Female entrepreneurs face some unique hurdles when trying to grow their companies while pregnant.
Many working mothers I know have interesting stories to tell about balancing home and work lives.
I’ve heard women share stories of pretending to be hungover to hide morning sickness (the former appeared to be more culturally acceptable at one friend’s company than admitting she was pregnant), and of using a breast pump in the office janitorial closet and heading back to work within 10 days of giving birth. The last one is sadly quite common — one in four American women do it, according to data analyzed by Abt Associates for In These Times.
But being a tech entrepreneur and a mom holds some unique challenges. That’s according to Arry Yu, CEO and founder of local startup Giftstarter. Yu started her company, which helps people split the cost of a gift online, in 2014. But the company grew 50 percent month over month in 2015 — the same year Yu also became pregnant. She actually found out about her pregnancy the same week she got into a highly sought-after tech accelerator program, 500 Startups, and was due to pack her bags and move to San Francisco.
Yu soon discovered there was no track record of other pregnant entrepreneurs who were pitching their startups to raise capital from investors in the program. “I was the first woman to demo [my product to investors] while pregnant,” she tells me. The experience was “nerve-wracking.” But Yu said she was so determined to grasp the opportunity to grow her company, she did everything she could to make it work. It paid off — Yu raised $625,000 in seed funding for her company, 95 percent of the amount while pregnant.
She shares a few challenges of getting her company off the ground while she was pregnant and as a new mom:
Drinking at startup events. “I’ve usually ignored the fact that I’m a female entrepreneur, but not being able to drink at events definitely put that into perspective,” she says. Not having alcohol as a central part of networking at technology and startup events would “make things less awkward for pregnant and breastfeeding moms.”
Evening and night events. Networking is a key part of growing your company, especially while fundraising, she tells me. But experiencing pregnancy symptoms like swollen feet and general fatigue made it difficult for her to attend networking events after 7 p.m. This has become even more challenging with a young baby — “If I attended every event I get invited to, I’d never see my baby at all,” she says. This raised some important questions on how much she had to network as a female entrepreneur — where she could potentially meet her next big investor. It’s easier for new moms to blow off office happy hours, but as a company founder, “you never know which event could change your company.”
Critical feedback. One unique incident Yu recounts is while soliciting feedback on her investor pitches while pregnant. “Mentors are supposed to be really harsh and tell you how bad your pitch is, but nobody would criticize me while I was pregnant,” she says. “The whole purpose of getting feedback is for it to be critical … but nobody wants to be yelling at the pregnant lady. So I didn’t feel like I gained as much from it as if I wasn’t pregnant.” A unique problem indeed!
People move away from you. Yu says whether she was at a coworking space or at tech accelerators, people would automatically make space for her and move away. “Most people in these spaces are young and have never been around a pregnant lady before.” To remedy this, she says that the startup world needs to change and be more inclusive — normalizing moms as entrepreneurs would help.
Others’ expectations. But the hardest part, Yu says, is overcoming people’s expectations around pregnancy and motherhood. A male investor told Yu: “What are you doing here? Your first priority should be your baby.” Yu felt offended but had to carry on with her meeting as if no judgment was passed. “It’s part of being an entrepreneur, but it’s definitely hard to hear.”
Ruchika Tulshyan is a journalist, speaker and author. Connect with her on Twitter at @rtulshyan or her website rtulshyan.com.