Meyer at investment and advisory firm Ariadne Capital.

Since then Jo has advised and invested in a wide range of companies in and around software space including Ariadne Capital, an investment and advisory firm; Indigo Pearl, a games industry PR company;  Mediatonic and Playmob. She is also a Non-Executive Director of Six to Start  who recently released the highly successful iphone app. Zombies, Run!

Jo has recently launched Any Friend of Ours: an online private membership community for second home owners looking to rent their properties within a closed, trusted network.

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