New Babies, Remote Working & Startups

ImpulseFlyer had been going (for me) a about a year when Jo fell pregnant and we found out very early on that there were two little individuals growing in there.

This meant some radical changes, we returned to the UK to live with my folks and I worked remotely during the last months of the pregnancy. Managed to get our iOS app shippable and launch several other features.

We’re still at the ‘scrappy’ stage meaning I’m (mostly) the entire design and tech team, so me leaving the company wasn’t really on the cards. However given our smallness and the amount of travel the other guys did already meant we were well prepared to move to a fully remote operation and give me the flexibility required to go from zero to insta-family.

Our entire product is engineered for resilience and self-service by the business. In normal operation I’ve designed our systems to involve me as little in the day-to-day operations as possible, leaving me free to work on new features and performance.

This proved invaluable during my paternity leave: nothing broke, we even launched the iPhone app the week after my paternity leave as I’d outsourced the dev work, having already completed the design.

A planned C-section meant we knew the date the twins were arriving; I even shipped some final code the evening before the main event. The first week in the hospital was a study in hysteria, high emotion and no sleep (there’s definitely a story over beers about the negative effects of the Breastapo on the shattered parents of newborns).

Then my paternity leave finished after another week, total two, meaning we had to work out how the bloody hell I was going to do my job, from home, with two new babies, to any standard at all. The short story is by being absolutely exhausted, but then again I’d probably be knackered anyway, even without the job.

The first months

The first couple of months of twin-dom were a blur of snatched sleep, doing email with one hand and feeding a baby with another at 4AM.

We even tried shifts to get more shut eye. One sleeping in a separate room and the other awake feeding/minding the twins, whether they were awake or asleep, then trade places in the middle of the night.

I managed at one point to prop the sleeping twins up either side of me and get a few hours of work done at an extraordinary time in the morning.

With twins you need as much help as you can get. We had help from my parents in the daytime during this period, meaning that before the twins had settled into a pattern of any sort Jo had help that wasn’t me - which let me free up time to get work done. With one baby it’d be easier for Jo to manage on her own for a few hours at a time, but with two you really need to man mark at key times, one on two is really tough for any significant period.

How I actually get stuff done

We’ve settled somewhat into a rhythm as the kids hit the ‘magical’ three month mark, a bit more predictable in terms of awake and asleep times and the feeding is less random. This has made things a bit easier.

All the way through we’ve strived to allow me to get a solid few hours in a block so I can actually build stuff. There’s been a lot written about ‘the zone’ and I definitely needed a few joined up hours to really make proper progress on anything. The best time for this seemed to be first thing in the morning.

I wake up with the twins, feed one with Jo and then immediately go start work somewhere else in the house. I get a few hours to make solid progress, with Jo watching the twins on her own.

Then throughout the day I get semi-regular hour or two blocks if Jo takes the twins out or if they have an extended nap, aside from my main building time it’s staying on top of email and any emergency problems.

Saturdays don’t exist, as I often work the same pattern, but I try and get one day in seven where I don’t have to do much, to let me recharge a little and only get pulled in one, kid-based, direction.

The big chunk of time is key, you can ‘maintain position’ with the snatching time amidst the chaos, but unless you can get some separate headspace to design or code you’re going nowhere.

The Benefits

I’m there. I don’t miss anything. I still do my job.

I want to be super-involved with the kids and the flexible work pattern that being remote enables means I can be involved in feeding, changing and playing and still ‘do the startup thing’ and work hard to make this thing a success.

I’ve never believed in the humble-brag, faux-bravado that ‘startups’ engender. Work hard, sure, but killing yourself isn’t going to help you or your company. However, twins plus job (with a generous side-order of moving house) has brought me as close to exhaustion as I’ve ever been.

Despite this I’m still able to do my job. And do it pretty well as the product keeps getting better. Mostly, I believe, because of the way I’d set things up before the babies arrived.

I continue not being able to ‘switch off’ from our company, but that’s part of the deal of an early stage company, but it also means I have the flexibility to dip in and out of work around the twins. Plus you have to do something with your mind as you feed them, I find it can be quite good thinking time.

I love to say “I wouldn’t have changed a thing” but let’s be honest here, every new parent could do with more sleep and a few less nights of unsolvable crying. On the work side, I’d love to have not been pulled in both directions but the days of proper shared parental leave aren’t even in place in most big companies, let alone a small startup.

Perhaps if the twins had arrived before we had a decent product up and running it might have been a different story, or if we were later stage and already running a big tech team in an office, this patched-up solution wouldn’t have worked, but for now it seems to be.


2013