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Per Haglund is a father of two and runs App Family, a one-man business making kids’ games. He has spent the last two sleep-deprived years building his game portfolio while juggling a day job and family commitments. He’s pretty excited about Corona’s Graphics 2.0 and upcoming Windows Phone support.


Per Haglund headshot“If I didn’t have a wife and two kids, I’d be an app-millionaire by now.”

Every now and then that thought crosses my mind. You see, I’m not a 13-year-old serial entrepreneur who founded his first company while in kindergarten. I’m 34, married, have two baby girls and a receding hairline. And I’m slowly but surely building up my own app business on the side of my day job.

I started making apps started as a hobby back in the days when I didn’t have any kids. After a few false starts I created Peg Puzzle for Android in 2011 while my wife was pregnant with our first child. The game was relatively successful, and over the last two years I’ve continued to build more games in the hope that I can eventually quit my day job and make a living as an app entrepreneur. However, as the app revenue has grown, so has my family, and with it the constraints on my time.

Spare time, anyone?

Having a family boils down to two things for a budding entrepreneur. First, you need keep your financial risk low so that you can pay the bills. In my case, that means that I still have a day job, and only work on apps in my spare time. Second, there is no such thing as “spare time”. You see, kids are adorable, but they have a complete and utter lack of respect for your app-store domination plans. Simply put, they take up a LOT of time. I recently did the math on how many hours, days, even weeks of my life have been spent just trying to put my oldest child to bed. The calculation went something like this:

Age of oldest daughter: 700 days
Proportion of evenings that I put her to bed: 3/4
Average time it takes her to fall asleep: 1 hour
Hours in a working day: 8

–> Total working days spent putting my daughter to bed: (0.75 * 700 * 1) / 8 = 65 days. Ouch… That’s three months of work ‘lost.’ Any parent out there can relate to the utter sense of despair when the kids just simply won’t fall asleep, which Adam Mansbach captures in exquisite detail in this hilarious book.

Go the Fok to Sleep

Beauty of constraints

Constraints in general can be extremely frustrating, but the positive side of them is that they make you focus on what you can achieve given the available resources. If you don’t have much time, you quickly realize that you can’t do everything. You learn to say “No” when random tablet manufacturers in China want to pre-install your apps but don’t want to pay you a cent to do so. You learn to ignore ad-network “Vice Presidents” who want you to “jump on a quick Skype call.” You learn, sadly, to grind away at the important stuff rather than run off and spend a dozen hours exploring some awesome Graphics 2.0 idea that just popped into your head. You develop a laser-sharp focus on what really matters, and plan your time carefully.

The best laid plans of mice and men…

Unfortunately, your precise plans can dissolve at a moment’s notice when you have a family. The daycare center might call you and say that your kid has a fever. Or your wife/husband falls ill and needs to rest while you take care of the kids. If you’re working from home, your kids might simply want to play with you. Or your better half really needs help to sort out some stuff around the house, and suddenly your desk is full of tools. At those times all you can do is swallow your frustration, go with the flow and accept that family comes first.

Home office meets home improvement

Given the time constraints and volatility of any plans you make, always be ready to get some work done whenever you find a spare moment. I usually review legal agreements during lunch at my day job (as far as I know such documents are still legally binding despite the coffee stains). I huddle in our bathroom to take Skype calls with the US west coast at 10pm Swedish time just to avoid waking up the kids. I’m writing this guest piece over the course of 5 daily commutes. You get the idea. This way of working is utterly exhausting over time, but that’s just how it is.

We’re all in it together

Now, my situation is by no means unique. People outside of the app industry don’t realize it, but loads of apps are made by independent developers like myself. Not a studio making $2.4M per day, just a single guy or gal working in their spare time, striving to create amazing apps that delight their friends, family, and total strangers on the other side of the world. Each of them having their own particular constraints on time and money, yet managing to overcome them through sheer passion and determination. Under these circumstances, having a family must be one of the most pleasant sources of time constraints. It also comes with a few perks for kids apps developers, such as in-house beta testers.

Per and family

Summing up

To anyone who’s thinking about getting into the app business, or already in it but about to have kids, I’d like to offer two pieces of advice. First, make sure you get started on any new projects before you have kids. It’s really hard to get the ball rolling when your days and nights start filling up with changing diapers, preparing formula, and carrying around crying babies. At that point you are facing a year or two of low energy and little spare time. Second, if you can, set up your life to have some financial slack. Don’t live at the edge of your financial means. Buy a smaller house or apartment than you could actually afford, a cheaper car, less fancy furniture/clothes/TV and so on. Even if you don’t need the slack right at this moment, the day will come when you want spend more time on your app business to really make it fly.

For me, that day is January 1st, 2014 – I’m leaving my day job and going all in. Wish me luck!


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34 Responses to “Guest piece: Apps and diapers – building an app business and a family at the same time”

  1. Kerem

    Wishing you the best of luck in your soon to be full-time endeavor. Lovely time of your life with two young ones. Happy holidays.

    Reply
  2. Erich Grüttner Díaz

    Excellent post, it’s almost like reading my own entrepreneurship experience.
    I can say that sharing your dreams with your family is the most fulfilling experience of your life.

    Happy holidays and best of luck!!!

    Reply
  3. Dave Bollinger

    Ditto here: full-time job, married, two kids, no spare time, and I could barely manage to finish one app, how on earth did you manage a whole portfolio?! :D Congrats are due, and wish you much success on your full-time app-dev venture!

    Reply
  4. Chris Russell

    Good luck mate! I have 4-year old twin girls, get up at 4.30am to go to work, get home at 5.30pm, get the kids to bed by 7pm and hopefully get three hours in before bed – it’s tiring, so very tiring, but totally worth it :)

    Crussell

    Reply
  5. jen

    I’d imagine there are many parents out there who resonate with this posting. I have a very similar situation, but am a Mom with teenagers. Word of advice…don’t believe them when they say that when the kids get bigger, ‘it gets easier’. :) Best of luck as you go ‘all in!’ in January!

    Reply
  6. Justin

    I have an incredible amount of respect for a person willing to put in the work to not only put their family first, but also follow their dreams of building an app business. Excellent work enduring the long nights and early days to make you dream a reality! I wish you the best of luck on your new position ;) Keep doing what you love!

    Reply
  7. Mindy

    Good luck with going full time with the apps! We are a husband and wife team and I’m sure my husband can relate as he still keeps his day job. I have heard him say many of the same things!

    Reply
  8. develephant

    Wow. Sounds like a carbon copy of my life as a stay-at-home dad with a very active 3 year old daughter. My mind is constantly in 2 places, though some of my best programming breakthroughs usually occur in the middle of playing “puppy.”

    Thanks for sharing. Now I know that at least one other individual understands the challenge. But letting go is usually the best medicine.

    Best.

    Reply
  9. Joe

    Congratulations! And Good Luck! Sounds like you’re really making it work.

    Being in the same boat I wonder if there is a support group for us.

    Reply
  10. Rimotevst

    So true … such a right words , i’m freelancer with 1 son but the words are became really in right place and situation is similar :) Go go go with app’s maybe 1 app will build your life and you will have more time for family without thinking about day work.

    p.s. i’m sure that on full time developer you will make more money than your day work … just mine opinion.

    Reply
  11. Elly Russell

    I am Chris Russells wife and mother to the twins – I also run a business from home that keeps me at my computer most of the time, plus I work on the apps with the husband and play full time mum – your story sounds like ours, only we’re not quite ready to go all in yet! Good luck to all the tired mums and dads out there writing apps, don’t forget to take a night off once in a while, or you’ll end up crazy like us!

    Reply
  12. Per Haglund

    Wow, thanks for all your kind words! You guys and gals are awesome :). I will try to make all you fellow ‘parentrepreneurs’ proud in 2014! Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to talk apps and kids or kids apps.

    Reply
  13. Andreas

    Hi Per,

    beautifully written, I love you post.

    But there’s one small thing where my experience (I too have a wife, two small kids, a day job and code at night) differs:

    Because of the kids I suddenly was used to much less hours of sleep – I developed my game “Freeze!” completely at nightly hours when the family was asleep, only interrupted by one or two of the kids waking up at night in need of some maintenance. So during a timespan of about nine month I only slept about four hours in average per night – much less than I was used to before I became a father.

    Being a father or a mother makes you tough as hell. :-)

    All the best for you, your family & your projects,
    may the revenue be with you,
    Andreas

    Reply
  14. Theo Rushin Jr

    God Bless You and your family! I hope your new full-time venture is successful!

    I have been in a similar situation (raising one daughter and three nephews) and I love to hear stories from other Mom-entrepreneurs and Dad-entrepreneurs. I’m sure you already know this but for those who may not, I would like to suggest the three most important things to do when embarking on a path such as ours:

    Have Patience,
    Have Stamina,
    Strike a Balance Between Family You Venture, and
    most importantly – Have Fun! (because it’s not work if you’re having fun)

    Cheers! :)

    Reply
  15. Sri

    All the best for your new full time job Per. Am sure you’ll just do great as most of us do relate to your experience. Cheers.

    Reply
  16. Rick

    Great post! We are a husband and wife team just really dipping our toes in the game dev world…we can relate to the time management issues too.

    Best-of-luck going forward!

    Reply
  17. Barry Grubb

    Great post, it sounds like a lot of people are in a similar situation!

    I’ve just become a dad too for the first time and I’ve started a blog about being a one-man game developer and a new parent. My son is only ten weeks old but I’m already recognising a lot of what you say in my own life.

    Good luck, I’ll post a link to my blog below but you’re probably to busy to read it :)

    http://boomshack.co.uk/hello-world/

    Reply
  18. Harry Tran

    Good luck, thanks for the awesome article, I’m about to have my first child in the next 6 months, and this article rings dear to me and is a good wake up call to make sure everything is in order.

    Reply
  19. Ali

    All the best mate, I hear you loud and clear. We’re all in the same boat sooner or later!

    Hope your apps make an absolute fortune!

    Reply
  20. Mary

    Congratulations Per. Well done on all your hard work and thanks for the advice. We (a team of two independent artists/developers) just launched our first app ‘Scribbaloo Pigs’ for android and IOS. I am expecting my first child in less than three weeks!
    Best of luck with everything.
    Mary

    Reply

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