Focusing On How We Can Help

Just when we think life can’t get any crazier, it does. When things feel out of control, I regain my footing by helping someone else. It’s also the secret to telling your brand’s story.

Whether it’s complex enterprise technology or building sustainable products while raising small children, a successful brand and PR program boils down to being helpful.

1. How you help people (and why) is the basis for your brand

The good news is that you have everything you need to define your brand. Here are some ways to get super crisp on what you do to help people and why it’s different from the way other people do it:

You can develop a positioning framework using this step-by-step guide for startups, created by two incredibly sharp minds who I used to work for.

You can tell your story to someone who can shape it into a narrative about you and your brand—which is essentially the formula for how I interview and write the stories of “Mama Makers” and “Mama Shakers.”

Once you have clarity on what sets you apart, you can use it to become a helpful resource for journalists, which brings us to the basics of what drives media coverage.

2. PR is about relationships and timing

When it comes to PR, you have two choices. You can build your own media relationships, or you can invest in professionals who already have relationships.

Either way, reporters are looking for experts on particular topics that are available on short notice.

You can start by becoming a HARO source and have short, bulleted responses ready to send on a handful of key topics that you care about (and reporters are writing about). Even if they don’t use you this time, it’s an opportunity to introduce yourself.

If you feel like you don’t have the time to build relationships one-by-one, or you’re ready to do it at scale, then you could enlist a professional. Here are two of my favorites:

“Mama Shaker” Ashley is a former broadcast producer who offers virtual media training along with other PR services at Nardi Media.

The tech-savvy women behind The Key PR include former agency colleagues of mine who led startups through massive growth using the methodology mentioned above.

If you want to learn more or practice telling your story, I’m here to help.

Mama Maker: Angela, Creating Our Own Story

Angela Engel flips right past the “why me?” question that many stumble over when the opportunity to make a difference presents itself. The mother of three is a publishing industry disruptor by day, who mobilized the creation of PPE at the start of the pandemic–while continuing to lead the San Francisco chapter of Hey Mama, support social causes, and navigate distance learning.

Her response when people ask how she raised $30,000 and distributed 10,000 face shields across the country—including Children’s Hospital Minnesota, Alameda Health Consortium and Navajo Nation clinics in Arizona and New Mexico— says everything about her willingness to spring into action.

“When this all hit and I saw my best friend literally in the ER when the Princess Cruise landed and he was working night shifts and lost it when he couldn’t get a face shield, I was like, ‘who else is going to save him?’”

“I think that same spirit is the greatest thing you learn when you’re an entrepreneur,” she says. “That fire, that spirit, that idea…what’s the worst that could happen? Someone says no, right? That’s not a big deal.”

Angela felt a similar call to action when she was “really pregnant” with her third daughter and had grown weary of publishing industry trade shows where she struggled to find a humane place to pump in concrete convention centers.

She dabbled in children’s apparel for a while, which was more kid-friendly and introduced her to the faster pace of retail.

“I would bring the baby with me and put her in the stroller and that was great, but I missed publishing,” she says. “It’s the creative piece.”

While doing business development for an independent publishing house in Petaluma, Angela “noticed the surge of self publishing” that was more akin to the speed of fashion than the traditional publishing industry.

“Why are we letting Amazon and self publishing take that market share?” she realized. “Why not pull together my colleagues from traditional publishing who are fantastic, who are graphic designers, who are typesetters, who are editors and let’s form a collective? We can do this as good as any big house and we can do it fast.”

The Collective Book Studio was born in 2019 around the idea of “partnership publishing” which retains the authors’ creative control and has gained the attention of her industry peers for its disruptive business model.

“We don’t print on demand,” she says. “We really believe the book is an art form.”

One example is how the team packaged up a series of beautifully crafted pages from parenting coach (and Mama Shaker) Sue Groner in Parenting with Sanity & Joy: 101 Simple Strategies in a way that even the most exhausted among us can digest at our own pace.

“What is the message that you want your reader to take away?”

It’s the first question that Angela asks prospective authors (and something that anyone creating content should take the time to answer).

“That will help decide why are you writing this book,” she says.

For Maika handbag designer Viola Sutanto, it’s a reminder that even in our darkest days, happiness is all around us. She’s working with Angela and iFundWomen to fund Eat Cake for Breakfast and 99 Other Small Acts of Happiness—inspired by Viola’s 9-year-old daughter’s hospital stay while she awaited a bone marrow transplant from her 3-year-old brother.

Whether our story involves putting an important message out into the world, or giving back in another way, taking action is the antidote to fear.

“I think the first step is to practice,” Angela says. “Write a sample chapter. Just write, even if it’s not good at all. It could literally be bullet points for all I care. But just get it down on paper.”

Mama Shaker: Louise, Acknowledging What We Want and Daring to Make it Happen

Louise Heite had a hunch that juggling two kids under three, a job that required round-the-clock conference calls, and a husband who traveled internationally half the month wasn’t sustainable. After moving her family to New York, she began pursuing a new path that led to empowering other women to course-correct their lives too.

“There’s so much energy and so much desire that’s locked up for me to find my own path and make my own dreams come true,” she realized during a new moon meditation.

Louise had recently traded her corporate gig for full-time motherhood, which left her feeling like, “I need something that really feeds my soul.” She knew that she wasn’t alone in trying to find a happy medium as a parent that’s “present while also fulfilling my own dreams.”

“I think what a lot of us mothers these days have to deal with is, first of all, finding a balance between career and also being present with your kids,” she says, so “you don’t reflect back in like 10 or 20 years from now and think ‘they grew up so quickly.’”

Whether it’s rethinking where we live or carving out more flexibility in work hours, Louise believes what’s holding us back is speaking up. She says it can be difficult for women to look inwards, “open that jar and basically then be confident in their own ability to pursue whatever dream that’s in there.”

“Sometimes we get stuck in our own heads,” she says, acknowledging that she often has to coach herself through fear. “It’s a practice what I preach type of approach whenever something negative—or a limiting belief—is coming out.”

In her executive coaching practice, Louise channels her experience leading corporate teams to help women define their own paths to success.

“Ultimately, it’s confidence and self worth, and striking a balance,” she says. “I work with new moms and it’s a little bit of redefining their identity as a mother because often we can no longer commit to the long hours of working that we’ve been doing before kids, yet we feel like we have to do the same amount of hours because otherwise we’re not going to be good enough.”

Focusing on what we need to do our best work–and then asking for it–often leads to a win-win. Parting ways is far from being the only answer to burnout.

“As a woman having worked in corporate environments and then also working for myself, I just don’t believe anymore in the 9-to-5 concept of the world,” she says. “I don’t think this is how we function—that our optimized work is done between the hours of 9:00 and 5:00. So even just flexibility, knowing when you’re most productive and really optimizing those hours is something that I highly recommend.”

Louise points out that “we often live in a space where we think we can do it all, and if we cannot do it all, that we’re a failure,” which was exactly what I experienced as a new mother. Fortunately, it led to connecting with other moms by sharing their stories, realizing there are many different definitions of success, and then making changes so I could strike a better balance.

“It’s about knowing what you really want and thinking about that for a moment,” she says. “There are obviously different paths that we can take after kids and knowing what you want to fulfill—I think it’s a big one.”

While 2020 continues to throw us all for a loop, it’s creating endless opportunities to make peace with change and explore what really matters to our families and ourselves.

“We often go back to the normal or the comfort of what we know because that’s where our worth comes from,” says Louise, cautioning against chasing an old definition of success “only to figure out afterwards that it actually no longer works for us, or that it’s draining us.”

“If you’re not happy somewhere, or not happy with a certain situation, there’s only one person that can change,” she says.

“You can really, truly create what it is that you want to create,” she says. “But you have to dare to make the ask and be open and vulnerable.”

“It can still be a no, but at least you’ve asked.”

Mama Shaker: Ari, Seeking to Understand Each Other in Business and Family

Working in close proximity to her husband is nothing new for Ari Krzyzek. The couple runs a creative agency from their home office in Chicago, while tending to the special needs of their son.

“In our early years doing business together it was definitely very hard,” she says. “I found that trying to separate our feelings and our relationship as spouses, versus us as business partners, was a little bit tricky in the very beginning.”

Ari says that setting boundaries has helped—as tempting as it may be to talk shop over dinner—and establishing a mutually beneficial relationship for all the “different scenarios building a business and in life.”

“We’re obviously not perfect, but we try our best to respect one another and try to really find our own strengths and weaknesses,” she says.

“I’m honestly just trying my best to at least set some guidelines,” she says. “There are some exceptions on different occasions and different days, but at least I have some sort of guidelines that I can follow, so it’s not 100% strict rules.”

Ari recalls the advice of her mentor who emphasized the importance of being as flexible as you can while starting a family, because “things will change very fast, especially in the first 10 years.”

Now, almost five years into parenthood, she and her husband have found a way to run Chykalophia together and be hands-on with their son.

“The main reason why I’ve built the business the way I have today is because I want to see him grow too,” she says. “If I focus way too much on work that defeats the ‘why.’”

“My son is also in the spectrum, so I have to really understand he’s trying his best,” Ari says, making her keenly aware of questions like, “how can I try to figure out what he is currently learning, the way he’s learning, or what’s the best support he needs right now?”

Women Helping Women Succeed

When Ari first came to the United States, she looked forward to meeting other entrepreneurial women.

“I feel like I didn’t have that enough as I grew up in Bali,” she says. “There’s not enough opportunity for women to come together in a professional setting and even more importantly, in a more positive impact setting.”

When Ari didn’t find the degree of connection she was looking for from traditional networking events in Chicago, she built her own.

“I thought about it over and over, and then finally did it out of a simple need to connect with other women in business,” she says. “It took off and now we’re hosting events every month so that other women entrepreneurs can also connect with one another and really learn from each other.”

Creative Women’s Co. events have expanded beyond Chicago to connect women virtually around a variety of topics. Ari also makes herself available for speaking and mentoring through AriKrzyzek.com while volunteering for design organizations.

With her sights set on writing a book about “empowering women,” Ari invites fellow entrepreneurs to get in touch with her about a “particular moment in their life that they would like to share with me,” whether good or bad.

“I’d love to hear back from them and just listen to what others have experienced in their life,” she says. “I know it’s not always rainbows and unicorns all the time because I got my fair share like other women. I just want to see what other experiences women have.”

Mama Maker: Megan, Getting the Most Out of Every Room

While our homes are multitasking more than ever, Megan Hersch wants to help families make the most out of every square inch.

“A lot of people don’t have a separate space that they can make their office,” she says, which is leading to requests like, “How can I put a desk in this corner? I really need to be able to focus. I need to feel like it’s away from my family. But also, I don’t want to feel like work is always in my home.”

As someone who’s sharing a home office formerly known as “mine” with my husband, I find myself dodging his booming voice during competing conference calls, and slipping into whichever bedroom isn’t occupied at the moment to escape the hollers from our two rowdy boys. For parents of school-age kids, online learning is a whole other dimension of space planning.

“Luckily, about two months ago, I converted a corner of my kitchen into an art zone with a countertop and cabinets under it, in lieu of a breakfast nook and I have been thankful for that every day,” says Megan. “My older daughter is on a Zoom call with her school and she works on that countertop and then my younger daughter will be in the dining room. I did get these plastic blow up chairs from Amazon that are have glitter inside of them and they sort of became portable reading chairs.”

Options also provide the opportunity for movement, which may feel aspirational during the workday as an adult but—as Megan points out—is a necessity for kids.

“They go to a Montessori school so they’re used to walking around their classroom all day,” she says. “I think in any classroom, kids are used to moving a little bit more. The biggest thing I’m focusing on is moving around and changing the location of activities, so we’re going to do art in the kitchen and then we’re going to do reading on a couch my younger daughter built for this morning.”

Beyond work and school, families spending all their time together in the same space gives us perspective and motivation that we may not have had before.

“I think the most important thing right now is to be grateful for what we have and focus in on what we can do,” is what Megan has been telling her daughters. “This is an amazing opportunity that we’re never going to have, again, to really be together.”

All of this togetherness provides inspiration to make the rooms we share more fluid, and perhaps even carve out a space for ourselves to catch a breath.

“I think getting a little bit of separate me time is really important and I think that that’s super hard, especially for moms, because we’re usually the ones that the kids come to if there’s a question or a problem,” says Megan. “But I think it’s also really good for kids to learn that everyone needs a break and sometimes we can’t be available.”

“That’s something that I’m trying to work on,” she says. “Maybe we’ll be really good at it, by necessity.”

Regardless of whether you have the space to spread out, the opportunity to reflect on what matters most in the spaces where we live, learn and work is spurring a lot of creativity. (Our toddler-proofing strategy changes on a weekly basis.)

“There are a lot of people who are sitting in the house that they don’t normally spend a lot of time in thinking, ‘Oh, it’s time for me to change this room’ or ‘I really need more seating because we’re just hanging out here,’” says Megan.

A growing focus of her interior design business, RoomLift, provides everything clients need to embark on a redesign in the convenience of a box shipped to their home.

“My eye for design put into an easy package for people to implement themselves is the idea behind it,” she says. “I’m just giving you a few great ideas to work in the room—something that comes from an expert opinion—and then you take it from there.”

Before and after: RoomLift client results

“You don’t need a major renovation to really change your space,” she says. “I came up with the name RoomLift because it’s like a facelift; you’re working with what you have. You might have your grandmother’s beloved table that you want to keep, but you want some new chairs and some paint or wallpaper and a light.”

While Megan believes it’s “so important to have a printed image as opposed to looking at furniture on a computer screen,” and “it makes such a difference to have it actually in front of you printed in color so that it feels as real as it can,” she offsets her high quality card stock, photos, samples and packaging by donating to One Tree Planted with every order.

“I try to focus on the fact that so much is going to change and hopefully we’ll be less wasteful and more cognizant of our impact on what we’re doing in our day to day lives,” she says, as we reflect on the positive changes resulting from families staying home together.

“Even just like eating the heel of the bread,” she says, providing a perfect metaphor for how we’re doing more with less.

Mama Maker: Christy, Embracing Parenthood in the C-Suite

When Christy MacGregor traded her position as a law firm associate for a commute across the street to join her husband’s startup as Chief Parent Officer and General Counsel, the barriers between parenting and career came tumbling down.

“I have a lot more flexibility now and it’s really nice to be able to move back and forth more fluidly between the world of parenting and the world of my job,” she says. “I feel like it’s very integrated. So I wouldn’t necessarily say I have balance, but nothing feels in conflict, like when I was at the law firm.”

The mother of four-year-old twins and a one-year-old now clocks her hours meeting with parents at Colugo, which her husband launched as a direct-to-consumer model made popular by fellow Wharton brainchild Warby Parker, after a disappointing experience stroller-shopping at big box stores.

“It releases a lot of the anxiety of being a working parent because you don’t have to pretend you’re not a parent,” she says, now realizing the noticeable absence of stress as a result of the “lifting of that burden.”

Previously, if one of her kids was sick or she had to go to a doctor’s appointment and “something had to be rescheduled, that would never be the reason,” at the risk of being perceived as “unprofessional.”

Christy’s experience at Colugo has been a stark contrast from day one. She made the transition from advising on the sidelines to a full-time leadership role when her third child was about 6 months old.

“One of the first calls I was on with the team, I had my baby with me and he was making noise,” she says. “Our head of marketing was like, ‘oh, that’s very on brand for us.’”

At the time, she remembers thinking “wow, a whole new world I’m in, it’s such a gift.”

While Christy is the first to point out that she’s lucky to be in a position where kids are core to the company’s mission—and she has childcare and family nearby to help—feeling the urge to apologize for the sound of kids in the background is a scenario any parent who works remotely, or joins calls from home or the car, can relate to.

“Now I’m on calls with parents all the time and you hear a baby crying in the background, or someone needs to get picked up early from school, and we all get that,” she says, adding that it can be “a great way to connect with people” and it “brings you closer together faster.”

Whether or not companies are ready for the rapidly increasing blend of work and parenthood, Christy believes it’s an opportunity to bring out the best in employees, especially when they don’t have to waste energy trying to separate their dual roles.

“More workplaces should recognize that if they let parents be fully themselves at work that’s only going to make them better employees—better team members—because they’re able to be open about where they’re at,” she says, and feel motivated by being “seen at work instead of feeling like they’re having to hide this huge aspect of their identity.”

“I’m now at a company that is so parent-focused that I’m seeing what can be done when you are all in on that,” she says. “And the strength of that, and the way that parenthood can amplify the work you’re doing because you’re much more efficient and focused.”

“You want the work you’re doing to be meaningful in a different way because there are so many other things you’re juggling and you want to feel like this is worth it,” she says. “Your time just means so much more.”

It Takes a Village

Christy believes that a family-friendly, community-oriented culture is not only “hugely beneficial to Colugo,” but it’s good for customers too.

“Our entire customer service team is moms who work part time,” she says. “So they’re able to do flexible, meaningful part-time work, which is what I feel like a lot of parents want instead of having to choose one or the other—to be completely out of the workforce, or to have to work full-time.”

In return, customers get the benefit of hearing from someone who “understands what they’re really asking” when a question comes in about product features, and ultimately “feel like the brand has your back.”

Building a family and a brand has taught Christy the importance of not being too “attached to outcomes,” and instead, “confident that I’m doing my best.”

“I can focus on that instead of trying to focus and feel anxiety about the ultimate result and that has served me well,” she says. “I think that is something I have learned through parenting, that I’ve been able to then apply to my career; and it’s a strength that I don’t know that I would have had certainly thinking back to myself in school, or early on in my career, when I was very attached to the gold star.”

She now finds “peace and fulfillment through the process” of spending her time listening to parents, thinking about how to continually improve their products, and build a strong community over time.

“It’s not something you can just snap your fingers and create,” she says. “So being part of that process, and comfortable with that process, has been something I have been able to take from parenting and apply to my career.”

Christy’s evolution as a mother and Colugo’s innovation as a company go hand-in-hand, thanks in part to the seamless integration between the two.

“We’re creating the products people want, we’re improving the products people have, and we’re building an even stronger community because our mission is to give parents the confidence they need to take on the adventure of parenthood,” she says.

Mama Shaker: Whitnee, Fueling Parents at Work

Helping mothers thrive in the workplace is literally what gets Whitnee Hawthorne out of bed in the morning. She’s honed the art of a 4:45 a.m. wake-up call, so she can dedicate two hours before her son wakes up to The Savvy Working Mom, her coaching business and brand new podcast—all before she heads to the office.

“What inspired me was seeing this gap in support for this population that I am now part of, that I believe is ultimately the game-changing population for our country and for the world,” she says about creating a platform to help working mothers, alongside her full-time role as a technology director at JetBlue.

“Society is not set up to support us in the right way, and that kind of pulled back the curtain on the challenges,” she says. “I get a lot of head nods. I hear a lot of support and I get a lot of thank you’s for bringing this conversation forward.”

Whitnee and I share a passion for celebrating inspirational and entrepreneurial mamas despite us both being fixtures in a corporate setting. From her perspective, therein lies the opportunity.

“I know that there are a lot of groups out there supporting working moms as entrepreneurs,” she says. “But I also feel very strongly that we need to keep women in corporate. I really believe working moms are the backbone of society, and if we get supported better, our society is going to improve and our corporations are going to do better.”

Whitnee believes that taking a holistic approach to supporting caregivers in the workplace goes a long way.

“There’s a focus on providing tools to help people multitask better, and manage their time in the office, but there’s not an understanding that when you show up to the office, you show up as a full person,” she says. “And I think there’s a big gap in addressing what does someone need across the day, across the week, across their life, so that they can show up with their A-game at work.”

How This Mama Makes it Work

“Eating right and working out helps me to have the energy level that I have,” says the former personal trainer and gym owner, who incorporates yoga into her morning routine since she has another baby on the way.

While it may sound like Whitnee has endless energy, it’s passion that fuels all her pursuits and a personal definition of success. It’s a framework that she follows for her clients too.

“A huge part of that is getting to a place where you know yourself, where you accept what you want, and you believe that you deserve what you want,” she says. “And making decisions that are right for you and your family; not making your decisions based on what somebody else, some outside force—your neighbors, Instagram, your colleague, your boss—think is right for you.”

“When you have that clarity of what it is that you want and what success looks like for you, then you can align your actions to it and it makes life much more joyful.”

Now, those early morning hours, that many of the women I speak with swear by, start to make sense as a critical foundation for a happy and fulfilling work day.

“I get a lot of pleasure out of helping others, so success for me also looks like, ‘who have I helped today, whose life have I made better and have I contributed outside of myself to make the world better?’ Whitnee says. “And when I feel like I’m doing that, then I feel like I’m being successful.”

Mama Maker: Ramona, Creating Space for a Fluid Career and Family Life

When Ramona Albert arrived on U.S. soil at the age of 16 on a one-way ticket from Romania, she began constructing a life of limitless potential. With a Master’s degree in architecture from Harvard in hand, she landed in New York and began a career designing skyscrapers–until motherhood changed her perspective.

“I had a kid and before that I was literally building these humongous buildings,” she says. “I realized, okay, I can’t possibly be thinking about 100 things in the same time. I have to think about things in the present and realize that I have to do whatever I can do best right now, because I have only two minutes or five minutes or 20 minutes.”

Before motherhood, Ramona says it wasn’t unusual for her and her husband to stay up working until midnight.

“I feel like I have become more humane because of time,” she says. “I’ve become more understanding rather than” what she describes as a “crazy New Yorker.”

Ramona’s high-profile projects have appeared in Gotham, including one of her early experiments laminating the glass panels of a high-rise in Hermès.

“I was in China, stretching the fabric and we’re all looking at this, like, ‘Oh my God, how do we do this?'” she recalls.

Ramona now gravitates towards “projects that have this kind of tangible quality to them,” she says in reference to direct interaction with her clients and interiors “down to the levels of like door knobs, or things like that.”

“My work is very inspired by nature,” she says. “So it’s very fluid. It’s very organic, in a way, but very minimal, so to speak.”

It’s apparent that Ramona’s approach to workplace culture and parenting are similarly intertwined.

“I really want to keep the integrity of who we are,” she says about Ramona Albert Architecture. “I’m very careful about hiring people because it matters a lot to be trustworthy and reliable, and be able to think for yourself and be independent.”

She works from a home office upstairs in her Brooklyn townhouse, which affords her the opportunity to pop downstairs to see her 2.5-year-old son anytime she wants to grab a cup of coffee or get a quick hug.

“We just did a house in the Hamptons and literally there were times where Egon was in my lap while I was there talking to contractors trying to get things done and it was such a normal thing,” she says. “But I’m thinking like, I can’t believe I’m holding this child on a construction job talking to these guys.”

“But I wouldn’t do it any other way.”

L1080956 (1)

Ramona loves that she can work right up to 6 p.m. when the nanny leaves–which she points out is still considered early in the architectural community–and then switch into dinner prep with her son.

“One thing I don’t compromise about is my gym time in the morning,” she says about her daily self-care routine of CrossFit, Pilates or yoga, that gets her out of bed at 5 a.m.

Ramona and her husband foster a sense of self for each member of their family.

“When you have a kid you always want to be with him,” she says about one of the many contrasts in parenting. “I like his own independence. I like the fact that he does his own things. That’s how he should be, you know, have his own opinions.”

Seeing her son’s “relationship to the world outside is so precious,” she says, noting that it drives her to “make it better in a certain way” by taking on experimental projects like a solar-powered installation in the Children’s Pavilion at Design Week in May.

“I feel like my parents were very brave to send me here when I was so little,” Ramona says. “It was a lot of growing on my own–because they’re still in Romania, my parents weren’t there. It was a little bit of trying to figure things out as they go. But it was great. I learned a lot, I’ve worked with some amazing people, and I think a lot of it has been very, very fruitful.”

Although Ramona got a jump start on building a life of her own, motherhood has reinforced what she learned early on.

“There’s nobody on this planet that can tell you what to do, but you yourself, and you can figure it out,” she says.

Mama Maker: Shweyta, Going the Distance

After leaving New York to spend a year in Singapore and Mumbai, Shweyta Mudgal reconnected with a childhood memory that inspired her to repurpose her design skills as an airport architect into an ancient form of Indian textile printing.

“Singapore is a takeoff point for anybody to travel that side of the world,” she says, which exposed her to Asia’s maker economy and gave her the opportunity to rekindle a creative pastime from her youth.

Shweyta fondly remembers how she would “walk in to a tailor in Mumbai in this lane that I was living in and give him a piece of scrap cloth, or even fabric or material that I found somewhere,” and together they would design something completely original out of it.

“So that’s the how the idea of ‘8,000 miles’ really started after all of that travel and being inspired by the rich textile culture of Asia,” she says about the birth of her clothing brand.

It was integral to Shweyta to weave social impact into the fabric of Eight Thousand Miles from the start, so that it wasn’t merely an “afterthought.” She identified two ways to empower the local community of artisans in India who would bring to life the garments she designed.

“One was to be able to work with artisans and communities that were either disadvantaged, financially,” says Shweyta, or “were working in textile cultures which are being threatened by extinction now due to mechanized, digital printing and more modern techniques of fabric production and printing.”

She was equally clear about the other major thread of her purpose-driven model: “I wanted it to be done in a fourth generation textile printing design community based out of a village investor in India, which has been block printing for generations on fabric.”

“Both of these worlds came together” when she found a “small sewing unit, which was very, very self reliant and independent because it was set up by a woman who really just wanted to do the same, which was to give work to disadvantaged women,” she says.

This culminated in a process that requires Shweyta’s presence in two time zones (primarily through WhatsApp), now that she’s living back in New York with her husband and daughter. She designs all the prints by hand or on her computer; they’re printed out at scale and attached to two pieces of wood back in India, and then replicated for every color needed for that particular print.

image5 (1)

“This is in fact a very, very ancient way of printing fabric but to me it was the best way of representing drawings,” she adds.

Women Helping Women Succeed

In the six years since she launched, Shweyta has maintained the same standards for her garments and the women who craft each one by hand.

“Every unit that we’ve ever worked with has been composed or vetted to make sure that the end artisan is also someone who has undergone training, but is also very, very happy working in the unit, not being exploited,” she says. “It’s fair trade, the unit is well lit and clean; the artisans are being provided for.”

Going back to Shweyta’s original vision, she ensures the artisans are paid for each piece that they make instead of “an assembly line method because then you know they’re not sort of small cogs in the machine, but they are responsible for having created the entire garment from scratch.”

“We also invest back in their children and in their lives by doing this on a day to day basis,” she says, noting that making it to work is not without its challenges “if you’re a woman in that strata of Indian society.”

“Women are not always available to come work because they’ve had a problem at home or they just were not able to walk to work that day or had to stay home to take care of an ailing mother-in-law and things which you know come in the way of your working life,” she says.

The endurance required by all involved is not lost on Shweyta.

“We’re just happy that we’ve been able to keep the business model alive and always have social impact in every little piece that we make.”

image3 (1) (1)

Shweyta has had to learn how to pace herself and stay present in her two different worlds of motherhood and entrepreneurship.

“I try not to push myself too hard,” she says reflecting on how far she’s come since the “initial years trying to set things up and establish everything.”

Shweyta admits to “mom guilt” while not feeling totally present with her daughter.

“We would read at bedtime, but I would still be thinking in my head about my next print that I should line up for the season ahead,” she says.

So she’s started treating her evenings like more of a “9-to-5” and tries “not think about work unless it’s just before a show, we’re rushing a deadline, or things like that.”

“I used to be really, really harsh on myself about trying to get a lot done and this whole philosophy that I’ve literally been brought up with of ‘if you have to do it tomorrow, you do it today; if you have to do today, you do it now,'” she says.

Shweyta cautions other entrepreneurs just starting out to temper their enthusiasm so it doesn’t snowball into martyrdom.

“I know it’s very difficult early on, especially if it’s your passion that you’re transitioning into a profession or if your business is really your baby,” she says. “In that case, ImI know it’s very difficult to draw a line between how much of yourself you want to invest in it.”

“If you’re going to do a lot of it yourself, then you really have to understand that you’re doing four or five different jobs at the same time,” she says, pointing out how long it would take that many people to work together to get a job done.

“If you’re doing it all yourself then give yourself that kind of time,” she says.

Now, when Shweyta finds herself up against a deadline that’s pulling her mentally away from time with her daughter, she takes a different approach.

“So now what I’ll do is I just talk to her about it,” she says. “She has her own inputs. I realized that sharing it with someone is better than actually just ruminating about it in your own head and constantly being obsessed with your work.”

“If you just seek out or find a mentor, or just tell a friend or family, it gives you some sort of a break from the journey, which is really, really hard as somebody starting out,” she says.

Mama Shaker: Claudia, Encouraging Us to Believe We Can

About 15 years ahead of the curve, Claudia Reuter chose to start her own company as a return-to-work path after staying home full-time with her two young boys.

“When I stepped away, I remember feeling like I didn’t think of it so much as a choice,” she says, describing her initial decision to pause a career she was passionate about, despite the fact that she “didn’t see how I was going to make that work with a new baby.”

Without the blended approach to commingling careers and motherhood that we’re seeing more of now, Claudia felt she was forced to choose between the two.

“Everything I was reading on one hand was saying stick with your career, and on the other hand was saying the most important thing you could do is be with your baby,” she recalls. “I’m like, these two things are not adding up.”

A few years later, when financial reasons drew Claudia back to work, she was concerned that the skills she honed at home wouldn’t be recognized in the business world.

“I remember realizing that no one was going to really value the experiences I had had as a stay-at-home parent, even though I knew that they were incredibly valuable,” she says. “And I knew that other moms, too, are in the same boat.”

“You’re doing a million different things, you’re managing a million different priorities, you’re worried about the long-term outcomes for your kids,” she says, noting the parallels with a start-up.

With two young kids just 23 months apart, Claudia bootstrapped a software business, raised capital (which led to some all-too-familiar clandestine conference call scenarios that any working mom can relate to), and successfully sold her company.

“All these years later, now I can connect the dots,” she says. “But at the time, I wouldn’t have been able to predict how this would have all turned out.”

Now she’s encouraging other women to do the same by “celebrating entrepreneurship as a way to lean in” in her brand new book Yes, You Can Do This! How Women Start Up, Scale Up, and Build The Life They Want (Techstars).

“What I realized is that I think we talk a lot about celebrating female founders, but we don’t talk enough about why to become one,” says Claudia. “If you become an entrepreneur, you have an opportunity to improve your own personal outcomes and have more control over your destiny.”

“If you can either build a company that’s big enough–or if you’re acquired and you can have some influence at the new company–you have a real opportunity to think through why only 17% of companies have paid maternity leave,” she says. “Why do we spend all our time talking about bringing dogs to the office, but we don’t really talk about kids in the office?”

“I just think there’s this huge opportunity to rethink things.”

How This Mompreneur Made it Work

Claudia started laying the groundwork for her business when her boys were babies, especially when sleep was at a premium with her youngest.

“I remember thinking, well, I’m already up,” she says, identifying herself as a morning person. “I have some of my best thinking really, really early in the morning.”

Even so, it wasn’t as if she had all the answers.

“I didn’t know anything about how to start a business at that point in my journey,” Claudia says. “So I started with a lot of research, and a lot of reading, and a lot of looking at what other people had done and trying to figure it out.”

She also points out that “it wasn’t totally linear,” and she often had her boys in tow, like the time she took them to the bank to open her first business account.

“I negotiated my first term sheet from my older son’s closet,” Claudia says. “I remember thinking, that was the one area I could go where I knew it would be quiet.”

“I was starting to fundraise and I got a term sheet, which was a huge deal for me just to even get a term sheet,” she says, describing how she put the kids in front of the TV with crackers and hoped the noise wouldn’t echo too loudly in her 1920s home.

You can hear her story on her podcast, The 43 Percent, which is currently in its second season.

“Now, I’m so much more open about the blend of personal and professional lives,” says Claudia. “But at that point, I remember being so nervous about letting anyone know that I had all these other things going on. Work at home wasn’t quite as common and that was 17 years ago, give or take.”

Claudia remembers at the time noticing “the contrast between how I was in my yoga pants” and “what I assumed to be the mindset of the people on the other end of the call, who had administrative assistants and people who are making sure they could be focused on what they’re doing.”

“I think that’s one of the challenges moms have, but it’s also one of the benefits,” she says. “We actually know how to juggle things and how to deal with a lot of different inputs coming at you, at once.”

In her current role as general manager of TechStars, Claudia has an eye on the next generation of startup success stories. In doing so, she sees similar traits that will help future leaders thrive.

“The Fortune 500 today is not going to be the Fortune 500 a few years from now,” she says. “Leaders know that their business can be disrupted. They’re going to rely on people who can balance both an operational mindset–to keep things rolling steady and growing–and people who are entrepreneurial–and can keep coming up with new ideas and thinking about how to incorporate those into the core business–in a way that is cost efficient and yet produces results.”

Claudia points out that the value placed on “disruption and innovation” opens the door for women who are constantly finding solutions to the challenges of motherhood and business.

“I think it’s important to own your experience, own your value and be able to talk about where you can contribute from a leadership perspective,” she says.

And perhaps most importantly, “not shy away from it.”