BCKSTGR’s Justin Järvinen on Maintaining your Startup’s Family/Work Balance

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Most entrepreneurs will tell you to avoid working with family members at all costs. But what can't ever be avoided -- unless you're steadfast on cultivating a life filled with loneliness -- is to work and also have a family. If you're an entrepreneur and have a family, steering your own startup is exponentially more complicated in honoring the age-old life/work balance. Since it's such an individual issue with no concrete answers, no one is truly an expert, but Chicago's Justin Järvinen, founder and CEO of BCKSTGR, is a great candidate to weigh in on this. He's a serial entrepreneur (BCKSTGR is an "engagement platform that enables brands and developers to deliver their own white-label virtual currency at the exact moment of a specific digital or social behavior") and also married with children and has plenty to say on the topic.

I was told that your wife didn't know you weren't going to be an entrepreneur? Is that true?

Justin Järvinen: My wife did know that I was an entrepreneur because I had started several companies. When we met, the business I was running, I had been running for six or seven years. It had moved into its maturity phase, and although I was an entrepreneur and the business was more mature, it didn't have the demands that you would commonly associate with being an entrepreneur or being a startup. So when we first met, the business was more or less had been running itself.

But what she didn't get is I had already started on the next part of my journey, which was launching a new business. And so she hadn't been familiar with the very, very early stages of a startup and soon after we met she was about to find out what that was all about. [Laughs.]

How do you maintain that balance?

Justin Järvinen: Yeah, I'll tell you. It's really difficult just understanding the mindset of an entrepreneur. Some people think they're entrepreneurs or want to be and shouldn't be, or whatever. It really takes a blend. For example, you know how to manage your own schedule, you know when you're available and when you're not, you've got deadlines, you know if you can crank through a story 18 minutes before it's due. And similarly, I know the same things about myself. I don't have any variables in my life. I understand what kind of schedules and deadlines I work on.

But a family brings in a whole different dimension. It's that whole other part of your life. It's a lot more than half, it's half, or whatever to each individual person. I'd be shocked if most people were instantly really good at managing a family if they're also an entrepreneur. There's a learning process associated with it. It takes time. I am fortunate that my wife is behind it 100 percent and she actually rolled up her sleeves and dove in and helped out in areas that she saw I might need help. It's worked out really, really well.

What are common mistakes you see people making in juggling work and a spouse and children? Were there any beginner's mistakes with this you wish you could go back and undo or redo?

Justin Järvinen: Yeah, well, that's an awesome question. It really is going to come down to the individual entrepreneur and his or her own personal assessment of themselves. There are lots of different types of entrepreneurs like myself who have this great insight and despite the fact that they had no connections in the business, or whatever, just had to do it and figured it out and made it happen. That's very difficult to do when you have a family. I was in my early twenties and could just do it.

There are other entrepreneurs, what I call "safe entrepreneurship," which is people who have been working for a long time have developed a reputation, contacts and relationships in business and are not taking that blindfold risk like I took. The massive risk of not knowing anyone, whatever.

My advice to entrepreneurs in general is to do their own personal self-assessment and figure out just how risky this entrepreneurship thing is going to be, particularly if they have a family. If you have a family, my recommendation might not be just to jump off the high-diving board. If you have a family, you have to recognize that family comes first, food should always be on the table and to pre-plan before you launch. That's critical. Talk to your customers. Talk to your friends. Talk to your relationships. Make sure you have a client or two clients when you flip the switch on that new business. Make sure you've mitigated that risk as much as you can, because it's gonna be twice as difficult, it's gonna cost twice as much as you think it is. That pre-planning piece is critical. I think any parent would give their kid the same advice if their kid had their first job out of college and just hated the job and wanted to quit and look for a new job. The same would go for people who want to be an entrepreneur when they already have a family in place.

What is a good window or cushion period for entrepreneurs to make that leap? What if they already are between things?

Justin Järvinen: If they've already made the leap, getting good advisors around you and getting people who can help accelerate different parts of the process -- there isn't one answer, unfortunately. It's always going to come down to the individual. I've learned this, even after having several successful startups. One thing that I focused on before this particular startup was risk mitigation. You can only mitigate risk when you understand your own personal situation. I had verbal agreements in place with my family that if things progressed to a certain point without getting a customer or whatever, that I wouldn't pursue it because the family had to come first. We had a set of personal rules about this particular startup that really helped create some structure around what is inherently a very unstructured process: launching a business.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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