Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been plenty of discussion and debate about the impact it has had on parents, and the challenges we have faced trying to balance full-time jobs and childcare.
There is a group of people who have arguably had it even tougher, however. There are those who, as well as suddenly trying to manage 24/7 childcare and homeschooling, have faced the added pressures of running a business during a pandemic which caused so much uncertainty for so many industries. These are the parent entrepreneurs, the so-called parentpreneurs.
In an article from 2017, the Forbes Coaching Council perfectly summarises the challenge of building a business while raising children: “Both require near-constant nurturing and attention to be successful, especially in their early stages.”
That article was published four years ago, in ‘normal times’. A time when work and family life were far more separate.
According to Start Up Loans, three quarters of parents have ambitions to launch their own business. And while official figures are yet to be released, it is widely expected that the pandemic sparked a boom in new start-ups as furloughed workers and those made redundant took the opportunity to launch a business. It is reasonable to assume that a significant portion of the anticipated 700,000+ start-ups will have been created by parents.
How did this special breed of entrepreneur manage throughout the pandemic? And have the events of the Covid-19 pandemic changed their outlook on their balance between business and family?
We spoke to three parentpreneurs to find out, Matt, Vicki and John.
Meet the parentpreneurs
First let’s learn a little more about them and their businesses.
Matt Jones is the founder of MESOA, a men’s skincare brand he launched just prior to the pandemic after exiting his first business S3 Advertising in 2019. He is also a father to Esme, Skye, Oscar, Archie and a new arrival who was born just a few days after our interview.
Vicki Broadbent is the founder of lifestyle and parenting blog honestmum.com, and the bestselling author of Mumboss (UK)/The Working Mom (US and Canada). She is also a soon-to-be mother of three.
John Lashley is the native New Yorker and ‘Main Dude’ behind the aptly named Brooklyn Brownie Co. He is also father to 14-year-old ‘Lil Dude’ Leo, who just so happens to be his co-founder. The father and son duo started the business in the summer of 2019 before it really took off in the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic.
'We didn't have a choice'
A really intriguing aspect of entrepreneurship is that experiences are rarely the same. Throw children into the mix and you really get a variety of stories from a group of people effectively doing the same things - running a business and raising a family.
For John and Lil Dude Leo, Brooklyn Brownie Co. takes on extra significance. Just days after John launched the business, his wife and Leo’s mother, took her own life. While such a trauma would cause many to put an end to a days-old project, and understandably so, John was determined to press on for the good of his family.
Leo, who was 12 at the time, shared that determination - to help his dad who he often found baking at 2:30am. The pandemic gave them the opportunity to spend more time together, while the business gave them solace and room to grieve.
“We found that the meticulously intricate tasks, when we were on autopilot, is when we would open up the most to each other,” John explains. “Since the start, we have had so many obstacles to overcome.
“If we didn't have Brooklyn Brownie Co. to keep us going, distract, and help us open up and communicate, then I don't think we would've got through the summer of 2019.”
While Brooklyn Brownie Co. started booming in the early stages of the pandemic, MESOA was just getting started, and that itself posed a different challenge for Matt.
“MESOA had just launched and sales were climbing, but they did drop off when lockdown hit,” Matt starts.
“I guess our situation was the same as everyone else’s - I had to create makeshift workstations in the bedrooms, we were suddenly having to balance a new business with endless Zoom meetings and homeschooling four children.
“We didn't really have many choices.”
Matt adds: “There were stressful days and days I wanted to throw the towel in. But I would remind myself of what I was capable of.”
Compared to John and Matt’s businesses, Vicki was long-established as ‘Honest Mum’ when the pandemic hit. She launched the blog in 2010 after suffering a traumatic birth with her first baby. Writing a blog was a way of finding her voice and confidence. Within weeks, Vicki was approached to work with brands and was soon earning more as a blogger than as a TV and filmmaking director.
“I feel incredibly lucky. Because I work in the digital space, business stayed busy throughout the pandemic and it was somewhat easier to film campaigns because the children were at home more than usual,” Vicki starts.
She adds: “It was tricky at times, though, of course. We all felt claustrophobic too, as most families did. But overall, we all enjoyed being together and our bond really strengthened as a result.”
Back to normal?
During his time as CEO of S3 Advertising, Matt helped to design one of the ‘coolest offices in the UK’ at the agency’s base in Cardiff. It’s fair to assume, therefore, that Matt loves the office environment - or at least one with a ball pit and 18-hole mini golf course - so has 18 months of working from home altered his view on the future?
“I think in the short term, yes,” he says. “Working from home became normal. Seeing your partner and children everyday has so many advantages. But when restrictions fully ease, I think most of us will revert back to normal.”
He adds: “There is a massive amount of sacrifice required to achieve success in business, and so many new entrepreneurs launch businesses not fully prepared to make those sacrifices.
“Of course, you want and need to spend time with your family. But during the start-up phase especially, if you’re not spending enough time on the business, it’s going to take longer to grow.
“We manage the balance by having dedicated days for family time, and by sharing our responsibilities openly.”
The Welsh entrepreneur advises parents who aspire to be entrepreneurs to create a calendar to help balance your time: “When you’re starting, plan a family calendar. Get the whole family involved and make your intentions clear about the upcoming 6-12 months.
“As rigid as it sounds, it will allow you to keep a clear head and feel less guilty about working the long hours required to build a successful start-up as you know you’ve set that family time aside.”
Vicki very much expects to return to normal once the pandemic is finally over. But then again, she admits she was already working flexibly long before Covid hit.
“I'm not sure I would have coped as well if I hadn't already got a schedule in a shape that truly worked for my family and I pre-pandemic,” she explains. “The children returning to school of course has helped me to be more productive as lockdowns eased.”
That’s not to say that the pandemic hasn’t changed anything in Vicki’s mindset. If anything, it has taught her to include her own needs into the balancing equation of business and family - an important lesson for any parent.
She says: “It emphasised the importance of self-care for myself - to prioritise my health. I think working on boundaries has been important to me, personally, to prioritise those who bring me joy and distancing myself from negativity. I’ve become protective of my time and energy.”
The parentpreneur label
There is some debate among the entrepreneurship and business communities about the labels we assign to certain entrepreneurs who are parents - parentpreneurs, dadpreneurs, mumpreneurs. Speaking to The Guardian in 2016, the founder of the Parentpreneur Accelerator, Alexis Kingsbury suggested that businesses launched by parents ‘don’t need to become billion dollar enterprises’. He added that the goal of a parentpreneur is often “a good income, financial freedom and ability to spend time with family”.
And while that is certainly the case for many parent entrepreneurs, some argue that the label limits their growth prospects - the idea that an entrepreneur with young children at home couldn’t possibly build a multimillion (or even billion) dollar business, that a parentpreneur only wants to reach a certain level.
Interestingly, Vicki hadn’t actually heard the term before. She says: “I like it. There's no shame in parenthood, it's a gift, and it brings a unique perspective to business (and life). I love being both a parent and an entrepreneur and I wouldn't be the latter if I were not a parent.”Matt also sees it as a help, rather than a hindrance: “You can definitely be both at once. It shows the world that you don’t have to choose between one or the other anymore.”
As we near the end of the pandemic (fingers crossed!), all three parentpreneurs have their sights firmly on growing their businesses to new heights.
John certainly stakes a strong claim for the wildest growth plans. Having already converted the bottom floor of their house into a semi-commercial kitchen capable of producing 10,000 brownies a week, the Main Dude and Lil Dude are taking Brooklyn Brownie Co. to the road in a 1997 American GMC ambulance that has been converted into a mobile kitchen they designed themselves.
He says: “I spent years just providing financially, working all the hours I could out of the home for large corporations, thinking I was doing what a dad should do. I can only be grateful for all of these instances of success in our new venture as it’s the best journey I have ever had in my life and sharing it with my son is phenomenal.”
And John ends: “Leo and I just like the fact that we can make other people smile. It no longer feels like I am working. For once in my life I feel satisfied.”
Matt is one of those parentpreneurs who certainly has ambitions that stretch far beyond securing financial freedom - he already did that when he sold S3 in 2019. While S3 achieved notoriety and acclaim in the UK’s marketing and advertising industries, and across Wales in particular, Matt wants more for MESOA.
“MESOA exists to make every man feel comfortable in his own skin,” he says. “We want to normalise conversations around male grooming, cosmetics and, importantly, men’s mental health.”
He says: “We’ve grown well since the early days of the pandemic, but we want to keep that going until MESOA is a globally recognised male skin and hair care brand.”
As Vicki explained, Honest Mum remained busy throughout the pandemic - potentially busier - but she worked smarter, and she is aiming for further growth without losing that balance with her family life.
“I hope it continues to bring joy to myself, and my readers and followers,” she explains. “It’s a family archive for me as much as a business.
“I’m also launching a new project - the Working Mother’s Academy - shortly alongside IP Publicity founder, Jack Freud and with the backing of global brand Hotmart. I always joke that I’m having two twins this winter - a baby girl and a new business. Bring it on!”
Perhaps you already hope to start your own business, and wanted to find out how others have managed starting theirs alongside raising children. Perhaps the title piqued your interest and now you’re starting to wonder whether or not you could do it too.
These parentpreneurs have some advice.
“Research, learn and hone your skills,” Vicki suggests. “And prioritise working on your own self-worth and confidence.”
Matt suggests looking to others who have been there and done it.
“Find a mentor,” he starts, “someone who has achieved your end goal.
“Find someone who has been through what you’re about to encounter, and ask them as much as you can.”
Oh, and he really recommends finding the best accountant you can, and if you can afford it at the start, a bookkeeper too.
But, most importantly, as Vicki says, “You will learn so much as you go along. Simply start!”