Brad, I think a large part of the problem is pretty easy to understand. My wife and I both work at different startups; last night we were both at work pretty late. She didn’t finish up until around 10:30; I got done an hour or so before her but kept working for a while. We don’t have kids, but this lifestyle is not going to be possible when we do. Our highest performing women tend to marry high performing men (in my case I got lucky with my wife…). Since the burden of taking care of kids tends to fall on the woman, and since our best and brightest women are marrying men who have similar hard working lifestyles, something has to give. And it is usually the women’s careers.
I wish this didn't hit so close to home.
To date, I've turned my back (willingly) on one marriage and one relationship (so recent it still burns) to try and build the things I think need to be built for health.
The time constraints with startups are only one part of the problem though, whether you're male or female.
The emotional and mental rollercoaster that leads to Provigil use, drug and alcohol abuse, and lack of caretaking (of oneself, of one's relationship) is entirely another.
Even if you are stable, self-confident, smart, and well supported (financially, socially), these peaks and valleys can eat you (and everyone around you) for lunch.
My most recent relationship was with another highly intelligent, highly driven, highly successful Silicon Valley tech founder, so perhaps that high performing to high performing part bears closer examination.
Ironically, when asked to 'put a relationship first' (and this is waaay before having kids) I think the problem is that most male entrepreneurs won't, and most female startup founders WILL (unless the guy is also your cofounder).
Except, I will not - at least not yet - and that means my relationship ended.
We women fold. We think "what the hell am I doing this for?" or "what the hell (and who the hell) will I have if I fail?"
I'm guilty of this too. This morning I spent an hour on the phone with my sister, who has one kid under 2 in the house and another on the way.
I'm wondering if I will have time for that after doing a startup so late. I'm wondering if I'm not making a safe choice here. Guys can always reproduce later, but my clock ticks down earlier.
The ugly truth is you just can't have it all - except in the VERY rarest of circumstances and relationships.
I should know how this feels. I'm staring at this choice RIGHT NOW.
And it's not great timing, let me tell you.
In the midst of applying to YCombinator, meeting VCs every week, building out getupandmove.me for other health and wellness uses, and realistically looking at my options if Andrey and I DO NOT get into YC.
He'll be fine - as the engineering side of our team he can go work at Google.
I, however, would probably need a quarter brewing coffee somewhere to recover and figure out what to do next.
I've got waay more than the 'qualified but female' founder strikes mentioned by most of these well-intentioned but near clueless writers against me. I'm not from 'here.' I grew up on the east coast.
I didn't go to Stanford. I went to a small liberal arts college and have a degree in English and a minor in Gender Studies.
Not only am I an unpedigreed, first time (at 30, Jesus) female founder of a tech company, I am a non-tech, non-CS founder who doesn't code.
What I'm trying to share, I guess, is that it's just never a damn convenient time for a woman to become an entrepreneur. And there are always more disadvantages than advantages.
But isn't that true of entrepreneurs in general?
If you're going to start something, and take the risk, timing doesn't matter that much anyway - other than your ability to judge the market, opportunities, and grab at a change in the wind.
But I will agree all around that with both parents engaged in startup life it seems near impossible to me to contemplate things working out in a healthy, well-balanced home.
Startup founders are by nature self-engaged to the point of alienation, and sometimes even injury, to those around them.
We're obsessed with our code, with our concepts. We're obsessed with cracking the closest benchmark of success (traffic, funding, etc) and then moving right along to the next one.
Unless you're in a relationship, where instead of a Venn diagram with three sections (you, me, our relationship which overlaps in the middle), you've got 5 (you, your startup, me, my startup, our relationship).
Needless to say, things get, ah, rather complicated. There's only so much emotional, spiritual, and mental energy in a person, and I'd say these energies are markedly decreased by startup life.
In my last relationship, I'd wake up, leave bed, do an early morning scrum call for hands2gether, our forthcoming mobile app built in partnership with a large US health insurer, make coffee, clean the kitchen, do some more work, and then go back in and cuddle with my boyfriend until he was ready to wake up and go get something to eat.
We'd blow about 3 hours of eating and talking time before I'd usually start another afternoon work session.
Because he was often up til 2 am coding or doing his night-owl schedule, I'd struggle to stay up, often falling asleep in a sitting position trying to pay attention to some movie we were watching on iTunes.
Why am I sharing this? Because it sucked. Hard core. It is not healthy nor sustainable.
And what sucks worse is that this will most likely happen again, at least if I want to be in a relationship rather than just doing some casual dating that satisfies certain, ah, indelicate needs.
The tradeoffs I choose to make as a result of doing this NOW being so ruthlessly non-traditionally prepared are legion. And I'll most likely choose to keep making them.
Why? Because I love this. When I tried to contemplate doing something else earlier this year, I was absolutely miserable, and horribly under-productive. Healthcare, and using cool things like social games to make this better, is it for me.
Oh, if this goes south, I'll survive. Somehow I always do. Those 'adaptable' characteristics you have to have to be an early stage founder can be reapplied as 'survival techniques' pretty easily, but it sure doesn't feel good.
For all the reasons I was compelled to start Contagion, startup life draws me. But doing a startup in the Valley might also "break" me.
To survive the Valley as woman, you have to survive being ignored by a gathering of founders not because you can't hang in the conversation, or because you're wearing something feminine (I wasn't-boots, blazer, boyfriend's Polo rugby, jacket).
You have to survive knowing that the guys here will either be puzzled by you, mortified by your very essence, being and presence, be strangely attracted and fascinated (luckily a minority), or not give a rat's ass about you until you're successful.
And that last one, at least, ladies, is where we have the benefit of being treated just like the guys.
It doesn't matter whether you're XX or XY. If you care about startups, then you care about success. And you know others will judge you on it.
And when you get to that nebulous realm of 'success,' you can decide if it was 'all worth it' or not. The likelihood is that you may end up there alone.
The guys face this too, when the money doesn't bring them love, or happiness, or wellbeing, just a fatter bank account and, whoo hoo! An easier time getting VC meetings the second time around!
Can we make this a more gender balanced area? Sure. Can women get by in the current dogs-circling-a-fire-hydrant atmosphere? Sure.
But for gods' sakes guys, quite talking about this and start talking WITH us so we can learn how to do our startup jobs better.
If you're not mentoring at least 3 females interested in founding startups, I'd say you're the ones falling behind and failing to innovate.
But don't worry. I'd be happy to forward you a fat list of names. Competitive, smart women are out there. Don't worry so much that you won't find what you're looking for in us...