By Vlada Bortnik
People often ask me what it’s like being the founder of a start-up and a Mom of two little ones, and the first thing I tell them is that for me it’s the best job in the world. I love being a Mom and I love being a founder. But realistically to pull it off, you have to be ALL IN and you’ll need help.
For the record: I am really not a fan of the term “Balancing Act” — I am actually a believer in NOT being balanced. To me it’s about being consciously unbalanced so that you make sure nothing gets dropped for too long. I find that ‘balancing” is not the right thing to strive for.
In my experience, running a company and a family require a deep commitment and attention to how I’m living my life, almost on a moment-by-moment basis. I’ve done it for three years and counting … Here’s how I make it all work:
The most important thing is choosing to work on something you’re really passionate about; in my case, it’s keeping families connected. When I say “passion” — I don’t mean something you don’t mind working on — I mean choose something that even thinking about it makes you want to leap out of bed in the morning. Trust me, when things get rough (which they inevitably do) this is the only thing that will pull you through. For me, my passion for family closeness came out when I gave myself time, not deadlines for coming up with ideas.
Ask yourself, what would you work on even if you weren’t getting paid (because at first you likely won’t get paid much). And then ask that question again and again to see how it changes (or doesn’t) over months.
Running your company and your family make you truly responsible for everything, which does feel really overwhelming at times (many times). On those days when my girls simply don’t feel like getting ready to get out of the house — you know those days when they take off their clothes right after you got them dressed, or when they simply refuse to eat the eggs that they asked for — I want to give up before my day has even started.
It’s in these moments that for me, being deeply committed to what I’m working on, pulls me through.
Then come the moments when people ask my three-year-old what Mommy and Daddy do, and she says, “Build ‘Joya’ (my company) to help families stay close.” Hearing her say that gives me instant chills and reminds me how lucky and proud I feel to be working on something that matters.
And how amazing it is for my daughter to grow up seeing her Mom being happy to go to work because ultimately that’s the kind of work I want HER to do.
It’s important to me to be a great founder, a great Mom, and a great wife — so I’m always thinking about how to use each minute of the day in a way that allows me to give each of these parts of my life the most quality attention, and not use up time on those things that are less important to me.
For example, it is important to me that my family has home-cooked meals. But I don’t go to the grocery story anymore. I have everything delivered, we eat the same menu every week, every meal has a 30-minute total prep and cooking time. We order most everything else we need from Amazon. Some nights, if the dishes aren’t unloaded, we switch to paper plates, so the dishes don’t pile up.
My husband and I split any necessary chores, 50-50, and decide who’s going to take on which chore based on what each likes to do least. I clean the kitchen, which he appreciates; he takes out the trash, which I appreciate.
We do pay for a house cleaner, but we don’t have fancy clothes or drive a fancy car and we rent a small apartment. These are OUR priorities, but everyone’s trade-offs will look different.
Some women believe that working for a start-up company means you have to give up time with your children. Not true. Family and being a great Mom are both really important to me, I make time for it, and as a result I feel like I have tons of quality time with my kids.
Here’s the rundown: We have at least an hour of play-time in the morning; we have breakfast together every day, and dinner every night. Saturday is Family Day in which we AVOID doing work — we take trips to the zoo or have picnics in the park.
The key for me, is choosing to make the time with my family, purely time with my family. I don’t take them on errands, or work with them in the room. When I’m with them, I’m with them. I listen to them. I play with them. I feel connected.
I will admit, there are moments when fear creeps in. I see other mothers at the park every day with their children and wonder if what I am doing is enough. I don’t know… I just trust that it is.
Hands down, the hardest part is prioritizing myself. There are times when my shower feels like a treat. I don’t have a haircut as often as I like. Working out for me means going on long walks with my husband discussing company business. I often wish I had time to read more books. That said, I’m very conscious of the fact that I am a role model for my daughters. I want them to prioritize themselves. So at the very least I make sure I get enough sleep, eat healthfully, and do some physical activity. But I simply haven’t figured out how to prioritize doing anything else. This is still a work-in-progress for me.
You will need help and you will need it often.
Surround yourself with people you love and who love you even when you are not your best.
Invest just in those relationships. I’ve really had to think hard about friendships and as a result I’ve prioritized a handful of deep friendships over groups of friends. The few friends I have now are the only people I see on regular basis. These are the friends I make sure our kids know – we schedule family dates with friends with kids and dinner dates with close friends without kids. My friends are also my biggest advocates and helpers – from helping me with marketing ideas to figuring out a tough coding problem to taking one of the girls so I can have a break – these are the kinds of things good friends do naturally. These are also the friends that I can pour my heart out to, laugh over the latest “trick” my 18-month-old did, and grab a drink to celebrate a milestone.
I’m also really lucky to have my parents and my sister and her family nearby. It’s a dream come true for me to see my girls develop such deep bonds with my family and to see them create new ones with their “big brother” — who is actually their cousin. The joy I get from hearing the kids giggle in the other room, while adults are talking … well it’s impossible to describe. Of course like in any family, we have disagreements and they are often around my life choices. But despite us not always seeing eye-to-eye, they are always there to help. So if I happen to have a late meeting or I need help with dinner they jump in to help out. My life would be much harder and less joyful without them.
My husband is my dream enabler. When we got married, we promised each other to dream bigger, and he’s been true to his word. My husband is my partner in life and he is also my co-founder. He pushed us to dream of the kind of life we want to be living, the kind of life we want to model for our girls, and together we worked through a lot of “life stuff” to make it a reality. It’s hard to imagine doing this company without him.
When I think back to talking to my Mommy friends before I was even pregnant, I remember thinking how I can’t imagine what it is like to be a Mom. It seemed too scary, life would be too crazy, it would just be too hard … and then I became a Mom and then I had my second kid. My life adjusted and I can honestly say that my life is so much better because of my kids. I think it’s the same when making a decision to become a founder. Yes, it is scary. And yes, it’s hard hard. And it’s also worth every minute.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Vlada Bortnik is based in Palo Alto, is the co-founder of Joya, a mobile app that makes it easy to send ANY video to ANY device for free. Check out http://www.getjoya.com