I recently met with another female CEO. Like me, she’s 32 years old. She wanted to meet with me because she wasn’t sure if it was possible for her to continue to run her successful business and also start a family. She felt she had to choose. She especially felt pressure from her investors, some of whom directly told her not to have a child while running her business or raising capital. They advised her that if she was thinking about a family, she should first think about an exit. Apparently there’s some well known phrase that circulates in VC land: “Exits before babies”. Well, I missed that memo!
This was just one woman in the tech industry in a string of many lately who have been reaching out to me about starting a family. Women in tech, especially founders and aspiring founders, are apprehensive about starting families because they don’t think it’s compatible with a successful career. Egg freezing is more popular than ever and many large tech companies now offer it as a standard benefit to their employees. I don’t know how I fell into this role but some combination of having a baby, starting a company, and dealing with my husband having cancer have made me the poster mom for a twisted version of “having it all”. Women have started looking to me to tell them whether it’s all possible. Can you start a company and also start a family?
Before I share the answer, let me share my story. Six weeks after giving birth to my daughter, I went back to work at the tech startup where I had been working. I liked my job running the product team for a growing company. The job was close to home and didn’t require travel. The company I worked for had even created a mother’s room for me to pump in. It wasn’t a bad gig.
But at the same time, my job wasn’t great either. The company I worked for strongly encouraged long hours in the office and attending Friday night drinks after work each week. There were very few other parents and I felt like my desire to get my work done and go home for the night was frowned upon. People couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to take long lunches and instead wanted to grab a quick bite at my desk so I could leave work earlier to see my daughter. Some co-workers complained that my mother’s room for pumping had taken away their valuable meeting space.
I left my tech company job and started Winnie because I saw an opportunity to build a product for parents that didn’t exist in the world. I also left because I saw an opportunity to build a company that would allow me—and the people working for me—to “have it all”. My cofounder Anne Halsall and I, both moms, decided that we’d build Winnie in a way that didn’t consume our entire lives. We’d have reasonable office hours, a flexible environment so we could work from home when we needed to, and the ability to spend time with our families at night and on the weekends. We decided that instead of seeing those things as a disadvantage, we’d use them as our secret weapon. We’d use our flexible environment to recruit world-class engineering talent who didn’t want to burn out at a traditional tech startup. We’d use that fact that we don’t spend 24/7 in the office to force ourselves to prioritize and focus on what is really important to our business. We’d use time with our families to relax and reset.
This secret weapon of a family-friendly work culture has served us well. Fast forward one year and now Winnie is a rapidly growing platform that over 25,000 moms and dads across the United States depend on regularly. We’ve grown to become a place to find unique insights on everything from keeping the spark alive with your partner to the best daycares & preschools near you. Winnie exists because as parents, we saw an opportunity that all the techbro founders had never seen. We truly get this market that so many have failed to tap into because we are parents ourselves.
So to all the women out there wondering if they can really start a company and a family, the answer is YES! Not only will being a mother make you a more productive worker, it will make your company better. It will help you see opportunities because you will have a new perspective on the world. It will help you have more empathy for your employees because you now will know what it’s like to have things going on outside of the office that matter too. It will help you ruthlessly prioritize to focus in on what’s most important for your business.
Stop waiting until the timing is perfect. Stop worrying about what other people think. Stop wondering if you can manage it all. The answer is yes.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.