Guest blogger Sheri Atwood, founder of SupportPay by Ittavi, the first-ever automated payment platform to help parents who live apart manage child support and share child expenses. Prior to starting SupportPay, Sheri was a successful marketing and product executive with Fortune 500 experiences. Atwood has also been named a “Top 40 Under 40 Executive in Silicon Valley” in 2009 and recently named #5 of Woman Dominating Silicon Valley.
When I left my corporate job to pursue the startup of my dreams, many people thought I was insane. I am a single mother about to put all of my money into a tech startup and enter the elusive “boys club” of Silicon Valley.
My drive centered on two factors: First, to fix the problem with the broken child support payment process and eliminate the financial conflicts between parents so that the focus can return back to the children. This is something over 425 million parents globally struggle with, but no one was doing anything to change the system. Second, I wanted to prove to my daughter that with enough hard work, grit and determination you can do anything you set your mind to, even if the odds are severely against you.
Lets face it, it’s hard enough being a woman in tech. Add to the fact that I am a single mother, over the age of 30 and don’t have the support of parents or a spouse, I am not exactly the ideal picture of a tech startup founder. I knew there would be bumps in the road for us—working in corporate America had already taught me keeping a healthy work-life balance is difficult. Now, being an entrepreneur as a single parent has opened up an entirely new set of challenges. My business needs my attention to grow and generate income, and in the same vein, my daughter needs an attentive mother to support and guide her. I’ve learned a lot along the way on how to ensure both receive my attention and are able to flourish and grow.
Unplug and plug in at the right times. When owning a startup or working to climb the corporate ladder there will be nights and weekends when you simply cannot unplug. To create my child support platform, I needed to be the one who built the first version—I spent countless hours teaching myself to code and worked daily to build the product. I knew exactly how I wanted it to work and look from a parent’s perspective. This meant balancing “plugged-in” times for coding and product testing with “unplugged” for reviewing homework, dinners, weekend trips and family date night. Having those strict “unplugged” hours were crucial in ensuring my daughter still had her quality time with me.
Be proactive with your schedule. The hardest scheduling conflict I have found as a working parent are the daytime activities—the soccer games, classroom readings, field trips, parades and more. These are the ones that are so special to our children, but also seem to be planned exactly at the same time as all the meetings in our calendar. When working in corporate America I found my schedule was set by someone else, when they had meetings or wanted to meet. The benefit of being a founder is I took back control of my calendar. For the parents who work for me who would like to attend school events, all I ask is, “What will you remember in a year? The school play, or the team meeting?” As soon as you know something important is happening in your child’s life or there is a new milestone on the horizon, be proactive and schedule into your work calendar. Meetings will come and go, but your child’s starring role in the school play will only come once. By encouraging parents to balance the work week between work and their family, I know they will make up for that lost hour at some point.
Outsource if it isn’t your core competency. There are so many things to do to simply manage your home, but with only 24 hours in the day I have to constantly ask, “Is this something I should do? Can it wait? Or can I outsource this?” By buying more time, I am able to focus on what matters, spending quality time with my daughter and building a company. For example, my daughter’s school is 30 minutes away one way and takes almost an hour to get back home. If I dropped her off and picked her up each day, that is 3 hours a day, or 15 hours a week, that I could be spending on the company. Of course, this doesn’t even count the countless hours of driving to gymnastics, dance, and music lessons. Instead of taking on this responsibility, I have a nanny that comes in the morning and drives her to school and shuttles her to her activities in the afternoon, then brings her home. I have to say that is the best money I can spend. I’m happier and less stressed, she gets to where she needs to go, and now I have more time to spend quality time with her.
Remember quality over quantity. I believe the hardest thing about being a parent is the constant guilt. There is a constant guilt of wondering if you are doing enough. I have finally come to accept that the guilt will always be there, and it’s up to me to manage expectations and focus on quality time over quantity. Sure there are many times when my daughter wants to do something and I can’t because I have to get a product release out. But setting expectations with her and dedicating quality time to do some activity allows me to at least address the guilt because less face it, it doesn’t ever go away.
Being a single parent and entrepreneur isn’t easy, but it can be done—and I have learned a lot along the way. Remember, there will be days when these planned out approaches to balancing work and life are completely interrupted. The key is to keep the lines of communication open between you and your children. Set expectations and when schedules collide, work through it and pick-up right where you left off when things do go as planned.