Being a working mom is hard, but being an entrepreneur who is building a startup can present even more challenges. You're probably not confined to a traditional work schedule so there isn't much "time off." There are going to be many, many learning curves along the way. All while trying to prioritize your own family.
When the company you're growing feels like raising another baby, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two titles—mama and entrepreneur—but you can succeed in both.
Here's what I've learned along the way:
1. Know your superpowers.
As women, we try to be all the things to all the people but that just doesn't work in business. It's time to play to your strengths, which means taking the time to look in the mirror and do some self-reflection.
What are your superpowers—the things that only you can do? The things that give you confidence and, when harnessed, can create a lot of value?
The flip side is knowing your weaknesses and getting comfortable seeing them as such. Now is not the time to teach yourself to be an Excel wizard—sure it's important to always be learning new skills, but it's equally, if not more important, to be comfortable acknowledging where others can do something better, faster and cheaper.
2. Find your village.
A one-woman show has never had an IPO. And it may sound like a cliche but teamwork really does make the dream work. How successful you are at building a village, a support structure including partners, advisors and your first teammates, might just be what makes or breaks your business.
Most start-ups fail because of interpersonal dynamics so choose carefully and know that establishing and enforcing a company culture are essential responsibilities of CEOs. Lead by example and prioritize your village every step of the way.
3. Understand your customer.
Authenticity is key and earned through the hard work of understanding the pain points of your customer. Don't be afraid to go deep—do the work and ask the questions. Take the time to know them better than they know themselves. And never stop iterating your product with your customers—their feedback will surprise you every time because they will see things you simply can't because you're too close to it all. Take their feedback seriously and see it as a gift.
4. Obsess on brand.
The core of most modern businesses is a brand made up of your mission, values and the visual system you present. You know your brand is resonating when you see it reflected back to you by your customer.
Obsess on it. Every. Single. Day.
Establish your brand guardrails and enforce them meticulously. Know what you stand for and what you don't. Know what is fixed and what is flexible. Use it to differentiate yourself in your market.
Every successful business has a brand that means something and is essential to its sustainable competitive advantage. Build a brand and use it as a moat to ensure the longevity of your business.
5. Prioritize self-care.
Start-up life can be a recipe for burnout so know your limits and enforce them. Self-care is not selfish. Repeat. Self-care is not selfish. Launching a business is a marathon, not a sprint so you must be fueled for the long haul.
Schedule time on your calendar for family and friends. Take the conference call while walking around the block. Splurge on the meal delivery service to ensure you are making wise food choices. Prioritize sleep—it's the foundation of good health and your business depends on it.
6. Fail fast.
A wise advisor once told me that if you wait to launch until you aren't embarrassed by your product, you waited too long. Launch before you are comfortable and get in market as soon as possible to get feedback. Then iterate, iterate, iterate.
Never let a feature of the product be too precious to kill—experimentation is essential to entrepreneurship. You must fail a thousand times in a thousand little ways along the journey to get to greatness. Start today.
7. Embrace the struggle.
The struggle is real—starting a business is hard. Get comfortable with the struggle. Every day will be met with new challenges that will feel daunting. But that's okay, I promise.
The secret is, while it doesn't get easier, you get stronger. Overcoming adversity will teach you new superpowers and your confidence will increase along the way. You'll learn to trust your instinct and your team as you grow and evolve. Like I tell my daughters: You are strong. You are brave. You can do anything. You've got this!