How I Started a Business and Had a Baby in One Year Without Going (Completely) Insane
I’ve only been a mom for about nine months now, but I can already see how being a parent requires grit, perseverance and a lot of love. Those qualities are surprisingly similar to the ones you need in order to be an entrepreneur. I had to learn how to cultivate enough for both, when I founded a company and had a baby all in the same year.
This wasn’t exactly the time line I had planned. I found out I was pregnant in January 2017, three months after I co-founded and launched Ollie -- my homemade dog-food and delivery company. Ironically, the pregnancy disrupted my life in the same way I'd hoped Ollie would disrupt the pet food industry.
When I envisioned what life would be like that first year post-launch, I imagined long days and nights --the highest of highs when things were going well and the lowest of lows when they weren’t. In many ways, these were the same feelings I envisioned back then about the eventual arrival of a baby. I was excited to spend that first year of our business's launch in the same frame of mind.
But then I found out I was having an actual baby. True, I'd lways wanted to have kids; but I had planned to get Ollie to a much more mature stage before that happened. So, news of my pregnancy raised concerns about not being able to invest as much time and energy as I'd planned into my company.
Thankfully, being pregnant wasn’t as difficult as I'd anticipated, though I worried those obvious physical changes would have repercussions for my company. When we were raising money for our Series A round, I purposely wore baggy clothes to meetings because I worried investors would take issue with a pregnant co-founder. Luckily, that was not the case. But, with only 17 percent of startups led by women attracting VC funding, how could I be sure?
Fast-forward to August 2017, when I had my daughter, Sasha -- less than a year after I'd launched Ollie. Suddenly, I had to meet the emotional and physical demands of a baby, along with the financial pressure of owning a company. Wow.
My first collision with the reality of being a mom came when Sasha decided to arrive three weeks early.
Postpartum highs and lows
Post-birth, I was on leave, but I got back online almost immediately. Ironically, the same day I gave birth was the day our Series A funding closed. Getting the funding was great, but it also meant stepping on the gas for growth; a lot of initiatives that had been on hold also got the green light. Given how young of a startup Ollie was, I felt the need to continue working and keep tabs on everything throughout my maternity leave.
For the first three weeks, I felt that I had it all: I had a rhythm with the baby and was in love with this tiny bundle that was in my life. I thought I had conquered the challenge of multitasking by taking phone calls and doing voice-translated emails even as I breast-fed. (My team only found out later why there were so many typos!)
But then things crashed. The adrenaline that had kept me going those first few weeks ran out, and my denial that this baby was not going to change my life wore off. My husband, Weston Gaddy, was and is supportive, but he's an entrepreneur, too.
Then there was the sleep issue. Sasha had slept all day for the first few weeks; but now, suddenly, she woke up and was much more demanding. My exhaustion and postpartum emotions came tumbling out. On top of that, the nanny I had hired was not working out and I knew I needed to find someone new. The idea that I could “do it all” -- take care of both "babies," my company and my child -- all at once was revealed as a total fallacy.
6 things I learned that helped me survive (and thrive)
1. Hiring the right child-care provider is the most important decision you’ll make. But finding child care was harder than I'd thought. Everyone I interviewed either had a “their way or the highway” attitude or wanted to follow my lead, which was terrifying, given that for the first time in my life, I had no idea what I was doing.
I realized that finding the right child care was the most important hire I could make not only for myself, but also for my company. Without someone I could trust, I could never fully focus on my job. Child care is the work that makes all work possible.
2. Take a time-out. Once I found the right person, I forced myself to take a time-out and get some much-needed rest. I put Ollie (slightly) aside for a few weeks and allowed my team to run more independently. It was only then, after a couple of weeks and once I had a clear head, that I had the confidence to better manage life and business.
Nothing fell apart during that time at work, and it was healthy for me to recognize that -- and good for my team to have that experience of stepping up. Because I was forced to let things go, I learned to become a better manager, and my teams learned how to run more efficiently, since we’re better able to divide and conquer.
3. Plan for contingencies. During my self-imposed time-out, I realized that checking off everything on ambitious to-do lists each day was unrealistic. Instead, to stay focused, I needed to plan for contingencies and make realistic goals.
I had to plan for the unexpected -- like our sudden shortage of beef (for our most popular recipe) and severe weather delays that impacted shipment time lines and product freshness. That left me better equipped to handle what came at me. We now have a larger backup inventory and have opened a third fulfillment center to expedite shipping times.
4. Be adaptable. Managing startup life and mom life concurrently means a new challenge each week. Just when I thought I'd figured one thing out, I had to confront something completely new. With Ollie’s rapid growth -- we increased head count by 54 percent last quarter and are now delivering five million meals -- my co-founders and I had to rethink how we could function more efficiently and effectively.
It’s been challenging figuring out how to keep our initial culture and ensure that internal communication flows properly. We now have weekly open forum meetings and have added team off-sites on top of our monthly company workouts. Adaptability -- to employees, the marketplace, customers -- is key to growing a business (and a family!).
5. Network with your baby. Mixing business and babies has also helped my company grow. From local playgroups to music classes, I’ve made new connections I might not have. Bonding over our common experiences has helped me lean on other moms for parenting advice (and stay sane); it’s also helped with business initiatives. Most recently, one of my mom friends ended up being a sponsor for our largest event, and one of our newest employees is a parent I met at a playgroup.
6. Accept the fact that there is no work-life balance. I’ve learned to embrace the fact that there is no family/work separation. Just like being a parent isn’t a 9-to-6 job, neither is being an entrepreneur. While I’m on a 5 a.m. train to visit our fulfillment center in Pennsylvania, I may also be pumping breast milk and responding to emails.
But, as much as possible, I carve out chunks of time dedicated to one or the other. For example, the minute I’m home after work, I purposely leave my phone in my purse and focus the first hour entirely on Sasha. That doesn’t mean I’m not 100 percent focused on my daughter after that initial hour, but it does mean accepting that my new reality is jumping on last-minute work calls while I’m simultaneously changing a diaper.
(Let’s just hope it’s not a messy one.)