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Unemployed Yale Graduate Juggles Startup With Fatherhood

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The following is a guest article from Dean Blackburn, a Yale graduate who was laid off from his IT job 17 months ago. Between the parenting duties of his two-year-old and taking care of his family without steady pay, Blackburn is preparing to launch his own company, NaviDate, a data-driven twist on online dating.

The financial worries that floated through the executive team at my last job led to a lot of great people being laid off.

For myself, it meant being laid off on a particular day at the end of February of 2009, because waiting even one more day would mean paying for my March health benefits. Looking back on it, I think that hurt more than the layoff itself - knowing that the president of the company was that calculating and that unfeeling about my own, and my family's wellbeing. It put those "family days" and company picnics in a weird new light.

My wife is Japanese and was working before our baby arrived - she got a job three days after getting her spouse visa. Like many mothers, she took a year off to really focus on our daughter. When my layoff hit, daycare was an easily removable cost center, but "only temporary," a few months at most, right?

Now, after a couple years off work, she's anxious about going back and missing more of the wonderful things she's seen already in our daughter's rapid growth. There too remains the chicken and egg problem of finding an affordable five-day-a-week preschool while at the same time finding a job to pay for it...

We still go out occasionally, and try to participate in life as much as possible to stay sane. But we look at the numbers constantly now, and worry about what will happen when it runs out. Not if, but when. At this point, even if I were to get a job, and start seeing income again, I'm certain this will happen again down the road. Because ultimately, it's not about a dip in corporate profits, but a change in corporate attitude - a change that means no one's job is safe, and never will be, ever again. Probably been true for a while, but the recession made it crystal clear.

That's one of the reasons I'm starting my own company - it's no longer a trade off between doing what you love, and having stability. Stability is long gone, so you better do something you love, period!

My company, NaviDate, is a little bit like Pandora meets the NSA for online dating - we use your personal data stream online and off to create a personality and behavioral profile that matches you to compatible partners.

The idea started back in November of last year at Silicon Valley Startup Weekend. I then joined the Founder Institute Silicon Valley winter session in December. Out of 270 or so applicants, I was one of 57 who made the cut. After long classes, great mentoring, and hard work, I emerged as one of 18 graduates, with my own company (NaviDate Inc.), a clear vision, and a true excitement for my life and career again, with only occasional confusion as to why I didn't go this route sooner.

It's a race - can I find those few remaining people, and can we together build and market the hell out of our product, before the money runs out? No idea! But I don't care, because it's so much better than a desk job with no job security, few chances to push my talents, and no control over my own fate.

Somehow, I am optimistic! To found a tech company without being an engineer, or having one on board yet? Perhaps delusional? You need to be, ridiculously so, to start your own company. Still, the great thing about the world kicking your teeth in is you don't have a lot to lose in asking - and getting answers to - the fundamental questions. And it's a great way to find out who your real friends are.

Learn more about Dean's company, NaviDate, by clicking here.

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