My parents had no safety net.
Cash flow was their simple barometer. If they made money, they paid rent, fed and clothed their children, were allowed the luxuries of travel and entertainment.
Pretty simple. Also pretty brutal.
They never, in 40+ years, had any security. They never once relied on “social services” or leaned on friends to get them by. Perhaps they could have. But they didn’t.
It’s an incredibly powerful thing to be around when you’re growing up. And not only because it’s motivating or inspiring.
Because it’s downright terrifying. To live so close to the edge every month. Every year.
And I have never forgotten that feeling. Sure, the majority of my life we have lived in big, beautiful houses, had fancy vacations, lived the classic good life.
But. There were those all so important years in my teens when things weren’t so great. When it wasn’t so certain. When the five of us lived in a 2 bedroom apartment and pretended we were just having an extended stay in a fancy hotel.
Sure it builds character. And I’m sure there would have been options if we ever were really desperate.
But god. To see the worry and stress on your parents face. To hear the conversations. To spend your summers trying to help, but not know if it’ll be enough.
It’s why I spent the next 20 years making sure I would never have to feel like that again. It’s why I have never taken on debt – not even the credit card kind. Or why I have driven myself to have the best jobs, the best education.
In the hopes that my family never has to go through that.
And yet, here I am, ever my father’s daughter. The past year is the closest to being back to that feeling. Having a mortgage and a nanny and school bills to pay, but relying on only one income. It put us back on the edge. I am thankful that my daughters are too young to remember that last year there weren’t many presents under the Christmas tree. Because we couldn’t afford it. I pains me and embarrasses me to even type the words.
I was truly only a month away from having to fold it all up when I finally found the people that believed what I believed, and gave us the money to prove it. Those that extended our lease on life and are giving us the chance to actually change our world.
But last night, when I was explaining to my mom why investors had given us close to a million dollars to realize our grand vision, she simply couldn’t comprehend it.
“But why? That’s so much money.”
For my parents, who have mortgaged their house or taken on loans or racked up credit card debt, there is no free money. And certainly, investor money is far from free. And this is a completely different game – this VC backed start-up business. One with entirely different expectations and intentions. So no, it’s not free.
But there is a freedom with it. The fact that I can make payroll with modest salaries, without having to desperately count my own dollars, the fact that I can swing for the fences with measured experiments, the fact that I can spend judiciously, but freely… it’s not anything my parents ever had the luxury of.
And I never forget that.
Because I can still see the fear in her eyes as much as the pride. That’s the thing about my parents – they always keep it real. She’s not in any way impressed that somehow we’ve brought on the VCs we have. She’s worried about me getting in over my head with other people’s money. And it’s why I worry about it as well. And why I treat every single dollar like it’s my money. Because let’s be honest – I’m on borrowed time.
So the best way that I find that I can run my company is to live by the principles that my parents did – to inject every day with urgency to get to cash flow positive. Not because we have to, but because by doing so, we give ourselves the best chance of actually building an enduring company of the sort that my parents managed to, against all of the odds.
By forgetting we ever have a safety net, we give ourselves the best chance at never having to use it.