What do you get when you combine two of the most demanding titles in the world? Mom-entrepreneurs, a growing group of women who are dedicated to their families, their careers, and their passions for making the world a better place.
We're so inspired by these women who run businesses, households, and whatever else comes their way. So in honor of Small Business Week and Mother’s Day, we spoke to several hard-working mom-entrepreneurs in our orbit to learn where they find inspiration, fulfillment, and balance.
Here’s a rundown of the dynamic mom-entrepreneurs we spoke to:
Elizabeth Gore, President of Alice, a digital ecosystem that connects entrepreneurs with the resources they need to scale and succeed. A respected entrepreneur and advisor, Elizabeth is one of People’s “Top 100 Extraordinary Women,” Fast Company’s “Most Creative People in Business,” and Entrepreneur’s “Women to Watch.”
Sharon Kan, Co-Founder and CEO of Pepperlane, a company that helps mothers turn their ideas and skills into businesses that fit their busy lives. A serial entrepreneur, Kan has built and sold four companies. She also co-founded WIN, the Women Innovating Now Lab at Babson College, to help female entrepreneurs start their businesses.
Kristen Womack, Founder of Hello Mom; Co-Founder of HackTheGap; Founder and Principal of Night Sky Web Co; and Advisor to the Everyday Miracles Board of Directors. As savvy and down-to-earth as they come, Womack is passionate about gender equality and all things motherhood.
Samantha Zirkin, Founder and CEO of Point 93, a startup that provides dynamic pricing software for retailers. She’s an outspoken supporter of equality and feminism who’s passionate about corporate social responsibility, especially worker's rights and supply chain transparency.
Being a mom is already a full-time job. What inspired you to take on building your own business (versus going into the workforce)?
Kan: “I actually didn't have many choices. I was pregnant with my second child while I was looking for my next gig, and that was a major challenge. I realized quickly that I wouldn't find a CEO position while I was pregnant, so I decided to invent my own job. I launched my company Tikatok (which we later sold to Barnes & Noble), four weeks before my second child was born.”
Womack: “I've always been driven to make an impact and solve problems. Becoming a parent only made that drive stronger — but then I wanted to work on more meaningful problems. So I evaluated the work I was doing and found I wasn't feeling aligned with purpose. I started dabbling with prototypes to test a few hypotheses I had about first-hand challenges. With each alpha test, my goal was to find a sample size of 100 people — but I was surprised to find thousands of people responding. That motivated me to go deeper into solving these problems, which were all related to the physical and mental well-being of becoming a parent.”
Zirkin: “I was out of work for 6 years when I had my kids. I loved being a full-time parent and cherished all the milestones and tiny moments. When my Dad was suddenly diagnosed with grade-4 glioblastoma, I wanted to have something precious to share with him: A vision of a good future and an acknowledgment that I would devote my life to living the values he taught me. I had some nascent plans for a company, but it was the imminence of his decline that galvanized me to begin. My dad was an exceptional family doctor who made the incredibly challenging work of healing seem easy; I wanted him to know that he was a good father who had raised a kid that also cares about people.”
How does being a parent affect your business mindset?
Gore: “I make very unemotional decisions in my job. My personal fulfillment comes from my children. I also must be efficient with time. While most weeks I’m working 60+ hours, I have a schedule to keep in order to ensure I get my kids to school or activities. That means the workday must be incredibly focused, efficient, and prioritized.”
Kan: “My mindset shifted completely. My gravity changed. No longer could I focus on one thing and forget the rest of the world. The challenge of the modern mom is that society is asking so much from us. The rules of what success looks like were not written by mothers; we need to decide what is good for us. When I started my career there were two options: Stay at home or find a job. I was inspired to start Pepperlane to help moms start their own businesses and make an income based on their mindsets and terms.”
Womack: “It actually makes me think about adults differently. I think about how they were once children, and I wonder about their parents. As I'm raising my kids, I often think of them in the future and hope they’re able to contribute meaningfully to this world. I hope they’re treated with compassion and always find opportunities to continue growing.That hope comes full circle as I think about the adults I interact with: peers, employees, and the customers using our products.”
Zirkin: “Parenthood enriches me greatly. My children anchor me in reality: the everyday normalcy of laundry, clipping fingernails, and tears when a playmate isn’t kind. They give me perspective. I know what matters and what does not. They make me a stronger, more empathetic leader. Thanks in large part to them, I know how to clarify, set boundaries, and express appreciation for my team and our mission.”
Mom-guilt is real. How do you prioritize between the needs of the family, the work that needs to be done, and self-care? Do you have any advice to assuage the mom-guilt?
Gore: “Guilt is a real, gut-punching thing for any mom, much less a mom who also runs a growing business. You always feel a little bit like you're neglecting one thing or another, but at the end of the day, I know my family is always the number one priority. The phone goes away and the computer shuts down during family time, which may mean that I'm hammering away on the work to-do list late at night or early in the morning, and that's OK. My advice is to be where you are. If you’re at work, focus on work. If you’re with the kids, focus on the kids.”
Kan: “As moms, we grade ourselves all the time: Did I make the right decision, did I spend too much time at work, am I with my family enough? The truth is that I want to feel happy and there is one question I should ask myself every day: Did I do good today? We’ve got to stop counting how much we do and for whom. Instead, I’m learning to count my blessings and say thank you. To every mom, I say: ‘Take it day by day.’ Some days you’ll do better on mommy’s duties, while other days you’ll give more attention to your work, but we should all support each other without giving ourselves a scorecard.”
Womack: “I love to work and I love to be a mom. Some days are harder than others, but I'm almost always failing at something. Sometimes I'm surprised at the guilt I feel and other times I’m surprised to feel no guilt at all. I just try to recognize when one area in my life is imbalanced or neglected. My only advice is to try not to feel guilty about feeling guilty. Recognize the feeling, feel it, and then allow yourself to let it go. Practicing self-compassion, self-forgiveness, and self-love is a competitive advantage in a world where you’re asked to be perfect at everything.”
Zirkin: “Constraints are real. I prioritize based on medical need, our values, the kids’ educational and social needs, and then self last. I don’t feel neglected because I get my personal fulfillment from my family and company. My advice is to spend time up front to find the right tools and put systems in place. It should take significant time and effort to interview, hire, train, and onboard; this is true for both a backend developer and a babysitter. No need to recreate support systems — find and contribute to the vibrant existing ones. That might mean open-source software or a babysitting co-op. Your job as a CEO and parent is to find good people and tools and put them in the pathway of your children and team.”
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurial parents?
Gore: “Don't think of work-life balance. Think of what you are doing as a balancing act — always having to teeter one way or the other in the moment. And wine ... wine helps.”
Kan: “Be OK when things get messy. Life will get in your way. You can never completely separate work from your family life, and that’s OK. I share my flaws with my daughters and I also teach them to take time and experience joy. The path is not always clear, but that just makes life more interesting and exciting.”
Womack: “Look for signs along your journey. If you're getting signals to keep going, do it. If you're getting signals to take a different path, honor that. Being an entrepreneur is hard. On bad days, I browse the job boards of companies I admire. But then I get signals to stick with it. A lot of people say to work hard and it will happen — but that's not always the answer. Do what makes you happy because ultimately that’s what benefits you, your children, your peers, and your community. Also, if you haven't read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, grab a copy.”
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