I’m CEO of an early stage SaaS startup and I’m about to have a baby. This is what I’m doing for maternity leave.
[This was originally posted in Leap]
Hi Female Founders,
I’m the CEO and Co-Founder of an early stage SaaS startup called Hostfully with some traction (>$20K MRR). We have about 200 customers, and raised a $500K Pre-Seed round on a convertible note. We also just closed a merger with another early-stage startup. Sharing just to give you a sense of our stage and the maturity of our business.
I’m also 34 weeks pregnant about to have my 3rd kid. My other kids are 4yrs and 7yrs old, so I have experience with 1) maternity leave and 2) giving birth and 3) having kids.
I have 2 full-time co-founders plus a team of 5 additional people, who are mostly remote.
I thought it might be helpful to share some best practices around:
- Scaling back on work
- Setting expectations with your team
- Setting expectations with investors
- Setting expectations with customers
- How much time to take for maternity leave
- What to consider when you come back
- Scaling back on work
This one is pretty simple — do what your body needs. Your health and the baby’s health are the most important thing.
For my first two pregnancies, I worked until 2–3 weeks before my due date. I had relatively easy pregnancies and a lot of energy up until then.
This time, the pregnancy has been a lot harder. I’m more tired, have nausea, and a few other uncomfortable 3rd-pregnancy-related symptoms. I just need to take it easier.
What I’m doing these days is working about 6 hours per day, plus a few more in the evenings as necessary. I take an hour lunch and sometimes a short nap in the afternoon.
I was pushing this to be more aggressive and do 8 hour days, but had some early contractions and was told to take it easier. So that’s what I’m doing. Again — it totally depends on your body and the pregnancy.
2. Setting expectations with your team
The most important thing is to be clear and conservative. Ways you can do this:
- Block your calendar for the times when you cannot work
- Tell everyone upfront how long you plan to take off for maternity leave, so they can start to plan around it. Be very clear about when you plan not to work, and when you plan to come back.
- Notify your team as your situation changes (if it does)
- Assure them about your commitment to the company and demonstrate this through your actions and reliability leading up to your leave.
3. Setting expectations with investors
This one has been trickier to navigate, because I was actively fundraising during weeks 28–32. I had in-person meetings with investors who were surprised that I was pregnant.
- Tell potential investors what your pregnancy means for the business. If it means taking some time off, tell them. If they have a problem with that, then they’re probably not the right investor. Walk away.
- Be matter-of-fact about your commitment to the business. For me, this was easier than it will be for first time moms. After my 2nd kid, I was promoted to VP at a public company (NASDAQ:SREV) and took on a major leadership role. So I had a very credible story about my commitment to the company and the team. If an investor questions this, give a short and sweet answer, and move on. If that’s why they pass on you, then they’re not the right investor. Walk away.
- For video/phone calls, I only mention that I’m pregnant in the 2nd call. Otherwise, it is distracting from the pitch.
- For current investors, tell them what’s going on at a high level, but obviously keep the focus on the progress of the business. All of our current investors have been extremely supportive of my pregnancy and taking time off. That’s because they are the right kind of investors for us.
4. Setting expectations with customers
This really only applies to larger customers or others whom you have a strategic relationship with. Same rules as above. Be clear about how much time you’re taking off, and what this means for their project. Again, have only heard supportive comments about this, except for one difficult customer (who we’ve since turned around).
5. How much time to take for maternity leave
This is a personal decision, but I’m pretty sure that 8 weeks is the minimum time any mother should take off after giving birth.
I came back after 6 weeks following my 2nd baby, and even though I could do it (and thought I was fine, at the time), I quickly burnt out after 9 months. After my first, I took off 5 months and was dying to get back to work.
This time, for #3, I am taking 8 weeks FT off and then 8 weeks 50% off. I think this is the minimum for me, and it relies heavily on the fact that I am not actively fundraising and can work from home. This makes breastfeeding and a more flexible schedule possible.
6. What to consider when you’re coming back from maternity leave. Again this is about setting clear and concrete expectations.
Block your calendar for the times when you cannot work. Be clear and conservative about which meetings you can attend — regular and otherwise.
NOTE: Be prepared to feel emotional. Your hormones are pretty crazy for 9 months after you give birth, so just be mindful and kind to yourself if you have intense emotional waves during this time. Also, if you are breastfeeding, that takes a toll on your emotional and physical state. A gracious male colleague and friend reminded me of this when I was 5 months postpartum after #2 and its something that every mother should keep in mind. Plan for up to 1 year of that.
I really hope these tips help other Female Founders navigate motherhood and startup hood together. We really need to champion this integrated approach, otherwise, we will always see a dearth of female founders compared to men.
Feel free to contact me with any questions.
But once I go on maternity leave — around June 1st — I will not be contactable! :-)