Having a baby is a big deal. Having a baby while running a startup is an even bigger deal. When going through pregnancy, I learned some lessons that were applicable to both my journey as a new mother and as a startup founder. Here are 10 lessons:
- It’s not as easy as it looks. As cute as pregnant women look with their baby bumps, it doesn’t feel “that cute.” I stopped sleeping that last month before my child was born, so much so that I started hallucinating. The media portrays an idealistic, romantic image of running a startup company, with all the freedoms and joys being your own boss, when in fact, there’s a lot more grind involved. In the course of a single day, a competitor can suddenly copy your product, and you can land a big investor.
- There are a lot of ups and downs. When I was expecting, the hormones were flying through my body in epic proportions. I remember on our 500 Startups demo day, I ended up crying the whole ride there, smiling for hours once we arrived, then breaking down and crying in the bathroom, only to go back and smile some more. In the startup world, I wake up in the morning full of optimism, and then by 3 p.m., I can come crashing down, filled with doubt. By 7 p.m., I often have to pull together all the energy I have to pitch my company to strangers.
- There’s no going back. I learned that once doctors intervene with labor and the birth of the baby, there’s no going back. In the startup world, you need to have product-market-fit and a kickass product. I know many founders who practice all kinds of growth hacking to get their numbers to look just right, but many of growth hacks are just not sustainable.
- There’s an unexpected feeling. Creating life with my husband has been magical. The child grows right before your eyes. As a founder, you create something out of nothing. Your existence is only thanks to the customers willing to pay for your product or service (and also to the employees, advisors and investors who work alongside you to make it happen). As a gift-giving service, we make handmade cards to go with every gift. I’m personally committed to ensuring each gift receives the best attention we can give, and I work side-by-side with those involved in our business every day.
- You’re the underdog. After having gone through miscarriages, making it to the third trimester made us feel like the underdog. Everything was about not messing it up. Data on the number of women CEOs is limited. Less than 5 percent of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. As a pregnant CEO, I was a minority among minorities. This impacted us, especially when fundraising. It meant we had to make hard decisions as a business to survive. I took out personal loans to cover us for a while. Ultimately, we had to reset and could no longer pay employee salaries. I now have a team of people driven like founders.
- Health and balance become more paramount. The third trimester is all about health. You work like crazy during the day and prioritize sleep at night. The life of a CEO is about fast decision-making and being able to connect dots and make logical leaps. Even without pregnancy, startups are a marathon of endurance and diligence.
- Choosing your battles wisely becomes even more important. Everything, from my hands to my feet, was swollen when I was pregnant. I had to be extremely practical, often wearing my husband’s clothing. When it came to my business, I had to prioritize according to the battles I could win and the battles that needed winning. I had to decide whether to change product direction or not. I had to cut spending by 50 percent or increase our fundraising efforts.
- You develop a community of like-minded individuals. A woman’s pregnancy journey is very similar to that of other women. I joined various mommy groups because anytime I had a question, there was another person who had experience with it. Startups are born, grow to the next level, and mature in a pattern. Each startup company also has its own special experiences, market and product mix.
- Critical thinking and understanding are essential. As the due date quickly approaches, everyone around you can start to get anxious. Everyone’s excited for the baby to be born! That anxiety also happens the longer you exist as a startup. It’s really important to keep your critical thinking skills sharp to be able to see what’s real (and what’s not).
- It’s about taking care of what needs to get done. Pregnancy is about taking care of yourself so you can have a healthy baby. In startups, it’s also just as much about what you do as much as what you choose not to do. For example, today I could have worked on our email marketing strategy more or I could have finished a landing page. It’s all about prioritizing and making decisions quickly.
Having a baby while running a startup is no small task indeed. These 10 lessons applied to both my journey as a new mother, and as a startup founder.