02/07/2014 11:46 am ET Updated Apr 09, 2014

Women in Business: Q&A with Mauria Finley, CEO and Founder of Citrus Lane

Mauria Finley is CEO and founder of Citrus Lane. After obtaining bachelor and master degrees in computer science from Stanford, Mauria began her ecommerce career as a product manager at Netscape. Throughout her 15+ year career, she's held leadership positions at leading technology companies all over Silicon Valley, including AOL, Good Technology, PayPal, and eBay. She also served on the board of SayNow, a social voice startup later by Google. In 2010, she left eBay to follow her entrepreneurial dream and start Citrus Lane. Remembering how exhilarating and exhausting it was to be a first-time mom, her vision was to create an ecommerce-meets-social experience that would help parents make the best product choices for their families.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I have always been driven by my ability to overcome big challenges. I was raised by a single mom and money was incredibly tight. When I showed up as an undergrad at Stanford, I was intimidated by the kids who had gone to great schools, taken tons of AP classes, and learned to program from a young age. I remember being 18 years old, looking in the mirror, and deciding I would be successful no matter how hard it was. When I think back to my college years, it seems kind of crazy how hard I worked; I probably could have gone to more parties! But, I learned a valuable lesson that's stayed with me ever since: I can do anything if I set my mind to it and never give up. That tenacious mindset has really helped as I've faced the many challenges of running a startup.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Citrus Lane?
I was lucky to have a great role before starting Citrus Lane. I spent six years at PayPal and eBay. I led a bunch of initiatives that contributed to eBay's turnaround, including launching PayPal mobile, convincing eBay to invest vertically, re-launching the fashion category, and launching eBay Daily Deal. In this role, I learned a lot about commerce and about communities. But, maybe more importantly, I learned that innovation comes in many forms. Creating great customer experiences is hard, and when done right, it's true innovation.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Let me start by saying that I'm not sure I really have balance, but I do have something that works for my family, my work, and me. My husband and I have two boys, and I started Citrus Lane when my youngest was just nine months old. My life is slightly insane at times, but I make it work by focusing on what matters. Before my children, I often stayed at work until 9pm at night and worked at least one full day each weekend. I prided myself on never missing any detail. My life has changed significantly since having my boys; I can't possibly devote this much time to my job. Now, like most working moms, I'm laser efficient. Maybe I don't answer every email right away, but I have a sharp sense of my most important priorities and I keep my eye on the prize. This mindset extends to my home life, too. We are focused on our kids but not on much else! In order to make it all work, my husband and I decided to do as close to zero household tasks as possible. We live with piles of unopened mail and a lot of low-grade toy clutter. But that's OK because we choose to focus on our kids and our work and let the other stuff go a little crazy. For us it was about deciding what we were going to be good at and what we were going to give the bare minimum to. Having children taught me that it's OK to be just so-so at certain things, in order to focus on what really matters.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Citrus Lane?
Running a startup is a bit like being a parent. On any given day as a parent, it can be pretty harrowing - middle-of-the-night fevers, full-on temper tantrums, poop blowouts. But, if you step back, you see what an amazing journey parenting it is. The same is true with a startup. The biggest highlights for me come when I take a rare moment to step back and see how far we've come. There was a time when my staff and I packed boxes together in our warehouse. Now, 300 people work all month full-time to pack the boxes and we just started double shifts.
I've faced many challenges running a fast-growing company, but the biggest one is choosing between short-term and long-term goals. We're a small team and have to prioritize. We have three parts of our business: our subscription boxes, our shop, and our community. They are all doing well and we have tons of great ideas on how to improve each of them, but we can't get to everything. So the hardest moments for me are choosing when and how to invest our precious team resources.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to establish their own business?
My first piece of advice is don't let fear play a role in your decisions. I often remind myself, fortune favors the bold! You need to believe in yourself to make a big scary leap.

My second piece of advice is to really think about your business model. Does it solve a true customer need? Do you understand how to make money? Having a clear idea of your addressable market and how to generate revenue is especially critical if you want to raise venture capital.

My third piece of advice is to think about whether the business is a great fit for you. Building a lasting company takes time and deep commitment, so it's really important to make sure the space is something you're passionate about and will continue to be excited about for years to come.

How we can encourage more girls to consider and embrace a STEM career?
The conversation around girls in tech is definitely changing, but not quickly enough, so I'm starting to get involved in organizations to help more girls - and other underrepresented communities. I was recently a judge at a Hackathon for underserved high school students, and I walked away incredibly inspired. I think we have to start inspiring the next generation while they're very young, encouraging girls in elementary school to tinker and play and investigate the world around them like engineers and scientists.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
In terms of the biggest challenge women face in the workplace, I would say it's not speaking up about their accomplishments. I'd encourage women to have a bigger voice in the room. Good work does get noticed, but you also have to toot your own horn a little bit! Volunteer for the big project, jump into the strategy discussion, and make sure your ideas are heard.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I love that book! I have leaned way, way in - to the point of almost falling over sometimes, ha. Seriously, though, I think Lean In came out at just the right time. More women than ever before are getting college and graduate degrees, and we need to encourage them to chase their dreams. My two favorite pieces of advice from the book are "career is a jungle gym, not a ladder" and "find a supportive partner in life" - maybe because I've messed up on one and nailed the other!

I'm a big believer that "career is a jungle gym vs. a ladder". I can think of a couple of times where I didn't follow up on an interesting career opportunity because I was chasing the ladder and maybe missed something big. It all worked out, but I would have loved to tell my younger self to take bigger risks early on.

I also deeply believe in finding the right partner. Doing a startup with two young kids is kind of crazy, and I'm really glad that my husband is firmly on board. When I started Citrus Lane, my husband was working at his dream job five days a week in Arizona, coming home to Silicon Valley on the weekends. We made this work for almost two years. But, it was hard - balancing kids, two nannies, both of our big workloads, trying to find time for each other with him gone five days a week, etc. One day we looked at each other and realized something had to give. He quit his job and looked for something closer to home. Marriage is partnership - it's incredible what two people can achieve when they share the same goals.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've been incredibly lucky to have a lot of great mentors. In my twenties and early thirties, I had three amazing mentors who spent a lot of time coaching me both professionally and personally.

I remember one key insight a great mentor gave me in my late 20's. She said she hoped I would get over seeking external approval by the time I was 40. I turned 40 last month, and I think I'm 90% there!

Today, I've transitioned away from classic mentors and now turn to a circle of friends (women and men) who are doing their own startups. We rely on each other for advice, support, and sometimes just a listening ear. I've tried to give back for the many gifts my mentors gave me. I'm always happy to share my experiences with others who are just starting out.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer immediately jump to mind - but since everyone names them, I'm going to choose someone closer to home. I have a dear friend from undergrad at Stanford, Jocelyn Goldfein. She is now the most senior female engineering leader at Facebook. She is an excellent people manager, incredible at product and tech execution, and a great mom. When I think about getting more girls into STEM and into tech leadership, I wish they could see more examples of people like her.

What are your hopes for the future of Citrus Lane?
I want to grow Citrus Lane into the most trusted place to discover the best kid products. I created Citrus Lane because I wanted to help new parents cut through all of the noise. When I had my first son, I was exhilarated, exhausted and sometimes overwhelmed. The thought of wandering around the vast aisles of a Big Box store in hopes of finding the perfect bibs and bottles, or trawling through online sites with millions of products to find the right car seat, made me wonder: "There must be a better way to find the most trusted and highly recommended products for my baby!". Citrus Lane is all about helping parents navigate through those early kid years. We've grown the most successful subscription box company out there for mom and baby. I think this is largely based on our brand promise: Citrus Lane is the place to discover the of "best of" items for your child from pregnancy to preschool. We've grown the business to include a very successful shop offering amazing products beyond the box, but the most inspiring part for me is our fast growing community of parents who help each other solve problems.

In many ways Citrus Lane is the conduit - providing a place for parents to help parents. And truly, who else do you want to hear from but another parent when it comes to your child? With the momentum we've already achieved, I'm confident we can reach our goal of becoming the number-one destination for parents to get trusted recommendations, and I'm excited to see where else the journey takes us!