If there is one bit of advice that inspires new moms to return to work or become entrepreneurs, it may be this, from the late publisher Arnold Glasow: “Make your life a mission, not an intermission.”
But how, as new moms, do we recognize and achieve the most from our missions? For me, it comes from reaching back. I co-founded my first endeavor, the iPad point-of-sale company Revel Systems, to meet an unmet demand. My second company, Athena Security, is different. I wanted to use the business expertise and innovative talent I had gained to support a transcendent purpose: to use technology to protect life.
The arrival of my daughter in June stoked this passion, but without question my first experience as an entrepreneur informs it – every day. Another mom recently asked if I would share my secrets. So, I will. Below are five pieces of advice for new moms who want to make social entrepreneurship work.
The simplest way I can describe it is you fall in love with the idea. I am hard-wired to innovate, so soon after selling Revel, in 2017, I felt the itch to create something. But I wanted to invent more than a solution to a business need; I wanted to address a human need. Athena does that. It produces artificial intelligence security cameras that instantly detect when a gun is pulled and then immediately notify the authorities, getting help to the scene faster. It’s a practical solution guided by love.
I literally chased down a $30,000 investment in Revel from a man I had just met in a coffee shop. He wasn't even an accredited investor, but I convinced him!
There are a few key lessons I pick up since then:
Fit and chemistry are crucial. Treat your lead investor like a long-term partner, because it is a relationship – and a difficult one to get out of. You can’t just let an investor go, like an employee.
Do background checks. Dig beyond sources the investors provide, including partners. Their portfolios should provide some names. Even if the investor checks out, do not give one person too much control of the round; you’ll have more flexibility with two lead investors.
Give the terms a hard read. Don’t accept the word “standard” when it comes to compensation, liquidation or other factors. For example, a lot of investors like to be rewarded in preferred stock because it provides fixed dividends and added control. This could compromise the value of common stock and hurt the owner. Also, look closely at liquidation preferences and terms regarding future rounds of investments.
Work-life balance is different for each of us. To me, “having it all” requires that I take care of myself first, period. I achieve this not so much through work-life balance as in work-life integration: I don’t think of going to work and not going to work; it’s all integrated. Having a partner who is committed to a shared vision of family and career, who will contribute substantially to the child-rearing, is essential to this integration.
I’ve never been the best at interviews, but having employed more than 700 people at Revel, and pulling together a crack team at Athena, I did pick up a few “musts.” Chief among them, you want people who compliment your skills and values, so be sure to have those defined. For me, it’s frugality, responsiveness, a sense of urgency and teamwork.
I’ll share one red flag: When a candidate talks about strategy during the interview. Strategy is the CEO’s job. I’m looking for doers. Lastly, take the time to double-check resumes and poke holes to gauge transparency and honesty. Is he still at that “current” position, or did he leave a year ago?
It’s hard to do, but try not to be selfless. With my first company, I didn’t manage my own self that well and I began to burn out after about four years. So I get it. Take time to measure your satisfaction regularly, like you do financial performance. Create a list of “wellness” measures: To what degree is the venture bringing you joy compared with stress? How much do you look forward to tackling a challenge? The answers to these questions will help you identify potential problems before they become debilitating issues.
At the risk of sounding cliché, being an entrepreneur and a mother is a marathon as much as it is a mission. You need to keep yourself in a happy, healthy state so you are there to nurture that venture when it needs you most. Because once you start, there are no intermissions.
Lisa Falzone is the CEO and co-founder of Athena Security and a successful entrepreneur, having grown her first venture, Revel Systems, from seed to more than $200 million in funding.