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.”

Mama Maker: Rachel from ParentSpark

As a parenting coach and mother of three boys, Rachel Goldman Sklar is chock full of creative ways to overcome the day-to-day challenges of raising young kids.

Our conversation couldn’t have come at a better time, as my nearly 3-year-old is still adjusting to life with a sibling and we’re constantly negotiating meals, trips to the potty, and bedtime.

While we typically resort to bribery, Rachel suggests a “first, then” technique instead.

“Children are so routine oriented and appreciate the autonomy that goes along with following order,” she says, describing how you might say “first you brush your teeth, then we read a book” as a series of steps instead of dangling the story like a carrot.

“First, then” is just one example from ParentSpark — the “chat bot” Rachel built with a fellow parent, Guy Rom, who brings engineering chops from Facebook and PayPal.

In one hour of feeding my newborn with one hand and chatting with ParentSpark’s virtual host “Heather” with the other, I learned a handful of techniques–and the research behind them–to try out with our testy toddler.

While convenient, ParentSpark is also designed to be more interactive than a parenting book. It features digestible content for the 140-character generation of parents who may not have the option or interest to read a book or attend a workshop.

“Books don’t really support you in an ongoing way,” she said. “They’re not there to nag you. They’re not there to remind you. They’re not there to help you reflect on how to tweak things for your own family.”

Rachel and I discussed how parenting books can also make you feel like you’re doing something wrong if it doesn’t work or that you should have started sooner (like my experience reading the 3-day potty training book).

Helping Families Succeed

Rachel’s initial exposure to parenting wasn’t easy. Prior to coaching, she worked in social services with child abuse investigations. She left to start her own family, and then found herself needing the kind of support she now provides.

“When it came time for me to go back to work–which was kind of driven by the fact that my children were challenging and I needed a break–I went back and trained to be a parenting coach, knowing that I would get my own coaching,” she says.

Rachel figured if it went well, she would turn it into a practice.

“And that’s exactly what happened,” she says. “I began to love parenting, I went ahead and had another baby, and I started my own practice.”

Rachel draws inspiration from all of these experiences to create the content for ParentSpark, and pays close attention to what she hears back from users.

“Every morning I come in and read what people’s takeaways are…and it’s really touching,” she says.

“We really want feedback,” says Rachel. “Every mom who uses it can help the next generation of moms who use it, because we’ll improve it based on all of our user feedback.”

Ultimately, she’d like to bring ParentSpark full circle and reduce the incidence of child maltreatment, through government grants and partnerships with social workers.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Rachel keeps it real, and that’s part of her appeal. She’s created mantras like “At Your Wit’s End” and “Me Time” on Rock Your Inner Mama: Guidance for Mindful Parents. She makes sure to carve out time for her and her husband too.

“We go to Burning Man every year. That’s our one week of being completely disengaged from parenting,” she says.

As for the other 358 days of the year, Rachel navigates the highs and lows of running a startup, while juggling three boys with her husband, and continuing her coaching practice.

Her mornings start off on a strong foot. She’s mastered the art of keeping everyone in bed until 8:00 a.m. during the summer, and 7:00 a.m. during the school year. And she relishes in the solitude of her commute.

But like many of us, “evenings are fraught with chaos and kids fighting and us getting frustrated with each other,” she says.

“Feeding children is the hardest part of parenting for us,” says Rachel, as she describes the limited diet of her three boys, and behavioral issues triggered by blood sugar and gluten.

In similar fashion to the suggestions Rachel shares in ParentSpark, she had an epiphany.

“I was going to hire somebody to watch the kids in the afternoon so I could cook dinner, then I realized I should hire someone to cook dinner so I can watch the kids.”

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At the end of the day, Rachel values the balance that ParentSpark has provided her.

“I have the kind of job that affords me tremendous flexibility,” she says. “I’m really, really lucky that I have a really good blend of work and parenting.”