I often get asked the question of how I manage the juggling of running a company and running a home – the Chief Executive Officer at Care.com and the Chief Household Officer at home. I wish I could say I do it well, but the reality is that it is very challenging and I certainly do it with a lot of help, especially with my terrific and understanding husband, Ron.
According to the Center for Women's Business Research, women own 40% of the private businesses in the US, and I suspect they juggle that with figuring out how to care for their loved ones. I am thrilled to be a part of this incredible generation of inspirational women – all trying to figure out how to make it work. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I thought hearing from others would be helpful. I’ve learned a great deal from my mentors over the years, and I try in return to provide advice to others.
In honor of last Wednesday’s International Women’s Day, I’ve asked a group of friends called the SheEOs to give us their words of entrepreneurial wisdom for this week’s blog post. I have to say, I was both moved and inspired by the very honest glimpses into their own journeys. From a variety of perspectives and backgrounds, these women have revealed the hardships, and the truth of what it takes to be a female entrepreneur and a mom. Sometimes they even disagree; everyone has her own path. Check out these pearls of wisdom, and please join in the dialogue.
QUESTION 1: To become a momtrepreneur, what are the first steps my readers should take to get started?
Marjolein Brugman, Founder, CEO, CCO, Lighter Living:“Become passionate about a project you love and know you can achieve the goal.”
Allison Friedman, Founder, Rate It Green: “You of course need to do some hard business planning. But I think it's important to look at your life and ask how much needs to change, and how much can you change. Are you ready? And if not, what do you have to do to get ready? Ideally, we should all do what we love. But so many people haven't had the time or the real opportunity to try things and figure that out.”
Susan Hunt Stevens, Founder, Practically Green: "Find a problem you really, really feel passionate about solving. Even if your first idea for how to solve the problem doesn't work and you have to try a different approach, you are still aligned with your personal interests and mission. Run your idea by a few people who know you well and whose business savvy you trust. Ask them to be brutally honest with you. And listen carefully to what they have to say, both the positive and the negative.Talk to your spouse about how much time and how much money you are both willing to commit to the idea, or the first phase of the idea. Having these guideposts in advance can avoid a lot of conflict down the road. Fill in the blank: In 5 years, I will consider choosing to be mompreneur a really good decision IF......."
Stella Karavas, CEO, Voltree Power: “My belief is that one does not set out to become a ‘momtrepreneur.’ This is just a destination you reach in following your passion. When we are passionate about something, we believe we can impact the world in a positive way. The fruits of our labor or byproducts may sometimes take the form of financial success and in other cases effecting change is reward enough. When your work is your passion, it is no longer work. Those who strive to achieve financial success often miss the big picture.”
Cary Keller, Founder, Ziptivity: “Reach out to the entrepreneur community! Start with your own network of family, friends, and work colleagues. Leverage online networking tools such as Linkedin and blogs. Research and identify the organizations in your area that support the startup community. Then, don’t just join, engage. Attend onsite events as well as webinars and participate in online groups. Identify some of the momtrepreneurs you emulate and follow their businesses, read their blogs, etc. Make the connection and find a mentor. Soul search and Research: Ask yourself if you are ready for the challenge and honestly perform a self-evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your goals for how far you want to take your idea. Answer these three questions: Who? – Determine how many people are required to build your business. When? – Estimate how long it will take to reach key milestones. How much? – Spend time researching the investment required to build your own business. Then take all your answers to the above and double them.”
Amy Lankenau McPherson, Founder & CEO, The Parenting Connection: “Line up excellent child care as if you were working at a traditional job full-time. Write a business plan. Try to find a business partner - you'll work better with the support.”
Johanna McChesney, CEO and President, Isis Maternity: “I think the most important first step is to explore and define your life goals. Becoming an entrepreneur is a rare opportunity to align your career with your overall life goals. Ask yourself what is my purpose in life? Do I want to change the world? If so, how and to what extent? Try doing a eulogy exercise. What do you want people to say about you when you when they reflect back on your life?”
Nadia Mckay, Regional Owner, Mom Corps: “Write a business plan. Think about the things that are going to take significant time and where you want to focus/where it makes sense to outsource. Surround yourself with supporters - your husband/partner; mentor(s); friends/family who have your back; trusted advisors; a good lawyer and accountant!”
Barbara Thornton, President, Designer Shoes: “I waited until my last kid was in junior high to start our company, DesignerShoes.com. It is like having another kid all over again. Only the time commitment is much more intense. No such thing as daycare or babysitters to help out. If you are thinking about starting a company that is expected to or needs to grow rapidly, don't do it unless you have funding in place to see you through the first couple of years.”
QUESTION 2: If you could go back in time to when you first started your career and tell yourself one bit of advice, what would it be?
Marjolein Brugman, Founder, CEO, CCO, Lighter Living: “Don't take anything personally. Trust that you can do it alone and don't need a partner.”
Allison Friedman, Founder, Rate It Green: “I thought mainly of business considerations, and not how to balance them with family. I keep taking on labor intensive projects. I'd reevaluate my goals and make sure I included more family goals as well. I am lucky my family has been as understanding about my workaholism, and that my current business is flexible enough that I can sneak in a lot of work when the rest of the family is sleeping.”
Susan Hunt Stevens, Founder, Practically Green: "It's a marathon, not a sprint---so don't get so focused on what's next that you forget to appreciate what's happening now."
Stella Karavas, CEO, Voltree Power: “If I could go back in time, I would not change a thing. My failures have been my greatest teachers and test of faith.”
Cary Keller, Founder, Ziptivity: “Focus and invest more in your team and customers early on as opposed to your product.”
Amy Lankenau McPherson, Founder & CEO, The Parenting Connection: “Set clear goals for yourself and try to achieve them. Manage up, sideways, and down - keep a 360 degrees perspective on your organization and your role. Work hard and smart - be willing to put in the hours now when you don't have as many family responsibilities.”
Johanna McChesney, CEO and President, Isis Maternity: “If I could go back and give myself advice it would be to embrace the old cliché that your career “is a marathon, not a sprint.” I would be more mindful of the fact that my children are only babies and toddlers for a short time - and that my career lasts a lifetime. Those early years are precious and fleeting – so be sure not to short-change your time with them. Being an entrepreneur can provide wonderful flexibility, but it’s up to you to set limits.”
Nadia Mckay, Regional Owner, Mom Corps: “Keep your eyes wide open and continue to re-invent yourself based on what you are good at and where your passions lie. Don't get stuck on what might feel like the one and only path.”
Barbara Thornton, President, Designer Shoes: “If you have a company and kids, it CAN be a fun bonding experience. I couldn't have got up and running without the help of my daughter who actually took a year off from college to help us launch and enjoyed the experience. She did it for room and board! My son and some of his friends got summer internships for software development.”
QUESTION 3: When did you first feel successful?
Marjolein Brugman, Founder, CEO, CCO, Lighter Living: “When I sold my first 1000 machines on HSN in 7 minutes.”
Allison Friedman, Founder, Rate It Green: “I am working on it. I am so happy that I have the flexibility to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams, and I am appreciative of my husband and 2 kids. I am also thrilled to be combining my passions and interests in my work. Now, I just need to figure out the financially successful part! I will feel successful when my business achieves the social impact I am aiming for. But some financial success wouldn't be a bad thing either.”
Susan Hunt Stevens, Founder, Practically Green: "It's been so many little wins. I felt successful when I found amazing business partners to work with me on the idea, when I recruited an awesome advisor, when I got my first paying sponsor, and when we got our first really nice write-up from a mom blogger that said "I love Practically Green!!!" I do try and appreciate that for the venture to be a big success, you have to just keep piling on the singles and the doubles. It's just not all about the home-runs."
Stella Karavas, CEO, Voltree Power: “Those who follow their passion never consider themselves successful as they are continuously adjusting their goals and reinventing themselves for greater challenges. Success means there is satisfaction. A true entrepreneur is never satisfied.”
Cary Keller, Founder, Ziptivity: “When successful entrepreneurs and investors who did not know me jumped in to advise and mentor me.”
Amy Lankenau McPherson, Founder & CEO, The Parenting Connection: “When my website was up and running. When I found my business partner. When I had a recent meeting with a key business sponsor.”
Johanna McChesney, CEO and President, Isis Maternity: “Honestly, I felt small successes from the get-go. Once we opened the doors of our first Isis center in Brookline (even though it was only one humble room at the time), I knew it was real and that we were helping people who needed us. I can remember the early days when we had generated maybe $10,000 of revenue, and I said to my husband “it’s official – we’re a real business”! I knew we were on to something and that with hard work and persistence the future held great things for us.”
Nadia Mckay, Regional Owner, Mom Corps: “When I started waking up in the morning and couldn't wait to get to my desk and start my work day. When I realized that I wasn't working just to get a paycheck.”
Barbara Thornton, President, Designer Shoes: “Don't start without complete buy in and support from your family. They want to see you happy and successful. But they don't want to tell your grandchildren about this haggard woman who no longer cooked, gave up school and sport events and came home every night after 10 pm to plug in the laptop and start again. And you want to go into it clear-eyed with a balance sheet of how much of your children's lives you are willing to miss out on to keep this business growing.”