As Senior Director of Product and one of the earliest employees at the scrumptious meal-kit startup Plated, #MINDRMAMA Sarah Schwarzbeck knows a thing or two about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. As Plated's first mom, she paved the way for a progressive parental leave policy and educated her workplace about ways to support new mothers in business. Read on for Sarah's insights about making the break into entrepreneurship and balancing motherhood with startup life.
How do you balance being a mama with working at a startup? What have some of the greatest challenges been, and the biggest wins?
Balance is constantly evolving in my life as a mom and in my career at Plated. In the hyper-competitive, fast-paced, ever-changing industry that is food tech, needs and roles at Plated have been also ever-changing. I have found one of my greatest strengths to be my resilience or adaptability in order to optimize the 'here and now' and evolve with the organization as it has grown. Sometimes, that means I give less than I want to other people or projects because my family really needs me. Sometimes that means I go home early to see my daughter before bedtime but I'm back online after she goes to sleep. Sometimes that means I take on more or shift my role to match the needs of the moment. It's different week to week and I've found there to be no true recipe for balance.
The greatest challenge for me here has been being the first mother at Plated. We did not have a parental leave policy when I got pregnant and I was fortunate that our CEO was supportive and eager to put something in place quickly when he found out. Being a part of creating a progressive policy was a huge win for me and for women at Plated.
Even so, I found it to be incredibly difficult to know what was going to work for me upon returning to work, and came back to a radically different company after only four months of being away. My team had changed, leadership had changed, and I felt emotionally and physically torn every day in a role that was high-pressure, high-stress and all-consuming. I found being present with my family when I got home at the end of the day to be very difficult, as was just generally enjoying my first year of motherhood because of the intensity I was experiencing at the time. I learned to get really vocal about my schedule, what did and did not work for me, and was able to negotiate changes that allowed me to spend more time with my family when I needed it most.
Plated prides itself on being a supportive workplace for women - how is it achieving that?
In the early days of the company (I was #19), several women began a group we call BAWS (Bad Ass Women's Society). This group is focused on bringing together women (and sometimes men as well) across the company to foster open dialogue around gender-related issues, and provide women with support and tools when and where they need them the most. The leaders of this group are my close colleagues and friends and have been instrumental in making Plated a more supportive workplace for women. There are some really bad ass women at Plated who share that mission.
What are your top three tips for women considering entrepreneurship?
Stop thinking about work as a means to an end (or a way to finance what lights your fire), and start thinking about work as that end (do what lights your fire each day).
The road is long and hard, and failure will happen, but embracing that failure, seeing the beauty in it, and evolving from it is the key to success.
We really need more women to create and lead companies (especially in tech.) if we're going to change the landscape for working women (especially working mothers) and shift the dynamics that stand in our way today.
What do you know now that you wish you'd known at the start of your entrepreneurial journey?
Get your pitch right. Get your pitch tight. Get your pitch right.
That pertains to your personal ("elevator") pitch and the pitch for your idea. We often only get 30-60 seconds to pitch people on who we are and what we want to create. I have found this to be one of the biggest challenges because I like words a lot and my ideas are usually fluid and evolving. Even if it's a fledgling or half-baked idea, practice it, get it tight, and get feedback until you're really comfortable pitching it in 30 seconds. You'll have more success telling your story, gaining support, funding, and accessing opportunities you never thought you would if you do.
What's your go-to dish to impress guests with minimal effort?
Veal saltimbocca (I have a great, simple recipe I learned while in culinary school in Florence), a delicious spinach salad, and a really great cheese board (fig jam is a must).
Let us know in the comments if you want Sarah's veal saltimbocca recipe, and we'll see if we can compel her to share ;)