3 takeaways from being a pregnant female founder in Silicon Valley
If I had to pick just one example to explain life as a pregnant female founder, it would probably be the hot July day I threw up blood four times before flying off to help represent our startup at its first major conference. Hunched over in the front seat of my car, my partner rubbing my back, I asked myself over and over if I was crazy for doing this.
Until this summer, I had no idea how hard early pregnancy could be. I met with dozens of clients — in our case, major city police chiefs — who had no idea I was stashing saltines, ginger ale, and airsickness bags with me at all times. This is called the first trimester, and I wanted to punch people in the arm every time they told me it would go away in the second trimester, even when I was well into Month 5.
Now, I stood out enough in Silicon Valley before my bump: I am a biracial female co-founder whose company, My90, sells to local government agencies. I avoided saying the words “govtech startup” to investors so that I could actually get meetings in the first place. In other words, I already had two strikes against me compared to the tech bros that roam the Valley.
This August, My90 joined Alchemist Accelerator. When we showed up at orientation, I noticed a couple of things right away. First, I was the only female CEO in our cohort of 24 companies. Second, it turned out that our January Demo Day fell on the exact same day as my due date. Flying under the radar simply wasn’t going to happen.
Over the past few months, my belly has grown along with the company. Throughout 2017, My90 has worked with communities, police departments, and organizations all over the U.S. Surprisingly, the more the business has ramped up, the more I’ve noticed how my pregnancy has had a positive impact on our work. As it turns out, there’s probably no better litmus test in startup land than to announce you’re having a baby — in a good way. Here’s three reasons why:
#1 Insiders: the team members
Telling my only other full-time colleague, Ben, about my pregnancy was probably the most nerve-wracking announcement I had to make. I shouldn’t have worried: he reacted with unchecked enthusiasm and support. Best of all, he has been adamant that I make decisions (such as sharing the baby news and taking maternity leave) without worrying about how potential investors may react. He is a vocal feminist, and has demonstrated leadership qualities that may never have surfaced in other situations.
The same goes for my peers in Alchemist. Checking in weekly with a group of startup founders would be helpful no matter. But the other founders’ genuine support as I’ve gotten bigger and bigger at each week’s session has made the accelerator experience even better than expected.
#2 Outsiders: the clients, advisors, and investors
Sharing the big news with our broader network of partners and supporters has helped form stronger relationships with the people we work with. After all, nearly everyone we work with is older than we are, and nearly everyone has kids of their own. Showing police chiefs recent ultrasound pictures and getting newborn advice (“stay off Google”) from advisors has helped me form stronger relationships than before.
Before my pregnancy, I kept my personal and professional lives very separate, but with a big old baby bump, that’s simply not possible. Instead, I’m taking my investors’ advice to “own it” when it comes to juggling work and motherhood. As scary as having a baby may sound at times, becoming a parent also feels like joining an enormous, not-so-secret club.
#3 Big picture: strategic decision-making
With the baby coming in January, there is no room for procrastinating on big decisions. We are tackling massive goals with a level of focus that you just can’t manufacture. Having a baby has helped me think about what kind of company I want to build, and what it will take for a team of people to reach these goals, rather than trying to do everything myself. Hard decisions have to be made quickly, and priorities have to be triaged. Generally speaking, this is how our type of work should always be done. That said, being in a situation where it has to be done this way has forced me to develop new start-up muscles. As it turns out, you can get a lot done while a little baby is kicking the bejeezus out of your ribs at the same time.
I co-founded My90 for a number of reasons, and just one of those reasons was a desire to sidestep the fraught dynamics — including maternal bias — that women can encounter in tech start ups. Faced with an industry where women are regularly underpaid, under-represented, and outright harassed, I preferred to take my career into my own hands. Now, as a female founder with a baby bump, these reasons have only become stronger.
Rather than feeling like my pregnancy is a third strike against me, I’ve decided that it’s a testament to how much I believe in My90 that I am continuing to grow our company before, during, and after this baby comes into the world. Happily, being pregnant has also become a testament to the caliber of people supporting My90, from my immediate team members to the Sand Hill investors who encouraged me in my earliest, most nervous days of pregnancy.
At first, I hesitated to share my story because so much about the future is uncertain. My partner and I are hoping for a healthy, happy baby. My company’s team is working toward a prosperous, growing company. In no universe are either outcomes certain. But waiting to see what happens at the end of this story seems unnecessary. After all, there’s a ton of work we need to get done, and we’re just getting started.