WOMEN
10/11/2013 09:05 am ET | Updated Mar 04, 2014

Houzz CEO Adi Tatarko: 'You Can't Have It All And You Have To Live Peacefully With That Knowledge'

Courtesy of Adi Tatarko

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When Adi Tatarko moved from New York to Silicon Valley with her husband, Alon Cohen, in 2001, she intended to cut back on hours at the office. The Tel Aviv native had been working 16-hour days on the business side of the high-tech industry, and because she wanted to start a family, she decided to shift gears and go back to school for financial planning. "I started working in a small boutique investment firm," she says. "I felt that working 10 hours a day and raising two kids is fun and great. You don’t have to work 16 in order to be happy."

Then, as Tatarko puts it, "Houzz just happened." When she and her husband were remodeling their home in Palo Alto, they found it difficult to describe exactly what they wanted to their architect. They began Houzz as a project in 2009 and invited area professionals to upload images from their portfolios.

The fast-growing startup -- an online platform for renovation and design -- has since raised $48.6 million in funding. It has more than 130 employees and features 2.2 million photos. (Fortune described it as "if Angie's List and Pinterest had an Architectural Digest-obsessed child.") "Without planning it, I was back to the 16 hours a day, around the clock, with the two kids, and as you can see, I’m crazy enough to have a third one now," says Tatarko, who serves as CEO of Houzz.

Tatarko, 40, is due in November, but rather than sounding overwhelmed or exhausted, she comes across as excited. Looking back, she just says she wishes she'd thrown herself into her career and motherhood sooner, as she once thought she wouldn't be able to tackle both at the same time. "I can’t even imagine going back now and doing one of them," she says.

Do you have a role model?
I admire Internet CEOs that really stick to their vision. It’s so easy to say, “I can’t do it anymore.” You really, really need to be passionate about what you do in order to continue. The founders of Google, for example, have good times and bad times, but they have been there all this time. There are many examples of founders who stayed with the company, didn’t find somebody else to run it, didn’t sell it, even though they had opportunities to just retire. I had a mother and a grandmother and many female entrepreneurs in the family.

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Adi Tatarko and husband and co-founder Alon Cohen.

What did your grandmother do?
My grandmother was a fashion designer in the ‘40s and ‘50s, when it was absolutely not the norm for a mother of two kids to travel the world and go to fashion shows. My grandfather supported her, but people really looked at her and said, “What is she doing?” I think that we are fortunate that today women can actually choose. I admire women that say, “I want to spend the first two years after I give birth with my kids at home.” I also admire the people who have the courage to say, “You know what? I can’t stay at home for two years. I don’t need more than a few weeks, and I want to go to work.” It’s absolutely a personal decision.

What is your definition of success?
My personal success is being able to, first of all, be happy with the goals that I set for myself and the achievement of those goals. I’m trying to raise my kids as good, compassionate human beings. When I see them succeeding, that’s a success for me. I know what I want the company to be and what type of people I want to see every day. When I come here and I see these people, I say, “That’s a success.” When the company is growing, that’s a success. Or if I am able to get to my son's basketball game because I promised him, just to see the joy on his face when his team is winning, and I’m there for him. I’m working toward these little and big goals all the time. The more I succeed in balancing both my life at home and at Houzz, the happier I am. And the happier I am, the more successful I feel.

Do you get enough sleep?
Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it’s just the adrenaline that drives you and you wake up in the morning early or in the middle of the night and you just want to do things. It’s not because somebody forces me. I could absolutely have a good night’s sleep every night, but there is so much to do and I’m so happy to do it that I can’t sleep that much.

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Tatarko's Houzz profile.

What about exercise?
I don’t get enough. I hope that after I give birth, I’ll be able to do more of that. But here is an example where you just can’t do things regularly as you used to. The last few years at Houzz were so crazy that, yes, I had to put aside some of the things that I used to do. I used to go home and cook a fresh meal for my kids every day, by myself. Then at some point when you run a company, you just can’t do it. I told myself, “It’s OK if somebody else cooks that fresh meal. They’ll have the same great meal.” It’s more important for me to actually be there with them and eat with them and talk with them. I [also] don’t have the same social life that I used to. I do have some very good friends that I’m fortunate still want to be my friends. I don’t have as much time to entertain and do other social things, but that was my decision. I’m OK with it. You can’t have it all and you have to live peacefully with that knowledge.

Have you had occasions when a big meeting fell on the same day as a basketball game or some other activity involving your kids?
A big event of one of our investors fell on my son’s birthday. I sent an email saying, “I’m truly, truly sorry, but it’s my son’s birthday.” You have to choose. It’s important to keep an open conversation with the kids, so they know we’re truly trying to be there for all their great moments. And you know what? It’s OK to tell investors and partners and people you work with that this is why you’re not going to be there. I think that people are sometimes trying to hide or make excuses. I would feel bad doing that. I am who I am. I’m a mom. The kids are the most important people on earth for me. I’m proud of that. The fact that I’m a mom makes me better for these investors and partners and other people I work with.

How does it make you better?
First of all, it forces me to really focus. I can't waste time. I have to be with my kids at home at certain times, and that means that the times I’m at work need to be very, very productive. I have to focus on the things that will really move the needle. At home it’s the same thing. I’m not wasting time on things that other people can help me with.

How long is your to-do list right now?
Very, very long. But the adrenaline of doing it -- it’s great. If not now, then when? When I’m 90? I had an interesting discussion with a close friend that all these things are happening to us about the same time in life -- the kids are there around the time that your career is actually picking up. You can’t have your career when you are 20, and you can’t have your kids when you are 60. But it makes you feel so alive and essential and, for me, happy.

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The Houzz team.

I can actually hear happiness in your voice.
We are renovating our house because we don’t even have a room for the third child. My older son just started middle school, and his little brother is in elementary school, so now they’re in different schools. We doubled the number of people in the company since the beginning of the year. And I’m traveling a lot for business. Even though sometimes I collapse at night and say, “I just can’t,” I get up in the morning and say, “Yes! Let’s do it.”

Do you have a work persona and a non-work persona?
Both personas really blended over the past few years. It’s even influencing the kids. When we go home, we talk about their days, but we all live under the same roof and they are part of this adventure and they hear a lot. The 11-year-old is old enough to ask questions and feel proud of this whole thing. One day we came home and our older son said, “We baked a cake. We prepared tea for you. Why don’t you relax? My brother and I want to have a family meeting.” “Okay, what is this family meeting all about?” He said, “Relax, eat the cake, drink the tea. We want to talk about something with you.” Then he sat at the table with his brother, and they said, “OK, we want to tell you how we feel about more hours of electronics at home. But before you tell us no, just listen to us and then you can feel free to brainstorm.” He actually used the words that he’s hearing us say about the company. At the end he said, “Take your time. Think about it. Whatever you decide will be fine. We just wanted you to hear us.” It was so cute. They even got what they wanted.

Do you ever get a chance to relax?
One of the things that we decided to do to keep that good bond between work and home is every single opportunity that we have we take the kids and go away just with them. Before the company, before this craziness started, we used to travel a lot with them for longer periods of time, which we cannot do now. We also used to do it a lot with friends. Now we said, “OK, we cannot go for longer periods of time, so we have to take every long weekend –- Labor Day, Fourth of July –- and be just us with the kids.” We found that when you go with a big group of friends, the kids are having a lot of fun with the other kids and you’re having a lot of fun with your friends, but there’s no real interaction as a family. So we decided that the majority of our small, short vacations we want to do just us as a family. It doesn’t need to be fancy. You can be at a beach somewhere, but just that quality time. It’s very important to do that.

Do you ever turn your phone off?
Yes, I do. We have special times with the kids, and we just put aside computers, phones -- we’re asking the kids to do it too. We can’t do it for long periods, and usually when I’m doing it, I know that Alon is available or vice versa. For both of us to completely disconnect, we need to make sure that many other people are on top of it. But from time to time, you do need to do that. And it’s important also to show the kids that it’s possible. We can’t pitch that to them. We have to show them.

It really disturbs me when we are at restaurants and see parents and a few kids sitting at the table, each one of them on their iPads and iPhones. They’re not talking to each other, and I think it’s very sad. Even pre-Houzz, I said, “I don’t want it to happen to me.” I don’t like that every playdate is computers from the beginning till the end. We’re not extreme. I understand that we live in a society where kids are so exposed to it. It’s not a bad thing that they are teaching themselves to program, but it’s also about interaction with other people and you can’t learn everything from your laptop. I want them to play with other kids. They do need to have some diversified activities in their lives. And so do I. As we grow and the kids grow, we learn to rebalance it again and again and again.

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This interview has been edited and condensed.

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