Mama CEO

Musings, Meanderings and Miscellaney


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Why I Participated in Bizwomen Mentoring Monday

I can’t remember exactly when it started, but at some point this last year, I started receiving emails from complete strangers who hoped that somehow a few moments of my time might help them with the next step towards their own dreams and goals. At first, I replied to every single email that arrived, but it didn’t take long to no longer had the bandwidth to answer every question or to volunteer my time for every invitation.

I was in the midst of determining what to turn down and what to say yes to when I attended this year’s Women Entrepreneurs Festival. I posed the question to a group of women entrepreneurs, and Debbra Sterling, the founder of Goldieblox, offered up some advice that helped me gain clarity. “That is the question,” she said. “What I do is come up with strategic goals for the company. Then every month I come up with what are my goals towards those greater goals and use that as a filter. So when any opportunity comes in, if it is not hitting those goals that I decided on, I’m going to tuck it away.”

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I’ve used that principal to make several decisions since that conference, and it’s worked well for me. And when I was asked if I would be willing to serve as a mentor for the upcoming Mentoring Monday, a national initiative spearheaded by Bizwomen, I again used this filter to decide. The event pairs women business leaders with women in their own community through speed-dating style sessions, and this year’s event was expected to encompass over 10,000 participants at 40 locations throughout the U.S. Because the local event in my city would host 150 attendees, I saw it as an opportunity to spend a morning sharing whatever insight might be useful with anyone who wanted to talk with me. I will admit I was a bit skeptical that anything of real value could come out of 7-minute conversations that were started and ended by the ringing of a cowbell, but I was willing to try.

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What actually happened – at least for me – was profound. When the speed mentoring session kicked off, a woman who was maybe in her forties hurried up and sat down across from me. She wasted no time getting to her point. “Here is where I am,” she said. “I’m good at my job and like it, but I’ve been at it for a long time now. I have this thing I think I really want to do, but I don’t know how to get started or whether I should give up my current security to try to pursue it.” I was expecting softball questions and, instead, ended up with someone facing a life-changing crossroads. For the next six and a half minutes we talked about life’s scary decisions – weighing worst case scenarios against the payoff, how to explore new possibilities without destroying what was currently working. We discussed the need to gain enough reference points to understand if something was a passing interest or a burning passion as well as the option of taking baby steps – and the struggle of knowing when to go all-in and risk our security for the chance to do something that really matters. I have no idea if our talk helped or not, but it certainly inspired me to see someone seriously weighing the cost of pursuing her dream.

The procession over the next hour included women of all ages from college students to retirees, all with unique issues and perspectives. Some wanted advice or access to insights based on my own journey. One woman waited in line for her turn because she thought the event would be the perfect time to sell her product to me.  I spent the remainder of her seven minutes talking about strategic sales and customer validation. I’m pretty sure my response wasn’t what she wanted, but I’m really hoping she was listening.

I found as I walked back to my car to make my next appointment, that I was energized and inspired by the dreams and goals of the women who had spent their morning talking to me. It’s a good thing to remember when our lives get so incredibly busy in the midst of growing our own companies – that while it becomes vital to protect our time to reserve the  necessary bandwidth needed for priorities, it is also important to carve out time to give back. Even when we give, we still get. For me, that takeaway was well worth my time.

 


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Saturday Morning Musing: Dropping Anchor in a Storm

When a vessel drops anchor to ride out the buffeting of a storm, it is wisdom, not failure to make progress towards the destination. It is good to know within ourselves when we need to find our anchor to ride out a difficult experience . Perseverance is understanding when to anchor and when it is time move forward once more towards our goal.

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Mentors Are The Secret Weapons Of Successful Startups

Lisa Abeyta:

I am so grateful for those who have been willing to invest time in me as a mentor and can personally attest to the value of finding the right mentors. I have a long way to go yet, but I wouldn’t have had the courage, capacity or tools necessary to begin this journey as an entrepreneur without the consistent mentoring of those who were already successful and willing to share their own experiences with me. If we want to see more entrepreneurs become successful founders of leading companies, we need to be willing to commit to supporting their efforts through mentoring when and where we are able to provide high value insight and by helping make connections to those who can mentor the next generation.

Originally posted on TechCrunch:

Editor’s note: Rhett Morris is the director of Endeavor Insight, the research arm of Endeavor, a nonprofit that supports high-impact entrepreneurs across the world.

“I’ve probably revised this investor pitch deck 200 times,” a founder told me recently. She’d met with more than 50 potential investors before closing a seed round last month. This might sound excessive to some, but her experience is not unusual.

Entrepreneurs often spend hundreds of hours raising funds from angel and venture capital investors. While these activities are clearly important, analysis of new data on startups suggests that founders should also dedicate significant time to something that many people overlook: recruiting great mentors. This simple strategy can increase a company’s odds of success more than almost anything else.

Discovering the secrets of the best founders

Our team studied thousands of tech businesses last year. We looked specifically at companies in New York City’s tech…

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3 Habits Killing Your Productivity

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As the founder and CEO of a civic tech company, despite the innumerable benefits and positive changes I’ve experienced along the way, I’ve also found it more and more difficult to manage the demands made on my time.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone – that there this is this moment in the journey of every entrepreneur – when you either make the conscious decision to continue the whirlwind pace of long hours, an intense schedule, poor diet and nonexistent exercise until the consequences hit in the form of total burnout, depression, or health issues – or you have an epiphany that your habits are not sustainable. You realize you’ve been sprinting in what you’ve discovered is a marathon.

I, for one, have hit upon this very epiphany and have no interest in sprinting – sometimes from one distraction to the next – in this marathon of entrepreneurship that I’ve come to love. After spending the last few weeks observing what was eating at my focus and my time, I’ve found three habits which are killing my productivity and sapping my energy.

Email

Maybe this isn’t your experience, but in the attempt to stay on top of things, I became a slave to the little red dot on my email app. But, seriously, think back. Since you created your first email account, has there been a single email which was so urgently in need of a reply that it couldn’t wait until you finished working out, getting groceries, or spending a quiet dinner with your family? It’s so very easy to blur the line between an obligation to be responsive and the tendency to become a slave to the instant demands of others, that our email habits are often to blame for our constant distractions from the tasks which really do require our full attention.

Texting

For me, the days of being excited when I receive a text message are long gone. I dread when I see one pop up on my smart phone – almost as much as I used to dread the incessant poke on my hip accompanied by a litany of “Mom. Mom. Mom.” This slow change in culture has resulted in texting becoming an acceptable mode of communication between almost any connection and even between complete strangers hoping to set up a meeting or connect. I counted one day, and I received 70 text messages in the span of time it took to sit through a banquet. Only two of those qualified as urgent and in need of immediate attention. One was from my son telling me – at 10:30 at night – that he had forgotten his key to the house. The second was from my daughter telling me she could drive all the way across town to let her brother in so that I didn’t have to leave the event. It takes a lot of courage, but consider muting phone numbers on your smart phone that are from people who assume your are instantly accessible but who should really be sending you an email instead. Think of it this way: you actually have a responsibility to protect the integrity of your focus during working hours, even if it means being less instantly accessible to connections who want that kind of access. You’re never going to find time to focus – or to mentally rest – if you are constantly responding to texts coming in on your phone.

Coffee

When I was first launching my business, I believed every coffee, luncheon, or meeting just might be that next big break, so I said yes to every invitation to meet. Funny enough, in the midst of all those coffee meetings, I actually ignored the first two phone calls from the person who actually ended up giving our company that big break. Looking back, there were some wonderful relationships which came out of those meetings, but there was also an awful lot of time spent in chit chat that did neither parties any good – not me and not the person I’d agreed to meet. I had nothing of value to offer them, and they were not the right connections for what I needed to grow my company. Don’t be afraid to say no. It doesn’t make you antisocial, a snob or too special or  anything else you might fear. It means you value that person’s time whether they see it that way or not. I do still say yes from time to time, but it is only when the reason to meet and the expected value for both of us is apparent.

In our attempt to be better at our jobs, to be more accessible and more open to new opportunities which could be your next big break, you may actually be engaging in habits that are hindering you. It’s worth considering – and worth making changes to your habits if you want to cross the finish long in whatever marathon you’ve chosen to pursue.


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Want to be Successful? Get Over Yourself and Seize the Opportunity

Andre Moore knows what it is to watch a bright future disappear – not once, but twice. Being forced to reinvent himself after thinking he was on the right path to success has helped him learn that seizing the opportunity is worth it, whenever and however that chance comes.

His first devastating heartbreak came early in his life when several letters of intent from major colleges and a promising career in the NFL evaporated into nothing after he was injured during his junior year of high school. The eldest son of several siblings raised by a hard-working single mother, the young Alabama native metamorphosed overnight from a rising star to a young man with an uncertain future. As he watched one door close on his future, he chose to follow his heart and enlisted to serve his country while still in high school, first in the National Guard and then as a medic in the Army. But, once again, this calling was cut short when Andre suffered a debilitating injury the day before his unit shipped out. Devastated, he returned home and contemplated what to do with his life. At the invitation of childhood friends, he moved cross-country to make a new life for himself in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he quickly earned certification as a dental assistant before enrolling in the University of New Mexico.

 

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My son, Jonathon, became friends with Andre when the two began studying together at the university’s library. Most weekends, Jonathon came home from Andre’s loaded with leftover ribs or chicken. After pilfering his leftovers one afternoon, I asked my son why Andre wasn’t selling his ribs. Despite eating them cold out of the fridge, his ribs tasted incredible. When Andre was invited to attend a Startup Weekend event, he and Jonathon jumped at the opportunity to flesh out the idea of launching a food truck. The team took second place and treated the entire audience to Andre’s ribs, converting many into a solid fan base.

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When Andre recently discovered that one of my good friends, J. Kelly Hoey, was coming for a visit, he created his own opportunity by offering to help out by delivering his ribs for one of our meals. Kelly was flying out from her home in New York City to support our network for women entrepreneurs I’d launched in 2014 with my cofounder Jessica Eaves Mathews. We’d invited Kelly to be a part of our first Women’s Conference, Haute Highlights, as the final keynote speaker as well as serving as a judge that night at our benefit gala, Haute Night Out. Kelly had even volunteered to be the guest speaker to kick off the Teen ABQ Startup Weekend which my younger son was helping organize.

Andre found a way to not only be of help but do so in a way that also put him in the same room with someone with knowledge and connections he wanted to meet. On her last day in Albuquerque, Andre arrived at our door loaded with steaming hot ribs and wings – as well as a long list of questions. While Kelly dined on the meal he’d prepared, she shared advice and answered his questions.

We can learn a lot from Andre. I wonder how many times we let our own fear, laziness, pride, or insecurity get in our way. How often do we succumb to that inner whisper that it’s too scary, that others will discover our lack of knowledge, skill or talent or won’t want to help us – and so instead of acting, we let opportunities slip away simply because we can’t get over ourselves enough to seize the moment?

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I recently attended an event designed to pair out-of-state investors with local entrepreneurs while riding a chair lift at the world-class ski resort in Taos, New Mexico. My husband and I made the drive to support our entrepreneurial community. An avid skier, my husband hit the slopes while I opted to hang out with the non-skiers. After chatting a bit with the group at the ski lodge, I found a quiet spot where I could work. At the end of my table sat a woman who was one of the founders pitching at the event. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her twice start to stand up before sitting back down. Finally, with a deep breath, she got up and approached an out-of-town investor working nearby. She introduced herself and asked if he would be willing to answer some of her questions.

When she returned to her seat next to me, I smiled. “Way to go,” I said. “Way to take advantage of the opportunity.”

“I had to,” she replied. “These investors are only here today. Right now. This may never happen again, so it is now or never.”

She seized the moment despite the struggle it took to get beyond her own fear of approaching a complete stranger who, on the hierarchy of startups, might have seemed far above her. And because of her action, she left the event richer for the opportunity – including now having a new connection who would likely remember her when she was ready to seek funding for her startup in the future.

The next time you’re presented with an opportunity, don’t hesitate. No one else is going to pave the way for you to reach your dreams, and even when one dream slips away, there are still opportunities to reinvent yourself. Don’t be lackadaisical with your life, and don’t squander precious opportunities. Get over yourself to find courage to seize the opportunity. It is the surest path forward – no matter what you want in life.


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Is The Story of Your Life Holding You Back?

squarewordWe all have stories. You probably know your own by heart – those few rehearsed sentences that explain how you’ve ended up where you are in life. We hone our answers a bit every time, and after a while, we begin to believe that the version we share with others is the real truth about our journey. But far too often, those rehearsed fragments which explain away our choices, that cover up our mistakes, disappointments, failures. The gloss of our public rendition allows us to hide from the real truths that have shaped our journey. By the same token, we can color the way we forever view our own journey by the way we choose to frame the story about any given experience. If we focus on the negative, we may miss the bigger truths. And that’s the real tragedy, because it isn’t until we explore the reasons we tell the stories we do that we can begin to understand how our stories may be coloring the way we see ourselves and may be the very thing holding us back from what we really want.

Everything Is Ruined

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)One of the first times I discovered my very young daughter might become a talented artist was when I entered her room as she applied her own finishing touches to our marriage license. It would never, ever look the same. I wasn’t even sure it was legal now with all the damage to it. (It is. No one gets out of their marriage vows that easy.) For days, I sulked. I felt angry at my daughter for ruining such an important piece of our history. And then, in a moment of clarity, I realized this new version was better. Does anything scream married quite like a first-born’s scribbles all over the license? By simply reframing how I perceived the experience, something that was devastating was transformed into what remains as one of my favorite memories.

At My Age

IMG_3548-EditOne of the youngest applicants for HauteHopes, Alissa Chavez, started her company after an 8th grade science fair project. When Jessica Eaves Mathews and I launched HauteHopes, our goal was to establish a nonprofit scholarship fund for disadvantaged women entrepreneurs. But when Alissa applied, it took me a by surprise. She’d gained national visibility – including being featured in Glamour Magazine, and had run a successful crowdfunding campaign. She didn’t seem like the kind of entrepreneur who would facing disadvantages which were significant enough to prevent her from bringing a viable business to life. But because of her age – despite her drive, vision, intelligence and technical capabilities – she couldn’t find an investor willing to take a chance on a teenage girl. Alissa recently joined our ten other finalists on stage at our first benefit gala where each finalist had 90 seconds to pitch their business concept to the audience as well as judges that included a congresswoman, a commissioner, and J. Kelly Hoey, the highly influential and powerful networker and angel investor based in New York City. Not only did Alissa land as the judges’ top choice, but she was named the audience choice as well.

IMG_3674-EditOh, and the most inspiring part of this story? Another of the scholarship winners chosen by the judges has also faced the same struggle with age – but on the opposite end of her journey. Already in her sixties, Judith Costello is banking her years of experience as an art therapist and artist to finally launch her dream – a destination art experience for couples, families, children, the elderly. Age should never be the story we use to hold ourselves back – or to allow others to hold us back.

I’m Not Qualified

IMG_3102When I first founded APPCityLife , I worried that others might not take me seriously. I wasn’t an engineer, I didn’t come from the tech world, and this was my first startup. As time passed, and my company gained its first few customers and employees, I grew more comfortable with my story of inadequacy. “I am unqualified for everything I do,” I’d say, rather proud of that fact. I was proud of what I’d created despite the disadvantages I’d faced, and I thought this story perfectly summed that up. But recently I realized my statement wasn’t one of empowerment at all; it was a safety net. If my company failed, well, who could blame me? I wasn’t qualified, after all. And if it succeeded, I was right up there with miracle makers. I don’t say that about myself anymore, because the truth is that I am very qualified for what I do. I’ve learned every skill I’ve needed and have grown to fill whatever the role has demanded. Funny enough, since my new story leaves no room for anything less than all-in, I’m not only happier but I’ve grown so much more comfortable in my role.

What is your story? Do you have one that just might be holding you back? Your story is your own. It’s not someone else’s, so don’t let them decide the words to yours. Be sure you don’t allow anyone else’s story to define yours. So often we give our power away and hang our happiness or success on the balance of someone else’s story. But mostly, just remember that our stories are not written in stone. Look at your situation, and if the way you see your life is holding you back, choose a different view. Find a way to frame your story that empowers you, lifts you up, and gives you the strength and courage to go all in. It’s worth it.


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Raising Gifted Children: Rules to Live By

imageI discovered this unpublished post this morning and thought it might be worth sharing. These are a few of the rules I’ve learned to live by raising gifted children, who tend to be high intensity, high engagement, and – sometimes – highly frustrating. These are a few of the things that worked for me:

Always explain why there is a rule so that kids understand it isn’t just arbitrary. (Even if the reason is because I’m frazzled and can’t take any more. If kids know why, they’re more likely to acquiesce.)

On rules that really matter to you (pick a handful), don’t EVER give in. If you finally give in, what your child will learn is that it takes 483 times to get mom to cave and say yes.

Keep it unemotional. Don’t put your kids in charge of your emotions. If you’re crying, yelling, or out of control, your kids will feel out of control and won’t be nearly as likely to comply.

Negotiating and Bribing aren’t always bad, and sometimes they are the most expedient path to a desired result. If it is the only tool you use, it will lose its power, so use with care.

My eldest, now a fine arts major in college, freaked out about textures and buttons on clothes when she was small. I decided it wasn’t something I wanted to fight on a daily basis, so for about 5 years, her clothes were all a specific type of material and did not have buttons. She now is nicknamed Crayola because she wears the entire spectrum of colors and textures at once. I’m so glad I didn’t expend energy creating a power struggle over something that didn’t matter in who she became as an adult.

So my question is why is it so bad for your kiddo to play with figurines in bed?

Isn’t the goal for him to be confined to his room so that he can unwind and not bug you anymore for that night? I am convinced gifted kids need or at least get less sleep. Their little minds go a mile a minute and take longer to unwind. The rule in our house has always been about going to bed and staying in the bedroom except to go to the bathroom. If the bathroom trips became excessive, then there was a warning that if another bathroom trip happened that night, then the next day something would be taken away arbitrarily. The fear of not being able to weigh whether it was worth a specific item being taken away for one more foray out into the family area almost always worked.

My little guy used to do full-out Star Wars fights all by himself in his room, complete with light sabers. As long as he didn’t come out, I didn’t bother him. Once he started school, we did add a rule that the light had to be off by 9 PM. Half his bed is filled with figurines, and I hear him talking in the dark many nights.

As to the nuancing of rules, as in the “you didn’t say to do it TODAY”, I’ve definitely had my share of that. I’ve handled it two ways. I’ve learned to get very specific, because it really does help. And I’ve also called my kid on the carpet for evading something by pretending it was my fault for not being more specific with a comment like, “If you want to try to play me, go ahead. But know that you are still just as responsible for what I asked you to do. If you continue to do this, I’ll add more responsibilities to give you more practice until you decide you want to respect what I’ve asked you to do.”

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