He turned "When in doubt, make it up" into a multimillion-dollar company.
Routine Behavior is a series where we talk to guys who successfully juggle businesses, careers, and parenting about the routines that keep them on track. Up next is David Cadji-Newby, a veteran BBC comedy writer, novelist, and as of 2013, author and founding partner of Lost My Name, the trendsetting digital publisher behind one of the world’s most popular children’s books.
The software-platform-cum-children’s-book-publisher recently closed $9 million in funding, led by Google Ventures, for their game-changing approach to personalized storytelling. Since launching in 2013, the company has sold more than 600,000 books in 136 countries, and Cadji-Newby has gone from telling his 8-year-old son Elias insane bedtime stories about commuting bears to picking his little brain for answers to work-related questions.
What time do you start answering emails in the morning?
My alarm is on my mobile so it’s the first thing I reach for when I wake up. I turn the alarm off and check pretty much immediately, really. But I’m also the first to be up in my house, so I get up and make breakfast for everyone. While I’m doing that I catch up anything that needs to be done, so it’s like a 20-minute window before I bring breakfast up to everyone in bed. That’s probably the most meaningful time I get to spend with Elias during the working day; that time is quite important.
He didn’t really understand what it was I did, so there wasn’t a lot of point describing my day, so I used to made it up.
How do you reconnect with your kid when you get home from work each day?
He’s in bed by the time I get home but he’s never asleep. That boy doesn’t sleep. I’ll always have a chat with him, tell him what I’ve been up to. It’s changed a bit. When the company began I’d always make up a story about what happened on the way back home from work. He didn’t really understand what it was I did, so there wasn’t a lot of point describing my day, so I used to made it up. It was a nice way to reconnect because it made him laugh. It kind of took the place of bedtime reading, really. I used to tell outrageous lies about — basically the format was, every day on the way home from work I’d meet a character who wanted me to pass along a message to Elias, and it kind of grew from there. So I’d meet a bear on the train or something. Now I don’t because he’s too old and he thinks I’m stupid when I tell him stories like that. The fortunate thing is, because it’s a kids company he’s often in the office — he’s been in loads of the films and photo shoots we’ve done — so he knows all about the business. So it’s quite nice; I can chat to him about what’s been going on in the day, because he knows the business.
Does your wife stay at home or work?
My wife is a teacher, so she works, but she gets to pick Elias up after school and do all his activities after school, so she’s quite flexible. She works school hours so it’s quite good; she works the same hours as Elias at school so they get to spend some time.
What services do you pay for (cooking, cleaning, yard maintenance, oil changes, etc.)?
We’ve got a cleaner once a week but I think that’s it, really. I’m kind of … I’ve always done everything myself, all the DIY. When things are broken, I fix them. When something needs painting, I paint it. I’m finding it quite hard to let go of that, so I try to do it all on the weekend if I can.
What’s the one piece of kid-related gear that you can’t live without?
The thing I can’t live without is a ball of some sort. It could be a soccer ball (we’d call that a football) or a tennis ball, but If I’m out with Elias, as long as I have a ball with me then everything’s absolutely fine. There’s always something to do.
How many times a week do you get home for dinner and do you ever cook?
I try and work from home 1 day a week because otherwise I’d basically be a stranger to Elias. So Mondays I pick him up from school, take him to cubs (scouts for young kids) — so that way I know he’s actually gone to school and then I can take him to one activity a week and then we can eat. The simple answer is, once a week I cook and we eat together; and most of the weekends, too.
I’m going to have to get on a plane. But I’m a bit like B.A. Baracus about it; I’m quite grumpy.
How much exercise do you get in a given week and what kind?
I’ve been to about a million gyms in the last decade. I can only really exercise if it fulfills a function, so I run from the tube station to my office, which is about 5 kilometers. It’s a good run, and it combines exercise with actually getting to work. So I keep it up. It’s not for fun.
What’s the longest you’ve ever played with your kid without looking at your phone?
I never look at my phone when I play with Elias, so that’s quite a simple answer. Kids know … If we’re playing together and I’ve got my phone out, he knows what I’m doing and he knows I’m not there with him. It’s just not fair I think. It’s not right. So yeah, I never ever look at my phone; it’s about focusing. I don’t call Elias when I’m at work doing something important so why would I look at emails when i’m playing with my son? I think you have to be quite disciplined about it.
How often do you travel for work and do you look forward to it or dread it?
I’m terrified of flying after a horrendous flight from New York about 10 years ago, so I avoid it. With the success of the book, it’s going to happen — I’m going to have to get on a plane. But I’m a bit like B.A. Baracus about it; I’m quite grumpy.
What’s your go-to when you need work-related inspiration?
My role in the business is a writer, so when I’m stuck for inspiration a bit of peace and quiet helps; I’ll take my dog for a walk. I’ve got a big, big dog, and she’s a lovely dog but she’s also incredibly lazy, so after about half an hour of walking she sort of stops to moan a bit and look unenthusiastic, but yeah, that’s my thing. For me, inspiration usually strikes between 7 and 8 in the morning. That’s my most productive time, I think. So the idea is, get the dog, go out for a walk, and usually by the time I’m walking home I’ve found inspiration of some sort.
I’ve had in the past that guilt feeling where you take time off to do something with your kids, and that’s just such an unhealthy thing.
What’s your go-to when you need to completely turn your brain off?
Something very tedious and necessary around the house, usually. Painting a room, oiling a floorboard, stripping a fireplace — something that takes a lot of time and a lot repetitive activity; really boring but at the same time needs a bit of concentration to do it properly otherwise my wife will tell me to do it again.
How’s your attendance record at your kid’s events/games/milestone moments?
It’s really good. I was thinking about it, and I think working for a kids company there’s kind of an expectation that kids are going to play an important role in your life. We encourage the parents in the business to spend time with their kids. There would be a bit of a weird irony asking people to give their time and expertise making these wonderful shared experiences for parent and child at the expense of their own family. So it’s important that the parents in the company, myself included, are there for the important events in their children’s lives.So yeah, I’ll get to Elias’ piano recitals, his plays, tennis tournaments. I do pretty well. I’ve had in the past that guilt feeling where you take time off to do something with your kids, and that’s just such an unhealthy thing to — you know, ‘I’m being a bit naughty here because i’m going to see my son’s Christmas play,’ and it’s like, ‘No you’re not. You’re doing what you’re supposed to do because you’re a dad.’
What’s your kid’s favorite book at the moment?
What’s your kid’s favorite toy at the moment?
I’d love to say his favorite toy is something, um, well … basically an Xbox or a DS or an iPad. Although I have just taught him to ride a bike so hopefully that will soon become his favorite thing, but yeah, he’s a normal kid.
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