You Can’t Prepare For Parenthood But You Can Prioritize Parental Leave

If you’ve been following me since last year, you know I went through a difficult period last summer trying to get and stay pregnant.

Thankfully through the support of readers like you and my close network, I’ve learned to relax more, and am happy to report that I’m now 8 months pregnant and due in June!

Does it even make sense to plan?

Early on in my pregnancy, I kept receiving the same advice: “Do not plan for anything, because you just don’t know what is going to happen.”

But planning is in my DNA… I couldn’t stop cold turkey.

I needed to wean myself off slowly.

So as cheesy as it sounds, I assembled some plays from Agile, Lean, and of course Hiten Shah’s EAT Method, and have used them to guide me through my pregnancy and prepare for parental leave.

Naturally, I thought of you and figured whether you are a founder, parent, or are considering either, you’d find value in learning about my process. (If you’ve already been either or both, don’t hesitate to reach out!)

Keep in mind this is what worked for me. I haven’t bullet tested this, so I don’t know if it will work for you, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to share.

Why The Bootstrapped Startup Lifestyle Has Been A Game Changer For Me As A Parent

Since 2007, I’ve been valuing freedom and flexibility over everything else. These are things that drew me to startup land and have kept me here ever since.

I’ve had some successful years (Mint.com getting acquired in 2009), but surprisingly more challenging years building and then shutting down my second startup BizeeBee (2010 to 2017). Then shifting gears to focus wholeheartedly on Femgineer (2014 to present).

I can’t imagine trying to juggle trying to get and stay pregnant while fundraising, figuring out product/market fit, or grow a team and generate revenue. Kudos to those who do it well!

I recently tried to juggle both as the CTO/Co-Founder for OPEAR, and I didn’t have the mental or physical energy to get through it. In the end, I had to prioritize my pregnancy, call it quits, and return my focus to bootstrapping with Femgineer.

Femgineer is at a stage where I have product/market fit and profitability. I’ve decided against hyper growth because for the next few years I know I need to value stability.

Some folks recommended that I consider working for a big company that will provide me with more financial stability. I took their advice to heart and pursued opportunities.

As the opportunities played out, I realized that none of them were willing to provide me with the kind of freedom and flexibility I know I want and need: the ability to work from home 80–90% of the time, the choice to work part-time, and the choice to extend my maternity leave.

I’m sure such environments exist, but since I didn’t put in the time to build my credibility, track record, and good will, I knew I had very little leverage to negotiate for what I needed and wanted.

Integrating My Outlook On Personal and Business Finances

Since starting Femgineer and focusing on bootstrapping, I’ve been a bean counter. I keep a close eye on my personal and business finances.

It’s not enough to budget, save, and cut costs. In fact, that can often be detrimental to generating revenue for a business. I believe in balancing a budget with investing in growth and experimentation.

The key has been to earmark a budget for experimenting, tracking ROI from those experiments, giving them time, then doubling down on what is working, cutting out what isn’t or refining my approach, and then developing what is working into a repeatable revenue stream.

Easier said than done…

In reality, I picked a few experiments to focus on. Taking the time to study a few channels that relate to those experiments. Then placing small bets (investing $100s to $1000s, not tens of thousands). I also had to say learn to say no consistently, thank you Steli Efti for that valuable lesson!

It definitely helped to put metrics in place and shut off what wasn’t work even after a period of refinement.

In case you’re curious, my primary revenue streams are my online course and sponsorship for my weekly web show Build. These are my primary not just because they are the biggest, but because they are the most predictable.

Two additional revenue streams I have are speaking and book sales. These two less predictable but I’ve been working to make them more repeatable as well.

Between January to May of 2018, my goal was to have enough revenue to support myself through the rest of the year in case I want to work part-time or extend my maternity leave. I decided against dipping into savings because it’s just too easy, and I was wary about how long it would take to build back up.

I hit my goal early thanks to some much-needed luck, staying the course on my experiments, and through my network of trusted business partners.

I needed to hit this goal because babies are expensive, and even more so when you don’t have the backing of a big company with a benefits package.

By the time I complete my pregnancy I will have paid a substantial portion (nearly 40%) of my healthcare and delivery costs. To put that in real terms, I will have maxed out my out-of-pocket expense for the two years that spanned my pregnancy. I’ll also be paying for my own childcare expenses.

I do have the help and support of my husband, but he’s in a similar situation being the first engineer at a bootstrapped startup.

With two startup salaries, keeping an eye on those finances becomes a priority very quickly!

Which brings me to my final and most important pillar: having a support system in place before you need it.

Building A Trusted Team And Support Network You Can Turn To

It’s taken me awhile to learn how to hire people who are reliable, self-directed, and can take feedback.

I’ve had to iterate on how I screen people and train them.

I’m happy to report that I’m now reaping the rewards of that investment. Once my pregnancy looked positive, I let everyone on my team know. Many of them are parents, so they understood where I was coming from. They worked with me to put a plan in place to get projects done by May, and we’ve stayed on track! They’re also working to keep things humming along when I’m out.

The other piece of the puzzle is my support network composed of business partners and acquaintances. They didn’t shy away from sending me opportunities just because I was pregnant. They trusted that I could get the job done! Their confidence in me has helped me build a healthy pipeline of customers and revenue.

The Importance of Maternity AND Paternity

I believe in paternity, and I’m very thankful that my husband’s startup Olark is giving him 3 months paid paternity. Not only that but the CEO and other employees within the company have used it. We’ve discovered that paternity, may exist at a number of companies, but it maybe there in theory or a very limited basis.

Two weeks may be fine for some folks, but I’ve noticed that it’s often hard for people to get over burn out after a two week vacation. So I’m not sure how they bounce back from supporting the birth of a child in that span of time…

It’s just as important for fathers to be present and bond with babies as it is for a mother. Plus, as my lactation specialist mentioned, the work of supporting new mother is invaluable. Someone needs to be around to release her for round the clock feedings every once in awhile, making sure she is also nourished, hydrated, keeping the home in order, and of course taking care of other little ones.

Why I Turned Down Opportunities And What Happened When I Did

There were a number of amazing opportunities that came my way. I wanted to say yes to every single one of them, but I intentionally chose to operate at about 80% because each day and trimester has been different.

I also didn’t want to let people down. So instead of saying yes and trying to make it work, I told people what I was going through. Surprisingly a number of them were OK deferring the opportunity to a later date!

Predecessors Who Paved The Way For Me

I know I’m not the first founder to get pregnant and run a business. There have been many that have come before me, and I’ve also had the good fortune of employing and working closely with some of them, like Lyndi Thompson. She showed me how to do it five years ago!

Another great example is Margot Schmorak CEO and Co-Founder of Hostfully, who shares her plans for maternity leave in this post.

What’s next?

I don’t know what life will be like postpartum and that’s where my planning ends.

I’m giving myself ample time to feel things out. A large part of it depends on my baby’s and my health.

Ultimately, the way I see it, I have my entire life to be a founder, but my little one will only be little for a while, and that is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience!

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