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CHAPTER 5

PARENTING

IN THIS CHAPTER I TALK ABOUT BUILDING CONFIDENCE IN KIDS AND COLLEAGUES, WHY I DON’T CARE IF YOU’RE RICH OR POOR, AND WHY PARENTS SHOULDN’T BE AFRAID OF SOCIAL MEDIA.

Parenting, like family business, is an intensely personal topic. How we parent depends so much on things that are unique to us, from our financial situation to our partners to our family dynamics. So I’m petrified to give parenting advice, and yet I can’t shy away from it because I feel so strongly that the way we are parented affects everything we do in life, including what kind of entrepreneur we might become.

I often say that I was perfectly parented. I truly believe that the way I was raised has everything to do with how I achieved my success. I know how it feels to be the kid who marches to his own drum, and I’m incredibly fortunate that I was born to parents who not only let me, but also encouraged me to do more of it. I observed how they instilled in me qualities that make me the man as well as the businessman I am today, and I’m passionate about their execution and would love to see it replicated everywhere. I feel like I have something valuable to say to anyone raising a potential entrepreneur or interested in helping shape and guide the next generation of industry leaders.

You should only take the advice of entrepreneurs or businesspeople who have actually built businesses, not people who have just talked about it. So the best people to turn to for parenting advice are probably people who have seen a few more cycles than I have, with grown kids. However, I work with a lot of young people who tell me their stories, and I know the pressures and concerns they and their parents have had as they started their entrepreneurial journeys. I’ve spoken to a lot of parents about what I do and the world I do it in. I have a perspective that could ease a lot of people’s concerns about what the future holds for our kids. I realize it’s all just one man’s point of view, but from where I’m sitting, it’s all looking good.

imageWhat’s the number-one lesson you’ve learned since becoming a father?

I feel like I’ve been practicing to be a father my whole life. Believe it or not, I am filled with nurturing DNA. My brother, AJ, is eleven years younger than I am, so when I was nineteen he was only eight. My dad was old-school and worked all the time, so I had a lot of chances to be there for my brother in a way that most big brothers might not get very often.

I suspect I’m closer to my parents and siblings than most people are to theirs, so I can’t say that fatherhood taught me the meaning of unconditional love. Which is why I’m so utterly stunned at the depth of my feelings for my two kids. Their pain literally is my pain. The other day Misha told me that someone at school called her a chatterbox and it hurt her feelings. She’s so much like me. My first-grade music teacher called me a motormouth, so I knew how she felt. But it was crazy how hard it was for me to see her so sad, and we haven’t even come close to the zits zone or bullying zone or awkward-teen zone.

I guess the lesson I’ve learned is that the love we feel for our kids really is something bigger and more powerful than anything in the world. And that DNA is no joke.

imageHow exactly did your mother instill that self-confidence in you?

I was born with some, but she brainwashed me into thinking that the ordinary things I was doing right were extraordinary. Like, down to getting a good haircut and picking up a ball. For real. I believed her, so when I went out on my own to take on the world, I did it fearlessly.

How did she keep me from turning into a spoiled, self-centered brat? Because when I did something wrong, she treated that as an extraordinary thing, too. Except instead of loading me with praise, my mom would drill me with her look, her words, and the occasional “umph.” Anyone raised in the old-school European way knows what I’m talking about.

I intend to pass the same can-do encouragement I received from my mother to my daughter. Right now I tell her that her twirl is the best goddamn twirl I’ve ever seen, and I’ll spend the rest of my life applauding her efforts. I’ll do the same for my little man, Xander, who gets praised for the silliest feats. And I’ll do the same for my employees. I know the people I work with every day feel better about themselves than they did before they knew me. We’ll hire new senior staff and after a few days they’ll tell me they’re flabbergasted by the confidence of the youngsters working here. That’s by design. Pumping everyone full of confidence makes for a more creative, risk-taking environment. I don’t do it by praising my staff daily. Rather, I instill it in my leaders and encourage them to let it trickle down.

imageShark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran doesn’t invest in “rich kids’” businesses. How do you feel about entrepreneurs from privilege?

For a long time I held the same prejudices about rich kids as a lot of people do, that is, I assumed that because of their wealth they’re not hungry and they’ve been handed their successes. But I’ve come to realize that it’s not always true. I have plenty of good friends who grew up wealthy but are hungry and fiery and make things happen. So in the end, whether I’m deciding whether to invest in you or hire you, I’m not going to care if you were born rich. I only care if you were raised lazy.

Everything trickles from the top. That’s why when I’m considering investing in people who come from a super-privileged background, I spend a lot of time trying to find out more about how they were raised. Did their parents spoil them or did they make them work for what they wanted? Did they teach them the value of having money? Did they talk to them about how money factors into our country’s discussions about class, education, and politics, or how the goods we take for granted are often considered luxuries in other parts of the world? Those are the things that tell me whether it will be a good idea to invest in their business. Because if they were raised right there’s a good chance they have a strong work ethic, and that they will apply what they learned at home to their own businesses, thus setting a proper tone and creating a robust culture. And those are the kinds of businesses I think will give me the best ROI.

There’s nothing wrong with being born rich, or being rich at all, unless you act like being rich matters in the grand scheme of things, like it somehow makes you better or more deserving than the rest of the world. I’m grateful for the perspective my humble beginnings have given me. My kids are being raised in a completely different environment, but if they act like “bad rich kids” I will humble them and make them cry. If they grow up soft and spoiled, that will be on me. But they won’t. They will know what it means to work and sweat to get what they want, because Lizzie and I are committed to making sure of it.

imageI’m curious to know your thoughts on tech consumption by young children.

If you were to tell a caveman what modern-day humans would be like, he’d have been horrified. But that’s evolution. Our kids will be different from us, and that’s not bad.

We’ve got to stop acting as though tech is an intruder in our children’s lives. Tech is their lives. Worrying that tech will rob them of the pleasures of childhood is akin to previous generations worrying their kids will be soft because they have indoor plumbing, or that rock and roll will make them degenerates, or that their brains will rot from too much TV. Every generation fears for the next one, but we don’t have to. Our kids will be less informationally smart but they will be interesting characters and they will do great things.

But if you believe that tech should have a limited place in your child’s life, have at it. Here’s the great thing about being a parent: You can do whatever you want. If you don’t want your kids watching a lot of videos on YouTube, limit their use of the iPad. If you want to set up a rule that electronics are shut off after 8 P.M., go for it. If you think it’s best to institute a policy of one half hour of sports or exercise or outdoor time for every half hour of screen time, that’s your prerogative. Your kids, your house, your rules. I’m not restricting my kids’ screen time, because I believe in preparing them for the world they’re going to live in. I suspect the kids that do grow up with severe restrictions will go bananas once they’re let loose on their own and have a hard time learning to discipline themselves. I think mine won’t think unlimited time for games or texting is anything unusual, and will therefore have learned to balance their time well.

imageIn the future, how are you going to treat social media with your children?

It’s hard to find pictures of Lizzie on the Internet and there are even fewer of the kids. I’m well aware of the dark side to social media, and that kids need to be taught to use it wisely and well. Like every parent who loves his children, I want to protect them from bullying and teasing or getting exposed to things too early. It’s a risk that’s compounded by the fact that I’m raising my children in Manhattan, where kids grow up fast and seven-year-olds act like seventeen-year-olds.

I’m a counterpuncher; I react to what I see. It’s too soon to tell where social media will be by the time my children are ready to participate in it, so there’s really no way I can predict what kinds of limitations or rules, if any, we will need to put into place one day. In the meantime, my wife and I have spent a lot of time on mission statements and being clear they understand our expectations of them. I can’t control how the outside world evolves, but the core pillars of good parenting haven’t changed since the beginning of time. I believe in old-school values, so I’m working to instill good core fundamentals, like good manners and strong self-esteem. Those two things will serve my kids well whether they’re communicating and socializing online or off. If my kids start posting videos one day, my hope is they’ll be comfortable enough in their own skins that they won’t care how their hair looks or whether the lighting is quite right. They’ll just be who they are and expect the world to love them for it.

imageI’m speaking to parents at a public school event on parenting in a social media world. What would you teach them?

Parents always get really upset with me because they feel I’m propagating a medium that’s distracting their kids and dulling their brains. Meanwhile, many of them are the same parents that immediately throw an iPad at their kid the minute he cries or gets bored at a restaurant. I’m not the problem, people.

I like to tell parents that it has never been a better time to be a parent because all the social networking tools will allow us to spy on our teenagers like never before. Fearing tech and limiting their children’s time on it is not preparing them to live in the future. I would tell the parents at your event to stop playing defense and start playing offense and get pumped about all the opportunities and new discoveries coming this way for the new generation.

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