Women today face unique pressures on their work-life balance, especially when it comes to motherhood. One end of the spectrum envisions you at home, caring for your children, and the other end insists you always “lean in” and fight the patriarchy with your career success. The confidence in the belief that one can be both a parent and a CEO is something many men can take for granted. What many working mothers I speak with want is the ability to be both a mom and a boss, a caregiver and a business leader. Yet it is difficult to picture a future where they can be unilaterally considered successful at both – a mental image that comes easily to many men I speak with.
Personally, I have long wrestled with even imagining how to become, then be, a mother and an entrepreneur – a hard charging Founder/CEO seemingly almost always in either growth and scale mode, or early stage startup mode. Years ago, I was even quoted in Innovating Women voicing some of my thought on the matter. Because I’ve personally grappled with how to be both – I jumped at the chance to speak with two women entrepreneurs who are absolutely thriving as co-founders and executives at a growing company – all while raising their young children.
One of the strongest barriers between parenthood and the working world is the question of care: If you aren’t watching your children, who is? Good quality and affordable childcare, whether it is a full-time nanny or an afternoon at daycare, can make the difference for mothers seeking success in their work and personal lives to the same degree that men do. However, actually finding that care is increasingly difficult. Two such mothers, Sara Mauskopf and Anne Halsall, encountered this dilemma first hand when they started their families while working jobs in the tech industry. I spoke with Mauskopf and Halsall to learn how their search for great parenting information led them to found Winnie, a company designed by, for, and around the lives of millennial parents.
As millennials, both women become moms earlier than many of their peers. Similarly, they were both deeply invested in their careers when their children were born. When they returned to work, they almost immediately ran into problems trying to find the services they needed as parents, childcare in particular. Not only was there a lack of resources such as industry-wide apps or websites, the online presence of daycares and nannies on sites like Yelp and Google Business was inconsistent at best. The advice the were often given included “ask your friends” or “ask your Mom,” but their friends weren’t yet parents and things have changed significantly since their moms’ time. Millennials that they are, they were shocked that a tech-based solution wasn’t readily available.
Mauskopf and Halsall then made a decision that would drastically alter their lives as mothers and as businesswomen. They left their (great) jobs to found Winnie, feeling that it simply was something that needed to be created and out in the world. Through their work, Mauskopf and Halsall wanted to “make parents’ lives easier through technology.” This meant creating a space where the more than half of childcare providers that lack a web presence and the over 70% of parents who must rely on word-of-mouth to find providers can be brought together. The company they built allows parents to use their website or free mobile app to view all of the licensed childcare providers in select markets, filtered by age range, cost, schedule, and available openings, as well as parent reviews of those services.
New mothers and now co-founders, Mauskopf and Halsall had to ensure that their mission to provide work-life balance to other parents didn’t interfere with their own. They started out to build a company that they could work at for the long run – and being Moms is their priority. Thus, balance was built into the core of the business from Day One. Their work time is intensely focused, but they leave the office each day at 6pm. Working long, crazy hours was off the table, and they were upfront about that front the beginning with everyone – including their investors.
While a firm position on work-life balance might turn some investors away, in Winnie’s case it became an asset. Mauskopf and Halsall were essentially within their own target market, allowing them an inside-out view of the type of lifestyle consumers in the industry desired. Combined with their background at technology companies like Google, Twitter, and YouTube, they were a formidable force in meetings with investors. In a world where women only receive 3% of venture capital investments, Mauskopf’s advice is simply, “Be persistent.” And persistent they were, Winnie received more investment offers than they needed, allowing them some selectivity in the investors with whom they chose to partner.
One such firm, Day One Ventures, immediately saw the powerful impact that Winnie could have for working parents. “Winnie’s founders are exceptional – they have proven experience building some of today’s most used consumer products, from Twitter to Postmates,” says Founder and General Partner Masha Drokova, with whom I previously discussed the issues women face in the VC arena. “As mothers, they have a unique perspective on a market that few of today’s tech founders understand. Having that expertise gives them a competitive advantage and helps them see problems that others don’t even realize exist. We’re excited to support them as individuals and Winnie as a company.”
In short, Mauskopf and Halsall have used their unique struggles and insights as mothers and women in the business world to create a business that helps break down a barrier for women in the workplace. In doing so, they are blazing the trail for other women to jumpstart their own careers based off similar concepts, and providing them with the resources to maintain their work-life balance along the way. There is ample opportunity today for women to help further women’s progress and make a profit, to be a mother and be an executive, to have your cake and eat it, too.