Today I celebrated a milestone in our business; but it wasn't the news that Flipside Workspace, our labor of love, ranked tenth in Startup Nation's Top 100 Leading Mom Businesses. It was the celebration of finding clarity in what it means to be a "mom business."
Truthfully, I never bought into that label. I never understood why it needed to exist in the first place. Business is business. Do we have lists for dad businesses? How about non-parent businesses? It seems silly, arbitrary and very much unnecessary.
My cofounder and I have been in business for five years, carefully avoiding any association with the "M" word. Partly our avoidance was due to a perceived liability in our industry. Two moms founding a tech-ish company? "Mom tech founders" generally get little more industry interest than a soft bunny pat on the shoulder and the obligatory "Oh, that's nice."
Mostly we avoided that label because neither one of us thought one thing had anything to do with the other.
I've always called us "reluctant entrepreneurs" because neither one of us went into this with any desire to be an "entrepreneur," let alone create a "mom business." It just so happened we had an idea, we happened to be moms, and our solution happened to be hi-tech.
So how did we get to be in this place, where we are labelled as a "mom business"? My story is notably different from my cofounder, but for both of us, Flipside Workspace was an idea formed out of a need, as many businesses are.
My need happens to be intricately tied to being a mother.
After a very uneventful pregnancy, and a carefully planned maternity leave that would be nary a blip on my career path, life decided to spit up on... no. Scratch that. Life decided to projectile vomit all over my plans.
My nine months of preparation for what was to be the joyous birth of my first daughter was unceremoniously interrupted by a serious and ugly birth complication, shoulder dystocia. The traumatic birth took an enormous toll on her body and she came into this world with a laundry list of birth-related injuries and concerns, ranging from life-threatening to life-long.
Her extensive injuries meant she would not feel the warmth of her mother or father's embrace until she was five days old. To hold her required careful relinquishing of the tubes and wires that were attached to her in order to feed and monitor her, a process that took a lot of preparation by the skilled nurses in the Neonatal Infant Care Unit (NICU). This frightening ordeal was punctuated by a network of alarms and activities that were as much a part of the NICU as the doctors and nurses.
She ended up spending two weeks in the NICU, and then was sent home with two very stunned, and woefully unprepared parents.
The need to nurture and protect her, fueled by a misguided and confusing sense of failure to do so in the first critical moments of her life, kept building. But the resulting bond that was created with my first child is a gift that I have always recognized and will forever cherish.
As my maternity leave was coming to an end and because it was thus far scheduled out with countless appointments with pediatricians, orthopedic surgeons, neurologists, therapists and home physical therapy exercises done with each diaper change, I came to the gut-wrenching realization that my career, as I knew it, was over.
I remember the day I told my employer that I would not be coming back. It was filled with a mixture of grief for the loss of the career I had carefully planned, and the sense of purpose that I was doing what was best for my child. There was guilt for not being able to go back to work, and anger that my career came to a screeching halt because it was impossible to accommodate anything less than a full-time commitment to meet inflexible deadlines.
Instead of trying to change the system to work for me, I threw my hands up in defeat and stepped off the career path completely. The advertising and marketing degree I worked so hard to obtain from Newhouse School of Public Communications and Whitman School of Business at Syracuse University lay dormant in my mind. I was unable to blend the vision I had for my career with these new challenges of motherhood.
What I didn't know then, though, was just how much this child would play a role in changing the system, not just for me, but for so many women like me.
As my daughter's care became more manageable, and my role as mother to now two children became more familiar, I found myself wanting to step back into a professional life. I started volunteering, and then became a consultant, grateful to use my brain in the manner in which I had trained and studied.
This worked for me, scheduling my own hours, working on my own time, until the day a client asked that I spend time in the office to be "accessible." I did this for a while, and enjoyed the professional atmosphere, but my oldest daughter still had four weekly medical appointments, and committing to time "in the office" was not sustainable. This wasn't a situation where my career could thrive.
After commiserating with a colleague, who then became my business partner and cofounder, we decided this time we were going to make the system change for us, and for all those people who, like us, required flexibility to thrive in the workplace. I was filled with purpose as I looked at my own daughters, knowing that one day they could be at the same crossroads of reconciling careers with life. I had to make things better for them.
We formed a company and set out to change the "workplace."
I never would have found this purpose and passion if it hadn't been for my becoming a mom. I never would have understood the significance of creating value, place, and purpose for the flexible workforce without seeing the need every time I looked at my children.
So today I'm celebrating the role that being a mom has made in our business. And you know what? It's a pretty damn awesome role, filled with passion and purpose.
Follow Lisa Duncan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lisa_inFlipside