The loneliest family holiday

For years, the 4th of July was one of my favorite holidays.  My childhood 4ths were filled with memories of beach trips to the grandparents, boating with cousins, and running around open fields of blankets and coolers with new little friends. Teenage 4ths were about friends and flirting and sneaking Zimas.  And in my early 20’s it was backyard BBQs and grown boys launching street fireworks.  

But something changes when you’re new to a city, the first of your friends to have a baby, or the last of your friends to get married.  Suddenly this very social, universal day of sun and cheer becomes something else…it becomes kind of lonely. 

My first taste of this was the summer of 2008.  I’d recently moved out of my ex’s house and realized that one year into living in Chicago my only friends were from high school in KC and a couple of other Yalies scattered in the city.  I was waiting tables at the time, trying to build GiveForward, and I got the day off because I’d assumed I’d have plans…I’d never not had plans in my 26 years of 4th of Julys.  

That morning I called my mom, feeling sorry for myself.  I’d been putting all of my time and energy into rebuilding my life post breakup and trying to start a company with no money that I hadn’t invested in friendships.  She listened and then said, “You know what you should do?” (her most famous sentence :), “You should call that sweet girl Sharon from Yale and ask her what she’s doing!” I groaned back at her about how lame that would be, since we weren’t super close. 

But a couple of hours later, I did call Sharon  who was generous and caring and invited me to join her for an amazing day.  She brought me to multiple parties including my first roof deck fireworks, and ultimately she wing manned that night as I met my future husband.  

Fast forward four years, and I found myself in a similar situation.  Being married to a police officer in Chicago means you never get your husband on the 4th.  The fireworks apparently bring out the desire to shoot, handgun violence explodes in the city, and no one gets the night off. The previous years I’d worked.  But the 4th of July 2012 was my first as a mom. Griffin was just 7 months old and a very challenging sleeper.  I had no friends with kids, so I had no idea what to do that day except pray that the fireworks wouldn’t keep him up too late. 

The next years were better, sort of. We had people over during the day, and the year after my sister had a party.  But both times Finn was the only kid, and I was still alone at 8 o’clock listening to fireworks from the couch as he slept. 

Last year (aka year five of being a mom), we had our best 4th yet. I was in KC with my friend Lindsay and our kids, watching fireworks over the lake and adventuring through 11pm bedtimes.  I remember having a moment on the boat as my kids splashed and laughed thinking “this is what the 4th of July is supposed to be.”

This year, we’ll be in Chicago, and we have no plans.  A spark of panic hit me last weekend as I realized that this year wouldn’t compare to last.  I decided to put myself out there again and asked my most social friend Cindu what she’s doing, with the hopes of tagging along and at the risk of feeling like I was inviting my family to some intimate gathering.  Surprisingly, her family was in the same boat with no plans. 

What this tells me is this is two things.  First, there are some years when holidays just don’t live up to what we imagine (ahem Mother’s Day am I right?), and we just have to cherish the good ones that much more. 

But more importantly, I’m reminded that so many of us are alone for different reasons during holidays.  If we’re willing to be vulnerable and share that, people will gladly invite us to join them.  

And if we do have plans, we all have that new friend who just moved here, or just had a baby, or just got divorced who might be feeling a little lost this 4th.  I hope you’ll reach out to them and check in.

Because you never know what might happen…you might just meet your future partner or next best friend.  

Why Men (and Women) Bail on Female Founders

I started to write this post last Fall and didn’t because I was worried how my peers would respond in a post-non-Hillary world. But on International Women’s Day, I’m going to take a chance…

Recently, I was at the First Round CEO Summit talking to an amazing group of female founders.  I joined the group as they were discussing a vc who backed out of a term sheet.  We all gasped a little inside.  We know it happens, but deep down you hope that in your next round, you’ll saddle up with investors who would never do that.  And we all wondered aloud, if this happens more to female founders than to our male counterparts.  
The conversation turned to talking about a certain woman vc who is notorious for abandoning her companies at the first sign of difficulty.  I don’t know her personally, but I started to defend her.  

My argument was that there are so few women involved in big deals and there’s so much internal and external pressure for them to perform that they’re likely uncomfortable spending too much time on a company that might reflect poorly on the vc in a Monday morning partner meeting. 

We all agreed we wouldn’t want her as an investor.  

But having had a few months to reflect, I’m realizing how fundamentally flawed this whole system is.  And when you break down why people don’t back or bail on female founders, I think it all stems from this miserable intersection of fear of failure and the subconscious need to be right…even when right means “I knew I couldn’t do it.”

At one point when I was running GiveForward, I got into an argument with a senior team member.  In front of a room of people, we disagreed about something and he “reminded” me that he was “in charge of growing this company.” I asserted loudly enough for everyone to hear that he was wrong.  As CEO, I was responsible for growing this business.  

That moment was a turning point for me in a lot of ways.  It was the first time my team saw my frustration at what was a growing problem on the senior team.  But it was also a loud announcement of my fear that our failure to hit numbers was an indictment on my ability to lead the company…and deep down that evil imposter syndrome reared its ugly head.

What followed was a tailspin of self doubt.  I questioned myself as a founder and as a leader.  And thanks to a call to my board by said senior team member, my board now questioned me too. Ultimately we decided to look for a new CEO.  

But to be perfectly honest, that wasn’t the part I’m embarrassed or ashamed of. What happened inside my head was the most embarrassing part.  I’ve always considered myself an early supporter of women founders, but the reality was that there was an internal monologue that sounded nothing like support.  It went something like this:

You knew you couldn’t really do this. They knew you couldn’t do this. This was always going to be the way it worked out. Very few women get to take a company as far as you have. You should be grateful. Now maybe you can spend more time with Griffin and John…or have another baby?  You’re just a better starter than executer.  That’s okay. You’ll probably love running strategy and biz dev. You are lucky you got this far. Just don’t lose your company.  Play along.  What are you if you’re not the CEO of GiveForward? Founder is good enough. Isn’t it?”

I wish I could shake that person and scream at her “You’re wrong!” Everything about that message was flawed because every piece of it was filled with self doubt and convincing myself that I was right all along…that few women can build massive companies. 

Because that’s all we’ve known as women…especially in Chicago.  There are so few of us that have actually started and carried a business to scale.  And the brain likes pattern recognition.  If there’s no pattern of women killing it, how do we know we can? 

It’s like the 4-minute mile.  No one thought it was possible until someone did it…and since hundreds of people have done it. 

Women need our 4-minute mile successes–ones not led by celebrities. We need to turn off the subconscious bias that rings in the minds of both male and female board members that says we are less likely to succeed. 

Performance is what’s going to change this system…that and more women in the room.  It’s not protesting or taking today off work, although those actions are powerful for separate reasons.  It’s performance. Killing it at our jobs, finding new and better opportunities that only we can see, and supporting each other on the journey up. 

Feel free to disagree, but I believe that the day we IPO our own companies and fill our own teams with women leaders is the day that we will see equality.

And for what it’s worth, I didn’t tell the group of women founders that day that I had just had a firm back out of a term sheet–that a name brand investor with an all male team gave me terrible terms that I accepted for the wrong reasons. They talked down to me, called me diminutive names like sweetheart, and ultimately passed because our 160 day old company hadn’t hit explosive growth. At the time I was embarrassed it happened.  

But time (and hitting numbers) gives you so much perspective.  I realize now that the only disappointment I should feel is that I ever considered the deal in the first place. Lessons like that aren’t a sign that I can’t do this…they’re a sign that I’m learning…like every male founder is too.

And I’m so glad they passed. It made room for the valuable male and female investors who truly believe in me and this business.  
Thank you: 

Sam Yagan, Paul Lee, David Cohen, Stuart Larkins, Ezra Galston, Kevin Willer, Matt McCall, Guy Turner, Stopher Bartol, Russ Fradin, Genevieve Thiers, Cyan Banister, Brittany Graunke, Sam Shank, Ethan Austin, Chrissie Pariso, Joe Roos, Justin Alden, Tord Alden, Heather and Sean Harper, the leaders at FireStarter, and everyone who has invested through our Republic campaign. And of course, thank you to my husband, my biggest “investor.”

Mac & Cheese recipe


Because people have asked, I figured I’d share the recipe from the Mac & Cheese recipe that won last weekend 🙂 

It was inspired by this one

1 lb thick cut bacon

1 1b box medium shells

1 stick of butter

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1/2 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3  1/2 cups milk

1 egg

8 oz cream cheese

1/2 lb American cheese

1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar 

1/2 cup pepper jack

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan 

Panko breadcrumbs

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350. 

Chop and cook bacon into crumbles.

Boil pasta in salted water, drain and set aside in a large bowl to cool.

In a large pot, whisk butter, flour, salt, cayenne, and nutmeg until smooth. 

Add milk and bring to a boil.  Stir in cubed cream cheese and then the other cheeses.  Remove from heat. 

Stir beaten egg into the cooled noodles.  Then pour cheese sauce over the noodles, stir in bacon, and place in greased 9×13 inch pan.  There will be a lot of sauce. 

Cook 30 minutes and then add seasoned panko breadcrumbs to the top for 15 more minutes. 

This recipe is awesome because it stays creamy hours after you remove it from the oven. 

Why Dallas?

in-the-city

We keep getting this question when we tell people about Pearachute’s next home.  The typical start-up city expansion usually includes New York and San Francisco, so choosing a less dense, less urban location for our second city seems foreign to some.  But at Pearachute, we’re making a different bet.

Pearachute is a monthly membership club that makes it easy for parents and caregivers to discover, book, and drop into the best kids’ activities in your city.  We create opportunities to bring families together in a way they never could before. Now dads can drop into basketball classes with their kids and moms can book parent/child coding classes–all at the touch of a button, all for one affordable monthly rate.

This business is about connecting families with local businesses, and where better to do that than in the major metro areas of cities known for being family-friendly.

We chose Dallas for several reasons.  First, there is a great population of families with young children looking for fun things to do. Second, North Dallas is exploding with major companies like Toyota bringing employees from all over the country to the Plano area.  Third, there are hundreds of activity centers in the DFW area that offer so many cool classes and events that my staff keeps joking about moving our home office there.

But perhaps most important, we chose Dallas because we think it’s a great culture fit for our brand.  Texans, and Dallasites in particular, have a focus on family and empowering local business.  We share the same values of hard work, friendly people, and a desire to build our communities.

We’re launching Pearachute in Dallas this morning and couldn’t be more thrilled to call it our second home.

Wednesday Parent Hack


When Griffin was born, I decided I wanted to do something to with all of the photos and videos I was taking.  At the time I was wary of posting too much to Facebook, and a baby book seemed like an impossible task.

I decided to create a private blog on a site called Posterous, which at the time was awesome and was one of the only free sites that let you post videos and photos within a blog for free. 

A couple of years in, they were acquired by Twitter who shut down the service, and I found myself frantically trying to find a new home for these files. 

I decided not to risk it again and go with a site that didn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, WordPress.  I’m so glad I did.  I know there are a ton of great apps out there trying to solve this problem for parents. But at the end of the day, I love the simplicity of being able to pop open the WordPress app while lying in bed with the boys and privately document the little magical moments happening in their lives. I am grateful I learned the Posterous lesson before I had a decade of files, and I’m crossing my fingers in the hopes that WordPress makes it long enough for my boys to enjoy well into adulthood. 

 

Wednesday Mom Hack


Now that sunrise is later, I can’t get myself to run outside in the morning.  Once as a teenager I was followed by a van during an early morning run, and ever since I’ve been keenly aware of the vulnerability I present. 

Finding time to get to the gym with a two and four year old is tough, but last month my stylist, Jorie, told me about Skyfit, and I’m so in love with it. 

Basically, you have a trainer in your ear with pumped up music motivating and pushing you through workouts that don’t require equipment.  It’s a great way to start the day with a 20 min high intensity workout before anyone even wakes up. 

But what I really love about Skyfit is the fact that it’s part of this macro trend that doesn’t force us to make sweeping changes in our lives.  This app like so many others is about finding 20 minutes to be present, take care of ourselves, boost our confidence, and continue on with the things that matter.