This Is What Motherhood Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

motherhood taught me about entrepreneurship
Photo by Sarah Chai

When I think about somebody taking a leap of faith, I picture a bold, dramatic move: finally quitting that boring job to write a book or travel the world. In my case, I made two such moves simultaneously: becoming a mother and starting my own business. This is the story of what I learned, how I approached both moves differently, and why.

My son just turned one. He was a planned child, even if we didn’t plan for all the havoc we’ve since gone through.

Almost two years ago, on a plane from Bucharest to Frankfurt, I read about a young guy diagnosed with cancer just as he got admitted to Oxford. He decided to do his degree and undergo chemotherapy at the same time because that’s what he was passionate about.

The story really hit home for me. It reminded me how fragile life was, how quickly it could end and how nothing really mattered. After that nihilistic train of thought, I decided that what mattered most to me was to have a family of my own. So, there it was, my leap of faith, and all it took was a plane trip of fewer than two hours. A couple of weeks later, I was pregnant, and a few months later, I was a mom.

Now you may call this reckless. I call it intuitive.

I knew that I was going to do fine as a mother. Sure, it would change my life. Sure, it would get hard at times. But I never doubted my ability to love my child, so he would grow into a loving person himself. I never doubted that I was not good enough or feared that other mothers were better than me.

The reasons why I was so sure about having a baby only dawned on me recently.

One, I had excellent role models. Two, nobody ever claimed otherwise. Three, 80% of women in Germany are doing it.

That’s where entrepreneurship comes in. Starting my own business was a process that took me about four years. Years of thinking, researching, contemplating, and more researching.

Why?

One, I had no role models. Two, people discouraged me. Three, not a lot of women do it.

Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these.

1. I had no role models

Role models motivate people. You see somebody doing something that inspires you, and you want to do the same. It’s that easy.

My mom was a natural. She raised four daughters with so much empathy and love it never seemed to drain her. For me, it was hard not to imagine that one day I’d try to do the same for my children.

On the flip side, I grew up in an environment where having a stable job with a decent income was deemed aspirational. I knew nobody who had their own business while growing up, so a corporate job is what I went for after university.

From the very beginning, I struggled to fit in. I couldn’t associate myself with the firm’s corporate identity. I couldn’t take my job and myself as seriously as my colleagues did. And I couldn’t accept the fact that I didn’t call the shots.

It took me some time to understand that I needed to create something on my own and play by my own rules. I spent a lot of time reflecting and ruling out what I did not want to do. I’m glad that it took me just a little over four years of employment to start my own business, but I could have gotten there faster.

2. People discouraged me

Once you muster the courage and tell the world, “here I am, founding a sustainable underwear brand for women,” you start hearing the critics. Friends of mine cautioned me (mostly unrequested), wondered whether my idea was unique, and pointed out how others were already doing what I wanted to do.

It’s fascinating how entitled people feel about criticizing somebody’s business instead of providing the implicit support any woman receives when she announces her pregnancy. No adult woman ever hears that she won’t be able to master the journey of motherhood, while there are certainly raised eyebrows when it comes to entrepreneurship.

By the way, all those critics were women.

While each of them totally brought me down in the moment, I decided to only listen to the opinions of those who had a business themselves or who were supportive. It’s better to surround yourself with people who lift you up or know what they’re talking about. It’s more than enough to cope with your own inner critic.

3. Not a lot of women do it

Less than 16% of German startups are founded by women. If you consider the share of women-led startups who are VC-backed and typically get more visibility, the outlook is even bleaker (2.3% of global VC funds in 2020). The numbers are so low that it’s no surprise that my first association with a startup is a group of three guys (young and white) wearing a shirt and a V-neck sweater combo, smiling confidently into the camera. I know only a few women who took the leap of faith to entrepreneurship and who radiate the intuitive confidence that new mothers typically do.

Over the past few years, I would spend hours on Google to figure out how the fashion industry worked, how clothes were manufactured, and how to make sustainable underwear. To confidently move ahead with my business idea, I decided to join a business accelerator program for sustainable fashion brands. Through Factory45, I have a clear view of the process, valuable resources, a committed team of mentors, and a group of like-minded (mostly female) founders.

What I learned from starting my own business

I’m in the early stages of my business, but I want to share with you what I have learned so far and hope to push you over the fence if you’re thinking about it yourself.

You cannot learn to start a business without starting it.

You cannot understand an industry without being part of it.

You cannot plan for all potential issues without taking action.

Entrepreneurship is about getting started, even if it’s a small step every day. Start with something that feels comfortable and take it from there. You don’t have to register your business, trademark your company name, or rent office space on day one. Just test the waters with whatever it is that you’re trying to do, and all the rest will follow suit.

For instance, I first decided on my company name after surveying my family and friends about many potential names. A couple of days later, I bought the relevant URL and secured the social media handles I wanted to use. A few months after that, I started posting on Instagram after feeling ready to go public.

It’s scary to put yourself and your ideas out there. Listen to your insecurities and try to embrace them, but don’t let them hold you back.

It took me a while to get started on social media because I worried about whether people would resonate with my values, whether they would like the designs of the underwear and whether anybody would even be interested in listening. I still worry. But every day, I try to stay true to why I started this business and remain hopeful that I will find the right people who care about the same things.

To me, starting this business is a bit like becoming a mom. I didn’t know how to do any of it at first. I just took him in my arms and figured it out from there.

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