How to Stay Sane Leading a Company and Becoming a Parent During a Pandemic

Five ways David Rabie, CEO of food-tech startup Tovala, is handling WFH life with an infant at home.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Startup founders always have really epic stories to tell, with well-honed analogies for how their companies made it through some dark days.

Since I founded Tovala in 2015 with Bryan Wilcox, our CTO, we’ve had our share of bad times. For every mountain, we’ve climbed and celebrated, there have been just as many avalanches. (I’m going with a mountain metaphor here. Bear with me.)

Because we make food, something as outlandishly specific as a bunch of bad broccoli could be a crisis. So instead of stressing about florets every week or the hundreds of other ugly “what ifs,” you learn to get used to the uncertainty. You roll with the punches.

Still, I never imagined there’d be a day I’d be sending video messages over Slack on “what the latest Shelter-at-Home order means for us.” Especially not with my newborn daughter in my arms.

But as it turns out, nothing prepares you for running a company and being a new parent during a pandemic quite like startup life. Tovala has taught me how to take on ambiguity by accounting for it in big and small ways. It’s taught me to find a quiet confidence that the steps we’re taking will get us to “this is alright” again.

I’m also resorting to a few old and new tricks to help me roll with the punches.

1. I’m appreciating time spent with my daughter. Elizabeth was born in January, and it’s wild to think that the beginning of her life will be defined by such an unprecedented moment in history. Even when my wife and I are brutally sleep deprived, we try to remember that being home with her, being able to take care of her, and doing it in relative comfort is a privilege.

2. I’m constantly coordinating schedules with my wife.
 That means blocking out at least two afternoons a week for my wife to take meetings while I take care of Elizabeth. We also check our calendars together every night, so we can be prepared for how to divide and conquer the next day. (If you have a baby, you know how important sticking to your baby’s “schedule” is, period.)

3. I’m trying to take care of my body and mind. I like waking up early and working out. I always have. And that’s become more important than ever. My wife and I also try to meditate for five minutes every night. It helps us go to bed with clear minds and sleep better. We’re pretty desperate for sleep these days, so we’ll try anything.

4. I’m fully embracing video calls and the “distracting” side of Slack. Having everyone fully remote for everything from our two weekly all-hands meetings to the occasional happy hour has been surprisingly seamless and pretty fun. I’ve also been holding office hours twice a week, so anyone at Tovala can chat with me about anything. And just goofing off over Slack has never felt so nice or so important.

5. I’m cooking more… kind of. I have more time to cook these days, so I’ve been doing that about half the time. I like to make Japanese food, especially. Lots of miso soup. But we’ve still got Elizabeth lovingly sucking the life out of us, so that’s when we turn to Tovala Meals. It still makes me so psyched as a Tovala customer to sit down and feel dazzled by the food. It makes me proud that we’re able to provide a service that’s valuable, even and maybe even especially during a pandemic.

Whatever you’re doing differently these days, I hope you’re finding a way to roll with the punches, too.

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