Starting a family while creating a startup is a real challenge.

“Don’t even open the door about your pregnancy, if VCs have questions they need to be confident and ask” says Marie Outtier, Co-founder and CEO of aiden.ai. On March 7th, 50inTech met in London and partnered with Balderton for its 1st event in Europe’s startup capital. In light of the International Women’s Day it seemed crucial to tackle a topic that remains taboo among both entrepreneurs and investors : Young families and young startups, can it be done? Starting a family while creating a startup is indeed a challenge.

The panel moderated by Mike Butcher, Editor-at-large of TechCrunch brought a fresh take into traditional tech debates — “My God, somebody can actually talk about something else other than startup funding!” declared Mike in his introduction. And the responses of both male & female founders were far from stereotypical👇

“I wasn’t going to open an investor’s helpline because I was pregnant”
Marie Outtier Co-founder and CEO of aiden.ai

Marie manages and takes care of a two-year-old company and a child (who kindly attended the meetup). The company has raised a couple of rounds: an angel round of $750k, and a $1.6m round that she started raising when six months pregnant and continued developing until her daughter was four months old. She also has a male co-founder. Officially she took 8 weeks off from work for her maternity leave, but after three weeks of being a mom, she understood that the investors they were discussing with before the child’s birth wouldn’t make a decision without seeing half of the founding team. So she showed up to VC meetings with her newborn “I did not ask if it was ok to come with my baby”.

Marie also thinks that “We need to have more female founders that come pitching pregnant, to show that it’s possible and that is works”, because investors’ decisions are often influenced by previous successful examples (and there are unfortunately little or no role models for that). “We also need more women making decisions” says Marie, in order to build a better culture especially amongst investors.
Aiden.ai offers to employees 4 months of maternity leave and 1 month of paternity leave.

Read Marie’s medium article about the meetup and listen to her podcast

“We need compulsory equal paternity leave”
Hélène Guillaume Founder and CEO of WILD.AI

Hélène is the solo female founder of a one and a half-year-old company. She is married and is starting to raise capital. Hélène believes that companies, and especially their founders and CEOs have a role to play when it comes to implementing better trends for gender equity. She advocates for an equal and compulsory paternity leave and in job descriptions at wild.ai, you can read statements such as “Young parents, pregnant women most welcome”.
This should delight investors because it will generate ROI : “Customers do care about companies doing good things”.

Regarding the feasibility of running a business and raising a family at the same time, Hélène confidently affirms that “when you are a founder you are constantly multitasking” and she adds, laughing “if we can create products we can create humans too!”.

Read Hélène’s medium article about compulsory paternity leave

“Burnout is also about sacrificing the things you don’t want to sacrifice”
Chris Morton Founder and CEO of Lyst

Chris is a successful entrepreneur married to a C-Level, father of 2. He has raised over 100 million euros. He truly believes in balancing life and work, and wants his employees to do so all well. “Life — and building a company — is running a marathon, not a sprint. You have to invest in yourself, & having a family is really important in life”. According to Chris, burnout doesn’t only come from working too much. It comes from not allowing yourself to live through what is important to you, such as having a family, or developing relationships with your kids.

One of the biggest challenges he faced, was figuring out how to balance his work with his wife’s career. So they took turns — sometimes his career was prioritized, and sometimes hers.

When Mike asked him about offering an egg freezing policy to employees, he said he would definitely not want to have that conversation with a young women : “it creates lots of pressure”.

“The decision to go on maternity leave while raising your series C is a very difficult one to make”
Pip Jamieson Founder and CEO of The dots

Pip is a solo founder with no kids. She has already raised 4 millions, and chose to freeze her embryos so she can focus on scaling The Dots.

“Let’s be realistic : if I have a child right now I won’t be able to go to work for a certain time period, and for a solo female founder three months taken off is three months not spent on your business.” When you hit 39, she says, you face a real challenge like “I am going to do it? I am going to have a baby now?”. The good thing is now we have a choice, the days when that decision was a binary one are over. So she and her husband decided to have an IVF and “It’s a crazy process : I was called officially a geriatric mother at 39!”.
Yet, if she had a time machine and could go back to her younger self, she would rather have had a baby when she was around 30 or 35.

About tech companies such as Google or Facebook offering women employees to freeze eggs she says “It’s really complex because at the same time you don’t want younger people who want to have kids to feel pressure”.

“I’m trying to build the most diverse company I can”
Matt Wiggins Founder and CEO of Mojiworks

Mojiworks, that has raised about 4 million dollars is the 3rd startup founded by Matt. He founded his first one when his son was two years old. He’s now 13. Matt doesn’t believe in separating your family life from work “That doesn’t work at all: you should bring you family and your kids into your company”. That is why he sometimes brings his kids to the office.

Investors want sustainable companies, and one of the ways to achieve that is building a company culture that allows sustainability. In Matt’s game company, there are less than 50% of men and some people in the investor’s team unfortunately don’t understand the kind of culture he wants to create.

We hope you enjoyed these insights! We would love to hear about your personal experience of being a parent and an entrepreneur, or your choice to prioritize one over the other. So do not hesitate to write a reply to this article.

Thank you to :
– Our partner Balderton Capital and Laura Connell, Principal at Balderton for hosting and instigating this venue.
– The wonderful panelists Marie OuttierHélène GuillaumeChris MortonPip JamiesonMatt Wiggins.
– 
Mike Butcher who moderated this event

This was the first of many events to come across Europe with 50inTech.
Stay tuned!