Women don’t want to do startups. They want children.


This was originally posted on TechCrunch.

My company, Brazen Careerist, is moving from Madison, WI, to Washington, DC, where our new CEO lives.

Running the company has been absolute hell. Not that I didn’t know it would be hell. It’s my third startup. Each has had its own hell before we were solidly funded, but this one was so bad that my electricity was turned off, and I really thought I was going to die from stress.

So while my company moves its center to DC, I’m staying in Wisconsin. I just married a farmer and my two young sons and I are learning to live among the wonders of pigs and cattle and corn.

I thought I would be sad that the company is moving. It’s weird to be the founder of a company and not be where all the action of the company is. But honestly, I’m relieved.

There is good evidence that you have to be crazy to do a startup. Jeff Stibel, writing in the Harvard Business Review, calls entrepreneurship a disease. Because you are not likely to make money — you are likely to die broke. And you work insane hours — longer than any other job — and you do it over and over and over again. This is not sane.

In fact, David Segal reports in the New York Times that there is a mania that entrepreneurs exhibit that is very attractive to investors. The trick is to make sure you’re investing in someone who is on the border of insane, but not insane.

So I had a going away party. To say goodbye, but also to acknowledge that I am officially not crazy enough to spend another year missing out on being with my kids. There is still an office in Madison, but the company is running well enough that I don’t have to be the center of it.

It’s hard to not be the center, but I want to be the center of my family. There are enough articles in the last year alone to fill a book (not to mention conference panels) about why women don’t get funding for startups. But really, you could tell that story on one page: Startups move at a break-neck pace, under a lot of pressure to succeed bigger and faster than any normal company. And women don’t want to give up their personal life in exchange for the chance to be the next Google. Or even the next Feedburner. Which is why the number of women who pitch is so small, and, therefore, the number of women who get funding is small.

Did you know that in Farmville, women make colorful, fun farms, and men make big, sprawling farms? And I don’t think it’s a social pressure sort of thing. My sons are under no pressure from me to beat each other up with anything that they can turn into a sword, which is everything. And the girls who visit are under no social pressure to sit quietly and watch. Boys and girls are fundamentally different even before they get to Farmville.

Women are under real pressure to have kids, though. They have a biological clock. So women who are the typical age of entrepreneurs, 25, need to be looking for someone to mate with. Think about it. If you want to have kids before you’re 35 when your biological clock explodes then you need to start when you’re 30, allowing for one miscarriage, which is more probable than most young people think. If you need to start having kids when you’re 30, you probably need to meet the guy you’re going to marry by the time you’re 27, so you can date for a year, get married, and live together for a year before kids. If you need to meet that guy by 27, you are very distracted during your prime startup time. (I have done years of research to come to this conclusion. Here’s the post.)

And I’m not even going to go into the idea of women having a startup with young kids. It is absolutely untenable. The women I know who do this have lost their companies or their marriages or both. And there is no woman running a startup with young kids, who, behind closed doors, would recommend this life to anyone.

For men it’s different. We all know that men do not search all over town finding the perfect ballet teacher. Men are more likely to settle when it comes to raising kids. The kids are fine. Men are more likely than women to think they themselves are doing a good job parenting. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Men have to trust that the kids will be okay so that they can leave and go get food or make more kids.

Before you tell me there are exceptions, I’m going to let you in on a secret: I’m a magnet for high-powered women with stay-at-home husbands. And when the men aren’t listening, the women always tell me that their men don’t pay enough attention and they (the women) are really running the household. They would never say this to the men. It would de-motivate them. So even the most child-oriented men are not as child-oriented as their wives.

And this is why women don’t have startups: children. It’s not a complicated answer. It’s a sort of throw-back-to-the-50’s answer. You could argue the merits of this, but you could not argue the merits of this with any woman who has kids and has a startup.

There’s a reason that women start more businesses than men, but women only get 3% of the funding that men do. The reason is that women want a lifestyle business. Women want to control their time, control their work, to be flexible for their kids. This seems reasonable: Women start more lifestyle businesses and men start more venture-funded businesses. This does not, on face value, seem inherently problematic.

But wait, let’s ask why so many men with kids are doing startups? Why aren’t they with their kids? A startup is like six full-time jobs. Where does that leave the kids? We use social service funding to tell impoverished families that it’s important for dads to spend time with their kids. But what about startup founders? Is it okay for them to leave their kids in favor of 100-hour weeks? For many founders, their startup is their child.

My startup is me and a bunch of twenty-something guys. And if you’re a woman launching a startup, my advice is to stick with this crowd. They never stop working because it’s so exciting to them: the learning curve is high, they can move anywhere, they can live on nothing, and they can keep wacky hours.

The problem with that mix is that someone who is not a guy in his 20’s has different priorities. And that’s something we saw really clearly at Brazen Careerist. The more I became focused on my personal life, the more annoyed everyone got with me. Sure, they understood, but they were pissed also.

I think our new setup will alleviate much of that stress. I’m on the farm, Ryan Paugh is in Madison, and Ryan Healy is in DC. It’s not how I imagined the company evolving when we started it, but that’s part of the fun of entrepreneurship: you never get what you imagined, ever.


79 replies
  1. pete
    pete says:

    This is a very interesting article and I never thought of the dynamics between men and women when it comes to startups. Very interesting read.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks, Pete. There are nearly 1,000 comments on TechCrunch where this article was originally published. I found those comments really interesting as well — you might also.


  2. Abby
    Abby says:

    Thanks for making idiotic comments on women and work. Just because you want to stay home with your kids doesn’t mean other women want to. In addition, there are tons of demanding careers – with women working in them – where the hours are long – try any of the accounting/consulting firms or banking. To add to that, no one I know is having babies in their 20s. Maybe out in the mid-west but not in east coast cities. You have them in your mid to late 30s – after your career is established and you have some money and can step back.

    You are right on one point – I know tons of women who quit their high powered jobs and start up companies to have more control of their time and to be with their families more. And they are doing great! More power to them.

  3. Jax
    Jax says:

    I had to check the date on this article to be sure it wasn’t written in the 1950s. I then had to check the author to check it wasn’t really written by a man.

    What a limited circle of people you must mix with! I could shpow you many women who run high powered startups with atay-at-home husbands. I know others who don’t have children (it isn’t automatic to want them you know).

    I’d also add that it is not just 20 something guys who get excited by new ideas and want to work all the hours on crazy money to get started.

    There are all sorts in the world. Not just the stereotypes in your limited circle.

  4. margaret
    margaret says:

    Thanks for sharing. I really do wonder how many women are able to balance a successful high-demands career and successfully raise a family. I have 3 boys (8 and under)–one with special needs. I struggle all the time between giving 110% to my job but also meeting the needs of my family. I honestly don’t think women can have both. I know I can’t be in a career that requires 20 hours day and excessive travel, it just won’t work. And like you, at the end of the day, most important to me is the time I spend with my kids now. So from another working mom, thanks for saying what I always thought.

  5. becky sheetz-runkle
    becky sheetz-runkle says:

    GREAT PIECE! Regarding the funding issue (3% to women), consider too that women-fronted businesses don’t fit the mold of what VC’s fund. That is an institutional influence that I don’t think we can discount. That said, I think this is a great piece that rings very true. And based on your timeline, my biological clock just exploded. Yikes!

  6. Steffani Cameron
    Steffani Cameron says:

    I’m a woman and I’m offended you’re lumping me into this “not-tough-enough-because-the-biological-clock-is-ticking” crap.

    I’m sorry you know women who can’t hack it, and that you’re apparently one, but don’t paint all women with this brush.

    Thanks for taking 40 years out of the equality movement. Awesome.

    • Joan Miller
      Joan Miller says:

      I don’t think there’s an implication that having a biological clock makes you un-tough. It takes a fair amount of mental toughness to prioritize either a startup or a family.

      I also don’t think this article has anything to do with quality or inequality. Since when is it a bad thing for a woman to want to have a child? That’s inequality.

  7. Christina
    Christina says:

    I own the BC Renaissance Festival (as a business), chose career and business growth over kids (no desire – I play with them in character and hand them back – satisfied) and have been with same nan for 24 years, 20 of them married. I find the issues pertaining to pressure for kids and typical family comes from outside of myself. The stress in my life is created by those around me who seemed socially obligated to push me into those spaces and obligations. I won’t so they push harder. From my experiences it is simply a high percentage of people would rather lock all into stereotypes in order to handle their own failures then to let people live the way they need to. The worse part about that is, until it’s too late, you can not tell who I’d truly the loving mom and who us the successful business woman with different then expected goals. I am happy you found family but my idea if family is different and hopefully, in time, the world will understand and support both.

  8. Lourdes
    Lourdes says:

    I am painfully both in favor and against your views.

    I don’t know whether there’s evidence that “you have to be crazy to do a start up.” If there would be no chance to make money, why do it? That is what business plans are for.

    I can relate to stress as I suffer from generalized anxiety and depression. There are ways to handle my anxiety and treat my depression, but I don’t have a 100% control over them. Call this my craziness, my mental issues, if you want, but they are an obstacle rather than a reason for me to be an entrepreneur.

    I can relate to your story because I made similar choices, and I also felt in a similar way: in hell, trying to run a company without adequate skills, experience, and knowledge. I chose to actually give up my personal life, which was not good, of course.

    Having said that, every start-up I’ve done has worked better than the previous one. In a beginning, I used to give up easily. When I learned to stick to my plans, I was always racing to meet deadlines, begging for clients to pay, and stressing to pay creditors. I did work “insane hours”, and I wanted my employees to do the same. As I could not legally force them, I worked the extra hours I’d have liked my employees to work. That leads to over commit, under deliver, and burn out, so now I know better.

    I married a man who brought me to a different country in which I had to switch languages and careers, so yes, it was a big career detour, just as when you decided to go and live in farm, and I admire you for living the past behind.

    I never considered taking a break from business. I was hopping that I’d accomplish what you mentioned in your article: a company that runs well enough so I can be away from it, and more success in my new home country. That did not happen as fast as I had expected.

    I was also sad because the business I started was running so smoothly when I left the country. BTW, that was the best business I ever started. The clients looked for my shop and bought anything I sold regardless of the price, and I had a very fine clientele.

    I married because I also wanted to be “the center of my family.” I was under no pressure to have kids. It was the other way around. I wanted to wait, but I was very happy to be pregnant as I was in a stable relationship.

    I worked right until the day before my son was born and got back to work when my son was one month old. I had an excellent family that helped me look after my baby and a daycare around the corner, so I don’t think it’s “absolutely unattainable.”

    I wouldn’t have started a business that ran for 14 years if it was unattainable. I lost my first marriage because I made the wrong partner choice, not because of a start up. I totally recommend doing business.

    I did miss on a few things while my son was very young when I overworked, but that was one of my wrong choices. That is one of my regrets, but that is not the end of the world. It did affect my son, I admit, though. My mom also didn’t have the chance to take me to ballet classes or things like that, but she’s a great mother that always supported me completely in each new start up.

    She bought me my first 100 t-shirts for my first start up attempt. I think they just used the last couple of t-shirts a couple years ago because I never really started anything up with the t-shirts.

    I don’t really know what happened to you, but I’d recommend trying again and not give up.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I have to say that this discussion largely attracts two kinds of people. People who agree with me and people who choose to ignore the evidence and then disagree with me.

      This is a great example. The comment opens up with: I don’t know where you get the idea that people who do startups are crazy.

      But I link to articles in the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review about how entreprneurs with funded startups are crazy. It comes with the territory.

      A lot of the arguments over this post come from people not understanding the parameters of this post: It only considers companies that are founded by women and receive VC funding. That is a very small group of women, yet a very large group of women think they are evidence against the conclusions in this post.

      For example, a woman who has three kids and her own business that does not have VC funding has nothing to do with this post.


      • Lourdes
        Lourdes says:

        Your article is posted on a public website, And your article never mentions that it is targeted to companies who receive VC funding and are started by women. If the parameters aren’t clear, go and complain with the writer!

  9. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Thanks for all the sexist labels about women, really, absolutely thanks. I realy cannot stand it when women don’t actually achieve something, or they find it too hard, they hide behind ‘I’m a mummy and the centre of the family and we aren’t made to be like men’. We need to be accepting men equally as parents, stay home dads, home makers etc and get rid of these ridiculous labels. You didn’t enjoy it, don’t label us all thanks.

  10. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    The other point I would like to make is that it is SOCIAL CONDITIONING that begins at pre school that tells women they are so different and can’t play soccer, girls don’t do this, girls do that, pink pink, baby doll, baby doll, cooking oven, vacuum cleaner rubbish. Boys are brought up from birth and through school with subtle messages conditioning them to realise no matter how tough, they should always be working hard and will be supporting a family (which is wrong, it is not gender based and never should have been and men have the exact right, expectation and representation as parents and home makers). Women are always subtly conditioned that they can work if they want to and then run to the kitchen and claim ‘being a woman’ at any point she wants (and men are called losers for doing the same). People with this mentality about a gender are really just showing how unintelligent they are as they clearly aren’t thinking about why, just that it is that way.

    • Laura Cerruti
      Laura Cerruti says:

      Thank you for your reply to this blog post. In fact, your response is better than the blog post. My suspicion is that if you looked at the slow-and-steady startups versus the big-risk-big-reward startups, you’d find that the former are more successful and generate more of an economic impact. So why aren’t mainstream VC’s looking for those types of businesses for investment? Micro-finance companies seem to be the only ones paying attention.

      I would argue that the reason we continue to see blog posts like this is because society still thinks that the male style of startup is the only legitimate one and that the male approach to management and leadership is the only way to be successful. Therefore, the world economy is missing out on a huge opportunity for growth. I’m not saying that the advice in this blog post isn’t useful for those just trying to get by in the status quote, but what about trying to inspire some change in this world?

      For those interested in this topic, I recommend a book called Mothers on the Fast Track by Mary Ann Mason and Eve Mason Ekman. One of the most interesting facts in the book is that men with children tend to achieve higher positions in their fields than men without children, while women with children still bump along the bottom. A few industries have started to figure out how to keep women in their higher ranks, but we still have a long way to go.

  11. Daba
    Daba says:

    I am the co-founder of a women-owned start up, and while there is some truth to what you say, such as the fact that women predominantly have lifestyle businesses, (a term I loathe due to its assumption that the only purpose of a business is maximizing profit), I think you assume way too much in terms of outcomes.

    Start ups are generally underfunded and rely on sweat equity and the personal credit of the founders. The vast majority of start ups in this country are currently started by women, and the vast majority stay as one woman companies. I see this as both a sign that they have the security of their husband’s full time income and health benefits to take a risk/fund their business, and that the corporate world does not give women the type of control they need, while they still need to earn income to help support their families.

    Women tend to be more risk adverse, and as a result, they tend to not dream big – the first rule in business is “the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward”. They also are customarily primarily responsible for the household (even if they outsource the work to paid staff, they are still responsible for the quality and oversight), leaving them with a lot less time and energy to devote to a business. As a group, women have less capital and less access to capital (from family, banks and VCs) to invest in their firms. And they often are exposed to less encouragement for entrepreneurship, make money to support the family (solely), or asking for money.

    These are the facts. However, this does NOT mean that women should not be involved in start ups. After all, all businesses start as start ups, and I think women can make kick ass business founders.

    Women may find the traditional, 20-something, let’s all work 24/7/365, balls-to-the-walls, max out the credit card, bet it all on black start up not to their liking. However, many firms can be created more slowly, growing over years (not months), building equity, reputation and clients, with a much lower risk and lower stress for all concerned. These firms may not be sold for $200 million in an IPO four years after their founding, but these firms may also still be in existence in 20 years, providing quality services and jobs for their communities. And frankly, the latter may not be as sexy, but these firms are much better for our country as a whole.

    I know because my husband and I walked this path – we went from a one woman shop in 2004 to being the sole source of our family income in 2007 and how hiring 14 people in 2011. And we did this while having and raising two children – born in 2003 and 2005.

    I guess my summary is: there is not only one way to do things. We were lucky, because we didn’t have anyone telling us that we couldn’t do it. There were many times when we struggled and felt like we were ignoring our kids. But I also know that no job would give us the flexibility we have, the ability to make this kind of money, or create jobs for other people.

  12. Sheeba
    Sheeba says:

    I agree with most of this article. I’m single and under no pressure to get married and have kids, and yet I’d rather have a “lifestyle business” – I think that’s proof that I’m sane. And it’s also a reason why I’d NOT WANT a VC coming and telling me how I ought to be killing myself to get them a better return.

    Someone seems to have decided that working crazy hours is a sign of being tough and having lots of money and power is a sign of being successful. I’m surprised no one has yet told him (or her) that that’s completely wrong.

  13. gina
    gina says:

    we see on the news these sick crazy people that kill their offspring, and we wonder why they have kids in the first place-the answer? this article that pushes even the most nonmaternal women on earth to the point of forcing them mentally-luckily i was strong enough mentally to avoid the pressure. i dont want kids, i never have. i have nieces and nephews, and frankly dont care to have kids. so much for your stereotypes-ALL WOMEN DO NOT WANT KIDS, GO BACK TO THE 15TH CENTURY WITH THAT CRAP!

  14. Katy
    Katy says:

    Your cause and effect is a bit wonky in the construction of this argument. Social conditioning is so omnipresent, yet you’ve ruled it out without any evidence or reasoning.

    I’m sorry, but to say that women want to raise kids and men simply don’t care is condescending to people of both genders. And assuming that SOME women… even a majority!… would rather have kids (due to social conditioning or otherwise) WHY would you ever discourage the exceptions?

  15. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I threw up a little bit in mouth when I read this. I was truly disturbed by this part:

    “Before you tell me there are exceptions, I'm going to let you in on a secret: I'm a magnet for high-powered women with stay-at-home husbands. And when the men aren't listening, the women always tell me that their men don't pay enough attention and they (the women) are really running the household. They would never say this to the men. It would de-motivate them. So even the most child-oriented men are not as child-oriented as their wives.”

    Now is it the stay-at-home Dad who can’t handle running the house, or the overbearing, control freak wife who can’t stand things not being done her way, where the problem truly lies?

  16. Mary
    Mary says:

    Thanks for writing this. It takes becoming a mother to realize that yeah, staying at home, or at least, close to your kids, especially in their early childhood years, is the most valuable thing you can do–and if you’re not doing it, you spend a lot of time trying to convince yourself that it’s fine to leave them. Your kids will thank you later.

  17. Lourdes
    Lourdes says:

    @Penelope Cruz, where is the evidence, then? Just saying it comes with the territory is not enough to say it is evident. Citing big names is not enough. Where are the definition of crazy, the field studies, the scientific reports, etc?

    To me, you don’t offer evidence, and you are just trying to justify your actions as if they were the choices that every woman wants do make, which just by looking at the comments, I can see that many women do not agree with.

  18. Cory
    Cory says:

    “I have to say that this discussion largely attracts two kinds of people. People who agree with me and people who choose to ignore the evidence and then disagree with me.”

    Wow. So either we agree with you or we’re wrong? Those are the only two options?
    Are you certain previous business failures were caused by you having lady-parts and not your own insecurities and bad attitude?

  19. Mr. Tuesday
    Mr. Tuesday says:

    Don’t know about start ups, but…
      I had a research team.  I always tried to have at least one women on staff.  Why?  Well, it kept the guys from getting too perverse.  They — the guys– were more civilized with a women on board. It also made for better presentations and communication with clients, men or women or both.
    I was the leader.  I didn’t pair up with the woman or women on staff.  And as far as I knew, no body thought we were a pair.  We (the team) would laugh if I said we have to have some food for the clients.  Sometimes some men on the team would indicate that the women were more competent in that area.  In any event, I wasn’t and I told them that I needed help from where ever.  Sometimes the guys would take the hint and perform, and sometimes the women would indicate — stay back, we’ve got this under control.  In either case, I was a happy team leader.

  20. JTD
    JTD says:

    Tangent alert!

    It is interesting that so many people buy into evolutionary theory right up until it reflects human nature or vice versa. Wether you are an exception or not, it is human nature to want to procreate and that demands some acknowledgement of biological clocks and male/female collaboration at some level.

    Some people like to be very selective with their idea of evolution, as if it didn’t happen much over the past 6,000 years but happened a whole bunch over the past 50 years. Evolution is nothing more than reproduction over time. Men and women are different, and that difference is as required at the single cell level (sperm and egg) as at the whole person level. You can talk about mutation and you can give exceptions to the rule, but you can’t discard the rule.

    Ms. Trunk’s acknowledgement of human nature is not a crime against women and evolutionally speaking its perfectly natural. Don’t confuse being treated equally and fairly in a legal sense with being the same biologically. I have a chromosome to prove it. Flip the conventional wisdom over. Is it possible that the snapshot in time that is the last fifty years has been a denial of human nature on this subject? For perspective ask yourself this. Should the snapshot in time that was Victorian England be considered the norm for rearing children?

    One last thought on reproduction and humans. How fragile are we as a species? If we stopped procreating today, we would be finished as a species in 60 to 70 years and we would disappear from the face of the earth in 125 to 130 years. About the length of time we’ve had the horseless carriage. Cloning!!? How boring is that!

  21. lil hoops
    lil hoops says:

    This blog has incited a very interesting conversation and that is what makes it a “good” blog, truly.

    Naturally, everyone has their own beliefs when it comes to this issue, which can get a bit heated as it essentially comes down to issues of gender. So while I don’t disagree with anyone in particular, I felt it noteworthy to point out to future readers that this discussion (including the article) is somewhat limited in that it essentially revolves around personal choice.

    However, social, economic and political influences cannot be denied. Why do women (including myself) feel on some level that they must make choices BETWEEN family and work (everyday choices as well as those on a grander scale as described here)? The question I’d like to have an answer to is not which choice is better or “right” but rather why aren’t there MORE choices?

  22. Marie "Karmacake"
    Marie "Karmacake" says:

    This is an obvious troll. What woman in her good mind would make sweeping generalizations on behalf of an entire gender based upon her own limited world views.

    There is no possible way she could ever know that women would rather babies than startups. Some women don’t want kids all together, some don’t even want a start up. Some women, I hear, don’t even want husbands.

    So I think this post is troll bait to get hits and comments. Don’t take it seriously, because I question if it’s real.

Comments are closed.