This op-ed was originally published on April 23, 2019 in Business Insider.
“I’m sorry, but you can’t come in.”
I had decided to venture out to a networking event to reconnect with colleagues, to talk to them about the second venture fund I was raising, and to show off my 8-week old baby. The event staff turned me away because I had my baby with me. Perhaps it was so unusual to see a woman with a baby at a networking event that no one thought to challenge that decision nor the potential biases behind it.
This incident was minor in comparison to some of the other stories I’ve heard — such as an investor telling someone to prioritize their baby over their startup or, on the flipside, investors changing their minds about investing because they were worried that a CEO would prioritize their baby over the startup and abandon their company. The response — “You can’t come in” — feels fitting in an industry where family and business don’t mix well in some people’s minds.
But that may be changing. Increasingly I’m hearing stories about people persisting in raising capital while raising children. They are doing so by seeking out investors who are demonstrably values-aligned and who understand that it isn’t work-life balance at issue, but instead building businesses and families at the same time is simply life.
Before I had children, I was a fierce advocate for people who were building startups and families at the same time, especially women. I had heard stories about women being turned down for investment because they had young children. Few women dared to raise capital while pregnant. I wanted to make sure parents — especially mothers or expectant mothers — were not discriminated against in the venture ecosystem. I wanted to ensure they had access to the resources they needed to start, build, and grow.
Of all US venture capital investment in 2018, only 2.2% goes to female-founded startups, as reported by Fortune. The field of venture-backed businesses continues to be an unforgiving environment for women entrepreneurs, especially when upwards of 75% of caregivers are women, according to the Institute on Aging.
I was pregnant with my first child while raising my first fund at Pique Ventures, the impact investment firm that I founded. I delayed telling investors that I was pregnant because I felt uncertain and anxious about how they would react. It turned out to be no cause for concern. Many of my investors had either “been there and done that,” or they felt so highly aligned with the values and investment strategy of Pique Ventures that my pregnancy was a non-issue. Pregnant with my second child, I felt more prepared and confident enough to present the investment opportunity of Pique’s second fund to investors in person and by video-conference well into my third trimester.
The following are some of the themes I heard across different conversations I had with a number of fund managers and founders when I asked them about their experiences of raising capital while raising a family.
1. Speak your truth
Eric Bahn is co-founder and General Partner of Hustle Fund, a venture capital fund investing in fast-executing teams at the pre-seed and seed stages, and is part of a new breed of emerging venture capital managers that is challenging the status quo. Eric welcomed a second child into his family shortly after Hustle Fund launched. He shared his perspectives on Twitter, stating that kids are terrible for careers, but having children was also the best decision he’s ever made and as a result, he feels richer. Eric told me that his posts attracted a lot of passionate responses, revealing that mixing family and business is still contentious to some. Others still, like myself, saw it as bold leadership as rarely do I hear of people – let alone VCs — share their experiences of raising a fund (or starting a venture) while raising a family with such candor.
2. While raising, seek aligned investors
Investors that asked Elizabeth Yin, Hustle Fund co-founder and general partner, how she was going to manage having a baby and managing a fund at the same time, yet didn’t ask Eric that same question, essentially signaled to Hustle Fund that such investors were unlikely a fit for them.
Lally Rementilla, Pique investor and president of Quantius, a private debt provider focused on technology ventures backed by strong intellectual property, is another example of a fund manager who integrates family and business. She said, “conversations [with Quantius investors] often include family.” She tells them how proud she is of her daughters and takes pride in talking about her work with her daughters.
3. Build strong support systems and structures
Juggling business and family is possible only with solid support systems personally and professionally. What helps is, “Having a really good network and that starts at home. If there is strain at home, then there is strain at work,” said Jessica Regan. She is the CEO of FoodMesh, a technology company that reduces food waste by getting surplus food into the hands of people who need it (and a Pique portfolio company).
When Jessica had a baby two years into building FoodMesh, she found that having a supportive and understanding team was critical. Jessica had raised a seed round from external investors and knew she had a responsibility to her shareholders as well as her staff. “I took it very seriously and didn’t want to let others down,” she told me. “Having a baby made me perform even better. I’m more focused and am extremely structured with my time.”
4. Prioritize and get ready for a mind shift
A key lesson for Jessica was to moderate her expectation and shift her world to accommodate what’s important. Elizabeth echoed this. She too had to prioritize, and called it a “mind shift.” If it meant abandoning cloth diapers and not breastfeeding beyond the fourth trimester, that was fine with her. It meant she could define what success of running Hustle Fund and raising her children looked like.
5. Take a long view
In the impact investing field, we’re often focused on long-term sustainability. At Pique Ventures, I talk about investing in companies that are built to last. Eric is thinking long-term in venture capital as well. “We think about growing old together with our [investors],” he said. Likewise, Lally notes that building a firm and raising a family are both marathons, not sprints.
More and more leaders are demonstrating that it is possible and perfectly acceptable to start a fund or business and raise capital while raising a family. But it’s not just up to parents to drive this change. The people and organizations around them and actors within the venture ecosystem also need to shift. They need to recognize that the participation of parents in the venture community is an important contribution to how problems get solved. At Pique, we believe impact investing is about taking care of the village and ensuring that everyone has access to the resources they need to survive, thrive, and be happy. And as Lally reminds me, it certainly does take a village to raise capital and a family.