Being a Start-up Mom: An Introspection


As I write this, it is early on a Saturday morning. Trying to find some quiet time before the family rises, I retreat to the dining table, riddled with the incessant flow of paper work – yes, work that I must put on my to-do list– but after I get this post written. As I furiously try to get my mind focused on the task at hand, I am reminded that this is the life that I have chosen.

There was a time when I worked to live

I never really had ambitions to do anything great. I came out of business school just wanting a job, to make some decent money, to see the world, and live comfortably. This was no different than anyone out there. I came out of school with mediocre grades, but enough to get a respectable degree that would land me places. It introduced me to a discipline called database marketing, and I was hooked.

In the years that followed, my love for data and its possibilities created opportunities for me in consumer loyalty, banking and B2B. It was here that I was also introduced to the advertising world (ie the client-driven world) of 80 hour weeks. I hated the hours. The weekdays would blend into my weekends. I was losing control of the balanced life that I had desperately sought to achieve. Then along came the internet…. and I changed.

Wanting to change the world makes you a different person

It was a new frontier. Everybody was figuring things out. We were on the cusp of developing this new channel into whatever we wanted. Everyone had ideas about how to do it. They all tried. The start-up world became this haven that empowered people to take their ideas to fruition, no matter how crazy. No one waited for judgement. They just did it. Money or no money.

I was introduced to this environment, albeit Yahoo! was not new to the game. In Canada, however, we were a start-up in many respects. After the bubble burst in the late 90′s, most of the satellite offices were shut down. When I came on board 5 years later, the Canadian office was resurged. It was here that I began to apply what I knew to this online channel.

I was excited, and absorbed every last ounce of knowledge that anyone was willing to feed me. I became consumed with ideas and possibilities. This was an environment that allowed us to try new things, fail, then try again. Engineering and Product were my best friends. They allowed me to “play” and try anything and everything. I became embedded in this world of endless possibilities and I didn’t pay attention to the amount of time it was consuming. I was drinking this Purple Kool-Aid and it started to affect me in ways that continue to challenge me to this day.

Along the way, family suffers

During this period, my children were still young. Maddie was 4 and Nathan was 1. The responsibilities at work made it increasingly difficult to manage both work and home.

I am reminded of this post, The Guilt Grind — And Why I Love Every Minute of It!, that I wrote a few years back when I worked at a new and promising social tech start-up. It’s here that I wrote,

And while I try to make every soccer practice, hockey game, school play or choir, there have been many times I’ve had to make the disheartening decision to choose this “path” over family. And that has burned me each time. I will never forget when my daughter was four and I missed her first year-end gala, to make a dinner with an important executive coming into town the same night. I’ve regretted that decision ever since.

I still remember the performance reports I had to present every Monday morning. For months, I compiled the reports Friday night when they were available for all the 20 Yahoo! properties and proceeded to do the analysis into the wee hours of the morning. I convinced myself that if I could get the work done before the weekend then I could use what was left of the weekend to spend with my family. It wasn’t long before I became friends with the same cabbie, who drove me home every Saturday morning at 2:00 AM, to a family who had long gone to sleep.

The person I became did not separate work from family. They became intermingled, sometimes to the point of annoyance. My husband was losing his patience and our marriage was teetering on the brink of turmoil.

I emerged as someone who couldn’t stop thinking about the problem or the task at hand. Sometimes it got in the way of life like a bad drug that you just can’t seem to get out of your system. Many late nights, I remember hearing the song, “Cats in the Cradle” like an incessant ring unwilling to relent. It was telling me something and I was unwilling to listen.

Starting over

Over the years, I’ve worked at ad agencies and social tech start-ups. Through this experience it became clear that no one was doing enough to move the needle forward when it came to social data and the organization. I felt compelled to take what I’ve known and build a company, ArCompany. I became convinced that starting this business would allow me to see my kids more. I promised myself that I would make each and every one of their hockey games, skating practices, soccer tournaments and school concerts. Perhaps I could make up for lost time.

Starting a business is hard. It didn’t take me long to realize this. The opportunity to do something different and to challenge the status quo, while compelling, takes an immense amount of effort and will. Amy Tobin, my colleague, can tell you about the number of anguishing conversations we’ve had over the last year. There were many bleak moments in just starting this business. It takes a great deal of discipline and motivation to get out of bed every morning even when things look like they’re going to fall apart. My friend Nicole McKinney continues to remind me to #KeepMoving and never to look back.

Today, my workplace is the dining room table. I’ve decided that I don’t want to carve any office space in the house for myself. I want to greet my kids before they leave and when they return from school. My children are now older. Maddie is 14 and Nate is 11. They don’t need me as much as they used to but I want to be present in their lives. It’s not too late.

I continue to struggle

I love the foundation that I’ve created for myself. We’ve built a business that seems to resonate with what the market needs. The work is challenging but extremely fun. We’ve created some amazing relationships and continue to build strong business cases that prove out our business model. The bleakness of the previous year is starting to bear its fruits and the opportunities are starting to present themselves.

But all this comes at a cost. It has forced me to focus more of my time on developing these opportunities. My days are spent churning out proposals and reports, client meetings, pitching more business, taking care of bills, meeting with partners. When dinner’s done, I find myself habitually making my way to my trusted laptop. Sometimes it doesn’t leave me until the early hours of the morning. Where I’ve promised myself to keep my weekends sacred, that is now not the case. My advisor warned me that we are a start-up and what we’re going through is normal. I just have to suck it up. In the same vane, he also advises me that I have to be human.

Through this period, I’m proud to say that I’ve been just as relentless, a hockey mom and parent. It’s still tough, however, to focus when I’m attending a game. While I’m physically present, my mind is not. But I’m trying.

What is my legacy?

Sometimes I convince myself that all will be better when we make $X revenue, or when we have budget to hire more people. It’s at that time that I can rest and give more time to my family. But I know that when that time comes, I’ll find other reasons to do more and eventually drown myself in more work.

I’m not going to fight it. For all my faults, I have to acquiesce to the path I built for myself.

My daughter asked me the other day me what would be a good job to have when she grew up. This is the advice I offered, “Do what you love to do not because of money, but because it it makes you smile. Do not stay in a job because it’s safe. Move towards jobs that challenge you. And never ever stop learning.”

I am in no way perfect. And I don’t think I want to put in the effort to be. I can be conscious of my own limitations and do what I can do to ensure I keep on course. My family is my priority. Enough said.

As a mom, I’ll continue to fight to make sure I become a significant force in my kids’ lives. But I also want to make sure that my existence was worth something while I was here. I love this quote that was sent to me by my friend Bilal Jaffery:

Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow truly know what you want to become. Everything else is secondary. -Steve Jobs

This was originally posted on

photo credit: ~PhotograTree~ via photopin cc

Role Models: Giving back means being another’s inspiration

I was privileged to ask to speak at the UFSC International Conference this weekend. The UFSC  is The Urban Financial Services Coalition is “the premier networking, professional development and community outreach organization for Black and other financial services professionals from diverse communities”. Their mandate is to:

  • Engage the talent in our community to develop professionally and seek their potential
  • Inspire young people to consider financial services as a viable career path
  • Inform our community about the importance of financial literacy to sustained prosperity
  • Empower all our members and constituents to reach new heights of leadership, personal growth and community service

As a panel member I spoke about the role of role models and what has inspired me in my life. It was great to hear the stories of panel members who had grown up in challenging circumstances and were able to go on and do amazing things with their lives, in spite of all the barriers they faced.

In my own life, I never really thought about my obstacles as obstacles. To me, they were just milestones I had to overcome. I listened to a gentlemen as he spoke about the challenges of the Black community and the years of suppression they had experienced. It was because of this history that he declared was the cause of the poverty and disenfranchisement Blacks had faced for decades. He was quite articulate as he stated that it was only “right” to give back to a community who have been marginalized and not granted the rights and freedoms compared to other communities.

One of my fellow speakers, Dwayne Matthews, Executive Director of d&a Canada, posed a controversial statement when he noted that he did not believe in giving back as much as “strengthening the weakened”, through mentorship, advice and training. Monetary gestures are not enough to fix the problems, nor motivate the youth.

I spoke up, as a daughter of immigrant parents. My parents came from the Philippines and were well-educated, both having received university undergraduate degrees before they married. When my parents decided to come to Canada, they brought with them 4 children under the age of 4. They struggled for years making ends meet. My father had to go back to school to get his Canadian university equivalency before he could even hope to try for an accounting designation. My mother always wanted to be a flight attendant. When they came to Canada, those dreams would never be realized. My father worked by day, then at night as a janitor, while studying for his accounting courses on the weekend. My mother took whatever work was available– remember Woolco?– to help supplement their income. We lived in a semi-detached home in Sarnia–I shared a tiny bedroom with my 2 sisters.

Growing up, we lived with racism, being one of only a handful of visibility minorities in a very white community. It was tough but we got through it. My parents were very protective but they always pushed us to study hard and get good grades. And we did. That was one of the ways we gained acceptance. My parents wanted us to live our own dreams even if they couldn’t.

My point is, while the gentlemen who challenged us about giving back, the obstacles of poverty and racism in my own life were overcome, not by others who “gave back” but by my parents’ incessant will to make sure we strove for something “better”. They instilled that in me and my siblings.

I didn’t really have any real motivation to be successful. That was ingrained from my parents at a very young age. I became who I am because of them. And when they weren’t around, I surrounded myself with “like” minds to accelerate my growth. That’s what my parents taught me.

I graduated university during the recession and it was difficult to secure employment for most of my graduating class. While I was lucky to secure a direct marketing position, no one seemed to be registering for seminars and conferences during this time. So, I moved from department to department until I was laid off. I took another job with an event company just to ride out the recession.

Then I landed my dream job at Ogilvy. Wow, 10 interviews later and I was in! And I held my head up high! I finally made it–or so I thought. It took me less than 3 months to realize how cut-throat the agency world really was. The notion of “you’re-only-as-good-as your-last….” was a common mantra. It was also a dog-eat-dog industry. Only the toughest survived. I battled a lot of frustration and politics in my career. I’ve unwittingly gone into battle with opponents much stronger than me. The tone of someone’s voice was enough to quell my spirit, crush my motivation and make me want to crawl underneath a rock.

I survived because of a mentor, Sandy Williams, a big ad executive who ran her own shop. Sandy had the patience to teach me about the ad industry: how to survive the insanity and the politics; the ins and outs of good creative; the essentials of production environment; and most of all, how to carve my own path.

The best advice I ever received from Sandy: When listening to someone who is visibly frustrated and angered by you, allow them to scream and vent. In the meantime, close your eyes and attempt to take away the “tone” of voice you hear and concentrate on the message they’re trying to get across. Use this as a guide to help you learn.”

This has gotten me through some tough times. I’ve grown stronger but promised myself to lead with integrity and motivation instead of fear. It’s the only way I can inspire others to learn to trust their own instincts and carve paths of their own.

This is probably the most important gift I could give. Am I a role model? I’m glad I’m perceived as one. I’m learning to trust that as far as I’ve come, I’ve learned a few things along the way–things that I must share. There is no point keeping it to myself if I can somehow have even an infinitesimal effect on someone else’s path to success.

I am forever thankful for my parents and people like Sandy that I’ve met along my journey. You have given me the knowledge and the strength to trust myself and what I’m capable of becoming. I hope I can do the same for others.

inspiration art exhibition part 2, originally uploaded by bwrahbwrah jonguh.

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