C-Suite Dads: “Be thoughtful about decisions so you can be decisive, and then don’t let your brain wander into constant replay of those decisions” with Mike Teng and Jessica Abo

I also think it’s important to know what you can and can’t control. Be thoughtful about decisions so you can be decisive, and then don’t let your brain wander into constant replay of those decisions. This allows for better separation from work anxiety. I had the pleasure to interview Mike Teng. Mike Teng is the CEO […]

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I also think it’s important to know what you can and can’t control. Be thoughtful about decisions so you can be decisive, and then don’t let your brain wander into constant replay of those decisions. This allows for better separation from work anxiety.

I had the pleasure to interview Mike Teng. Mike Teng is the CEO and one of the co-founders of Swing Education, a tech-enabled marketplace that connects substitute teachers with schools in need. Under Mike’s leadership, Swing has covered more than 150,000 teacher absence days for its 1,500-plus school partners. Before founding Swing, Mike spent five years as a tech director in K-12 education.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?

I was groomed to be a software engineer at a young age by my software engineer father and always loved computers and technology growing up. I majored in computer science at UCLA and ended up as a software engineer at a financial software company. I ended up joining a small team at the same time as my current co-founder and CTO, Osbert Feng. We were actually already acquainted from having graduated a year apart from Gunn High School in Palo Alto, CA. I worked at the financial software company for four years before moving on to a smaller startup for two years.

One weekend during those two years, I was listening to This American Life on the radio while driving and learned about the Harlem Children’s Zone and Geoffrey Canada’s story and work. It was incredibly inspiring to hear others dedicating their careers to helping end poverty, and it started a personal journey that led me to the education industry. I eventually found my way into education through a public charter school organization called Rocketship Education as the head of technology. Eventually, the director of recruitment at the time asked me to bring technology to ease the issues schools were having with the coordination of substitute teachers.

Around that time I reconnected with Oz as well as another high school friend, Asha Visweswaran, who had recently quit Deloitte Consulting where she’d worked since college. After telling them both what I was working on at Rocketship and realizing that there were a number of issues plaguing most schools around substitute teachers, we decided to try to start solving those problems as a business.

We started pursuing the idea of helping schools and districts find and schedule substitute teachers in June 2015 and joined an edtech accelerator called Imagine K12 that has since merged with Y Combinator. After launching a paid service in October 2015, things took off pretty rapidly. We’re fortunate to now be working with more than 1,500 schools, filling more than 150,000 teacher absence days in just the last 3.5 years.

Can you share with us how many children you have?

A 2-year-old, who turns 3 in August, and a baby due July 28.

Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?

We started trying to have a baby around 2011 when I was working at Rocketship. At this time, my wife and I were both pretty stable in our careers. But it took us years of trying, and our successful IVF transfer ended up being in December 2015, about a month before Swing Education’s investor demo day with Imagine K12.

In addition to that, my co-founders Asha and Oz both had children born in November 2015 — her first and his second.

Did you always want to be a father? Can you explain?

I definitely always wanted to be a parent. I cannot totally explain it because as a business owner, it seems impractical and NOT having any children offers so much more freedom to focus on the business. But as a parent, I love having more things to love, and it’s incredibly fun and rewarding.

Did fatherhood happen when you thought it would, or did it take longer? If it took longer, what advice would you have for another parent in your shoes?

I had no idea the path would be so difficult. It was emotionally hard for myself, but also so incredibly hard emotionally, psychologically, and physically on my wife. My advice would be to seek help early and talk to people about it. I suppose I’ll give advice mainly to potential fathers or those not physically trying to get pregnant and just say that it’s so important to be there for your partner. What I learned through the process is that every appointment is a new opportunity for heartache and disappointment, and you never know what form that news might come in.

Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?

For a while, it was waking up early (before 6:00 a.m.) and some combination of getting ready for the day and checking email/Slack. My toddler wakes up around 6:30 a.m., and I then hand him off to my wife at 7:00 a.m. and head to work. I pick up my toddler at 5:00 p.m. and feed him dinner, play with him, and put him to bed around 7:00 p.m. Then I cook dinner for my wife and I so that we can have a peaceful adult meal together. Sometimes I do some work after that, but sometimes I don’t!

Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?

I suppose it probably hasn’t given that I had my current job before having kids, so I’m just going to try to stick to that plan!

Has being a father made you better at your job? How so?

Absolutely! I will preface this answer by saying that I understand that my employees are not toddlers, but the empathy required is really similar. When my toddler’s balloon pops and it feels like the end of the world to him, those feelings are real and if he doesn’t feel like we understand how he feels, then he stays upset for longer. As a manager, it can be tempting to dismiss employees’ feelings as, “they just need to get over it,” but those are real feelings and they need to be talked about and worked through.

What are the biggest challenges you face being a working father?

The biggest challenge is setting aside time for family, my company and its employees, and myself. I’ve had people ask me and my co-founders if we were scared when we first started the company, and we all independently came up with the same answer — it was not scary until we hired our first employee. Then you immediately start to feel a much greater responsibility. I’m responsible for being a 50/50 contributor to our family alongside my wife and for making sure we, as a company, are doing everything we can to keep employees and schools and substitute teachers on our platform happy.

Are there any stories you remember from the early days of parenthood that you want to share?

I mostly remember it made me realize how fundamental getting enough sleep is. In the first few weeks after my son was born, I would wake up with random bumps or bruises, and it was from essentially walking into corners, door jams, etc. — just from being so sleep-deprived that it made me physically very clumsy! Other than that, everything is pretty much blacked out, but we’re about to go through it all again, so feel free to check-in in a month when everything is fresh.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 3–5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

Block off a certain time every day and actually protect it. In our house, that has meant 4:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. is a highly protected block of time. I’m commuting for the first half hour of that, so am happy to take calls, but the window of time from when I pick up my toddler from school until after he’s in bed and I’ve had dinner with my wife is really important. It’s as important to me as just about anything going on with my company, and most things can wait a few hours (especially on the West Coast COB).

I also think it’s important to know what you can and can’t control. Be thoughtful about decisions so you can be decisive, and then don’t let your brain wander into constant replay of those decisions. This allows for better separation from work anxiety.

The hardest and most obvious one is to put away your phone. At home, we’ve tried not to use our phones too much around our child, although that has gotten harder as he’s now older and more independent. At the office, we’ve tried to make in-person interactions take priority over Slack and email.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

He’s only almost 3, so I feel like if anything he’s teaching us to dream big.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

The Longest Shortest Time is such a great podcast. First of all, the name seems to perfectly describe the parenting journey. The podcast never shies away from the most difficult parts of parenting and always manages to portray why parenting is so rewarding.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?

Every John Wooden quote ever (GO BRUINS!), but “Don’t mistake activity for achievement” is one of my favorites.

If you could sit down with every new parent and offer life hacks, must-have products or simple advice, what would be on your list?

Enjoy the ride. I think since our journey to having a child took so long, we had a lot of opportunities to ask ourselves, “Are you sure this is what you really want? Is it really worth all the pain and suffering?” (I’m fully acknowledging here that this toll was much more difficult both physically and psychologically on my wife.) And since we answered “yes” dozens of times over a period of a few years, whenever I’d be puked or pooped on, I pretty much just had to admit to myself, “Yup, we asked for this” and laugh about it as much as possible.

As far as must-haves, Gobble meals and a housecleaner. I know both of these are a part of lifestyle creep, but my wife prefers a cleaner house than I do, so having a housecleaner prevents a lot of potential disagreements over when/who is going to clean things at home. Likewise, I’m primarily responsible for meals and meal-planning at home, and Gobble saves us from thinking about a few meals a week and probably saves a trip to the grocery store as well.

Thank you so much for these insights! We really appreciate your time.

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About the Author:

Jessica Abo is an award-winning TV journalist, social media navigator, author, and speaker. Her debut book, Unfiltered: How To Be As Happy As You Look On Social Media, sold out on its first day when it was published late last year. Jessica spoke about her research and her #liveunfiltered movement on The TODAY Show, Access Hollywood, ABC News, KTLA, and in dozens of publications including Forbes, Fast Company and SHAPE. Women’s Health Magazine named Unfiltered #1 on its list of self-love books, and it was chosen for the official GRAMMY Awards gift bag. Jessica celebrated her book launch with an Unfiltered collection of statement tees and hoodies that she debuted on a runway at New York Fashion Week.

With her savvy insights, practical advice, and heartfelt humor, Jessica appeals to people of all ages and stages, resonating with millennials and their parents. She is sought after nationwide as an inspiring keynote speaker and thought leader, and has presented at Facebook, Microsoft, Delta Airlines, Weight Watchers, TEDx, the United Nations and hundreds of conferences, nonprofits, universities, and schools. She speaks authoritatively on career building, entrepreneurial challenges, leadership, digital transformation, living and parenting in the digital age, creating community, effective philanthropy and activism, and many other topics.

A passionate philanthropist who believes “affluence is not a requirement for influence,” Jessica has raised more than $1 million for causes by organizing her own charity events. She sits on several boards and committees and contributes to their recruiting and fundraising efforts.

A multi-award-winning television journalist, Jessica was a successful television anchor and reporter at several media outlets, including NY1 News, for 15 years. She has appeared as a social media and relationship expert on The TODAY Show, ABC News and KTLA. As a VIP contributor for Entrepreneur, her empowerment, leadership development, and employee productivity and wellness videos appear weekly on Entrepreneur.com. Through her production company, JaboTV, she creates branded content for companies and profiles athletes, celebrities, CEOs, entrepreneurs and changemakers for her YouTube channel.

Jessica received both her bachelor and master’s degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New Yorker at heart, Jessica now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their daughter.

To hire Jessica to speak at you event, please email [email protected]. To learn more about Jessica, visit www.jessicaabo.com. Connect with Jessica online:

Instagram @jessicaabotv; Twitter @jessicaabo; and Facebook @JessicaAboTV

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