Motherly @ Work features the stories and insights of modern women growing their careers—and their families.
Sarah Schaaf is one of those mamas.
She's mother, wife, and Founder + CEO of Expectantly —a just-launched baby goods that pairs families with high quality baby gear to borrow for a specific amount of time (with the option to buy at the end of the rental if you love it.)
Expectantly is about to save your family a bunch of money (and storage space!) And Sarah is about to inspire you about how she makes it all work—
Why did you believe you needed to create Expectantly?
Sarah Schaaf: When my son was a few months old my husband and I realized how much stuff we had accumulated that we had barely used. Our garage looked like a high end baby boutique!
I couldn't get over how much money we had spent, and more importantly, how wasteful the whole process had been.
Even the items that he loved like his bassinet and swing had only been used a few months max, and it just seemed like a terrible waste in every sense.
So many parents were having the same experience we were having we decided to do something about it. We wanted to save parents time and money while conserving resources by creating a more modern paradigm for this industry. We're the first company bringing this model to market and we couldn't be more excited about it and the positive impact we hope it creates.
What was the need in the market?
Sarah Schaaf: Modern millennial parents are comfortable with the idea of sharing items with people they don't know thanks to companies like Uber, Rent the Runway, Getaround and AirBnB. We wanted to bring that same concept to new and expectant parents with Expectantly.
We've partnered with the leading brands in the industry and buy our products direct from the manufacturers. We send them out to Expectantly clients (cleaning and authenticating them in between users) over an 18 month period, then we donate those items to charity.
We're giving our clients the ability to have everything they want for their children without wasting precious resources on items they won't use for an extended period of time. And we're giving back to the Earth and our local and national communities. We're thrilled that we've been able to bring a model to market that fulfills a need while also doing good.
Tell us about how your career to this point—how did you get here?
Sarah Schaaf: I worked as an attorney for 5 years at firms in downtown SF defending corporate clients in litigation matters before taking a position in Google's legal department.
Even though I had been successful as an attorney I never felt totally fulfilled by the work I was doing. I left Google to go on maternity leave and started playing around with the idea of starting my own company.
I saw a need in the market that wasn't being met in an industry that was long overdo for an update. I knew so many successful and smart entrepreneurs to lean on for advice and I live in arguably the best city in the world for innovation and entrepreneurship.
I figured that if I was going to take a risk in my career now was the time.
I met amazing co-founders and we decided to team up and start Expectantly. Since starting my own company I've realized I love the creative process in a way that I never found as a practicing attorney. It's amazing how well the training I received as an lawyer has helped me in starting my own company. I definitely think everything I've done in my career so far lead me exactly where I need to be.
How are Millennial parents transforming their relationship with 'stuff'? Is it Marie Kondo? Is it student debt? Urban living? Is something else at play in the culture that is driving us to want to live well with less?
Sarah Schaaf: Such a great question! I think it's probably a combination of all those things as well as some other influences. I think millennials are much more aware than past generations of the idea of waste: wasted time, wasted money, wasted resources, wasted space.
Millennials are the generation of conservation in so many ways.
Since a very young age we've been used to the concept of recycling (and now composting) our trash and conserving water and resources during a time in which our planet is changing in a negative way at an incredibly fast rate.
Millennials are also a generation of people that are all about taking action and standing up for what you believe in. All of these beliefs along with the amazing ability the internet has given us to get and receive information at an incredible speed has made all of us experts in knowing exactly what we want and how to get it.
These days millennials want to be smart with their resources and just generally do good in the world, and that's what Expectantly is all about. We buy our products brand new from our manufacturing partners and send them out to clients, using only non-toxic Method products to clean them between clients. After about 18 months in our client pool the items are donated to families in need through our charity partner Baby2Baby. We're reducing waste, saving resources, and helping needy families. It's definitely a concept millennials can understand and feel good about using.
What are your secrets for integrating work and family?
Sarah Schaaf: I'll let you know when I figure it out!
Seriously though, it's a constant work in progress.
When I'm with my son I make him my priority and just cherish our time together. I find if I try to multitask when I'm with him I just end up frustrated, so just giving in completely and being silly with him is so much more productive!
I have an amazing partner in my husband—he is such a team player and we really work together to make our household run. I count on him and he counts on me. I think it's important for partners to give each other the time and space they need to be themselves outside of their duties as parents. Like my husband taking care of things on his own a morning or two a week so I can go to a spin class or me taking care of the evening routine so he can go for a run or meet up with friends.
We make sure to really enjoy our time together as a family and also give ourselves the space to do what we love outside the house, too.
We love hearing from other women about how they make it all work. Can you give us a little glimpse into a day-in-the-life?
At 6: 30 am. . . Getting out of bed to grab my baby out of his crib and get him a bottle. We snuggle and watch the news and I just try to enjoy my time with him before I'm out the door and gone for the day.
At 7:45 am. . . Trying to sneak in a quick workout at the gym or waiting for our nanny to arrive so I can rush out the door. If I'm at home I'm trying to entertain my little boy while also getting dressed and ready for the day, definitely no easy feat and I'm not always successful at it!
At 10:00 am. . . At the office working side by side with Chrissy or out at a meeting of some sort. Lately we've been spending a lot of mornings with our developer in web design meetings or at the Method offices discussing our exclusive partnership for our upcoming launch. Or investor meetings, I feel like I'm always in fundraising mode being the CEO of a startup. I find the mornings to be really productive for me and I'm always trying to make my way through at least one to do list.
At 1:00 pm. . . Late lunch or in a meeting. A lot of afternoons I'm with Chrissy and Thornton (my husband, one of my co-founders and Expectantly's COO) at our warehouse space or going back and forth between our office and our warehouse (luckily they are only about 2 blocks apart). I also try to save phone calls for the afternoon so you might find me on the phone with our PR agency or one of our charity partners or sneaking in an afternoon cup of coffee between calls.
At 3:00 pm. . . Still at the office but thinking about what the heck we're going to have for dinner and the logistics of how we're going to get food on the table!
At 5:00 pm. . . Knocking off work and commuting to either the gym or the grocery store or an activity of some sort for my son (music class, swim lessons, etc.). I'm always trying to squeeze 12 hours of activities into a 10 hour day and some days it's a real struggle to get it all done.
At 9:00 pm. . . Sometimes on my laptop getting a few more work tasks done, but usually on the couch snuggling with my husband and dog and watching something mindless on TV. I need a little bit of time after a long day to unwind and unplug, so it's really hard for me to get in bed before 10 pm. But it's worth it to catch up with my partner and mentally prepare myself for what's coming up the next day.
Even though Expectantly is about living with less, it's also about valuing high quality products. What are the amazing products you can't live without as parents?
Sarah Schaaf: There's no denying the value of procuring high quality items for your kids, especially for things you use constantly.
We love our OXO Tot Sprout high chair and our son uses it 3-5 times a day. It's so intuitive and easy to keep clean and the design is super modern. We also can't live without our Nuna Sena playard. We use it for travel and around the house—it's so easy to fold up and pretty lightweight.
When my son was younger and eating baby food we used the Beaba Babycook almost everyday, but after a few months he had moved on to solids and we were done with that product.
I absolutely adore Method products—we use their products all over our home in almost every room to keep it clean and germ free and smelling amazing.
Do you have a mentor or someone you look up to that's helped to shape you as a woman and a mother? Tell us how they inspire you.
Sarah Schaaf: It might sound a little cliche, but my mom has been the most powerful female influence in my life by far. She is also an attorney and always managed to excel in her career while being the most thoughtful and caring mother.
She has taught me so much about being present in whatever you are doing and being able to handle multiple roles at the same time.
She's an amazing mother, wife, grandmother, friend and co-worker and I'll be lucky if I'm able to accomplish half of what she's done in her career and her family life.
Tell us about your children. How have they transformed your career?
Sarah Schaaf: My children have absolutely had a transformative effect of on the direction of my career. Our first child was a girl named Viviette. She passed away 2 days before her due date. Losing her was the hardest thing I've ever gone through and it changed the direction of my life in every way.
I decided that life was too short to spend time doing things that weren't meaningful to me.
Losing her was a major inspiration in my decision to leave the law and start my own company. My son, Thatcher, is an absolute joy. We had him about a year and a half after we lost Vivi, and he's been my inspiration everyday in moving forward with my dream of making Expectantly come to life. I can honestly say that if it weren't for my children there is no way I would be in the professional situation I'm in now, and Expectantly wouldn't exist.
What gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you inspired and excited about life?
Sarah Schaaf: My son, my husband and our adventures! Just seeing the look on his face every morning makes me excited to wake up and get the day going.
Right now I'm in a place where I feel like time is passing too quickly! I want to slow down time and be present and enjoy every minute.
We'd love to hear—what would you tell other mamas who want to turn their passions into their professions?
Sarah Schaaf: The most important thing you can have in life and your career is passion for what you are doing. Without that, a job is just a job (and that's okay too, especially if your job allows you to have passion for what you do in your free time.)
If you have passion for something that really moves you and gets you excited, then don't waste another minute. Start doing what you need to do to make the transition.
I also highly recommend leaning on other women for advice and introductions to people that can help you with your goals. Most successful women have had someone help them get to where they are and are just waiting to repay the favor. Don't be afraid to ask questions and lean on others while you make your way.
What are your big dreams for Expectantly?
Sarah Schaaf: We want to make Expectantly the new standard for how parents interact with the things they need for their growing families. We want to update and disrupt the existing standard in this industry. By allowing people to interact with the things they need in the way that they want, we want to make people's lives more convenient and delightful while saving precious resources and helping families in need.
What do you hope your children learn from your career?
Sarah Schaaf: I hope my children learn that being happy is just as important as being successful. For a big portion of my career I was really focused on objective success and making money. Now I'm much more focused on being happy and doing something meaningful and fulfilling with my time.
And surrounding yourself with supportive people that you learn from and love working with is important, too.
You pick up a lot of qualities from the people you spend the most time with, so make sure they're positive people with big ideas.
What does it mean to you to be “Motherly"?
Sarah Schaaf: Being “Motherly" is being a true supporter of other women and mothers, even if you have different parenting or mothering styles.
Being “Motherly" is also about persevering in the face of adversity and carrying on when things don't work out the way you planned.
Sometimes life throws things at you that you didn't expect, and I believe it's our role as mothers to set an example for our kids and show them that we can be strong even if things are hard.
Sometimes being strong means asking for help or advice from someone else, and it's important that we teach our children that, too. Similarly, I think the most flattering quality in any mother is being able to make adjustments in the face of change. After all, change is the only true constant in life, so being able to roll with it and adjust accordingly is the definition of being “Motherly" in my book.