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“Change is inevitable with a child, and the same holds true when you’re an early stage startup” with Gabby Slome and Chaya Weiner

Be adaptable. Managing startup life and mom life means there’s a new challenge I have to tackle each week. Just when I think I’ve figured one thing out, I have to confront something completely new. Change is inevitable with a child, and the same holds true when you’re an early stage startup. As a working parent, I’ve learned that adaptability — to employees, to the marketplace, to customers, and to my daughter — is key to growing a business (and a family!)

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Gabby Slome, the co-founder and chief experience officer of Ollie, a tech-enabled brand delivering freshly cooked, human-grade food tailored to each dog’s nutritional needs. With a lifelong passion for animals, Slome founded Ollie out of a need to make and deliver healthier dog food and has revolutionized the $30 billion pet food industry by transforming the way we feed our pets. Slome is responsible for driving Ollie’s brand value and business growth by developing customer-led experiences across all channels with a focus on retention and acquisition. With a background in canine nutrition, Slome also leads product development, ensuring food quality and safety in a newly evolving industry. Prior to Ollie, Slome served as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Primary Ventures. Slome has also held executive roles at Vente-Privée U.S.A. and Primary.com. Slome lives in New York City with her husband, daughter, and rescue dog Pancho.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

As the daughter of two entrepreneurs — my dad owns an investment company and my mom founded a nonprofit — I saw them both work equally hard and become equally successful, and that very much impacted my career path. I also saw the challenges my mom faced, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Not enough women have a seat at the table, and so instead of trying to find one, I wanted to make my own seat.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

From my parents, I knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur. But it wasn’t until I brought my rescue dog, Pancho, back to the States that I realized what my company needed to be. Pancho’s health started rapidly declining on what I thought was premium kibble and I investigated was really in his food. What I found was disturbing: food that was full of preservatives, artificial ingredients, mystery meat, and, oftentimes, low-quality ingredients that were unfit for human consumption. When I saw improvement after my vet suggested home-cooked food for Pancho, I saw the opportunity to create freshly cooked, high-quality food for dogs…and that’s how the concept for Ollie was born.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

Every day is different with the one constant being that my day starts early. That’s the reality when you have a young child, a dog who needs to be walked first thing in the morning, and a fast-growing business.

Work-wise, my day usually starts with a meeting with the rest of the leadership team at Ollie. Throughout the day, I’m meeting with investors, potential partners, reporters, and, of course, my team. Before lunch, I try to touch base with our childcare provider to see if my daughter Sasha needs anything. I generally find my way home around 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. so I can do bedtime with my daughter.

Once I’m home, I make an effort to unplug from work and dedicate the first hour to my daughter. That doesn’t mean I’m not 100 percent focused on Sasha after that initial hour is up, but it does mean that my reality is jumping on last-minute work calls while I’m managing bath time and simultaneously changing her diaper.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

Growing up is hard. I don’t know who or where I would be without the care and nurturing my parents gave me. Their lessons weren’t just about hard work either — I also learned how collaborative love needs to be. Sasha is surrounded by a network of care apart from my husband and I; like my parents, our nanny, and our friends. As Sasha grows, I hope she realizes that, for as much as we’ve accomplished, her parents still need help sometimes and she’s entitled to that support too.

I grew up similarly in that after my mom went back to work after being a stay-at-home mom for a few years, she frequently had to travel. Did I miss her when she was overseas for weeks at a time? Of course. But I also understood how meaningful her work was to her and what that brought to her life and happiness, which undoubtedly had a positive impact on my childhood.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?

It’s definitely important for me to be present for my daughter. Havings parents (like I do) who are entrepreneurs, she’ll know how important work can be in your life. But I carve out time to spend with her because family is just as important — and not just for her either. For example, I try to sneak in a music class with her during the week whenever my schedule allows it. Not only is she thrilled to see her mama, but I find myself walking back to the office feeling happier and more focused to tackle the day ahead.

It is so amazing to have a child in your life — I cherish the time I spend with Sasha because of how regenerative that is. Watching her interact with our dog Pancho, to see she loves him the way I love animals…it’s a daily reminder why I do what I do for Ollie.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

Finding time for your child is hard for any busy parent, but finding quality time can be especially hard. I keep certain times sacred. The mornings are one of these sacred times. I make sure I always get up with Sasha, I don’t sleep in, and I don’t check my phone until 8:30am. Otherwise, I end up with a bunch of emails, slack messages, etc. that can wait until I’m on my way to work. Those mornings we play, read, have tea parties, or make tunnels in the bed. I also try once a month to attend one of her music classes. It’s easy for me (it’s right by the office). We can share those songs together at home and help her practice. It gives me a glimpse into her life when I’m not there, but it also helps me be there in that space she loves.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

1. Hiring the right child care provider is the most important decision you’ll make.
Finding child care when I was pregnant and then with a newborn turned out to be harder than I thought. Everyone I interviewed either had a “their way or the highway” attitude or wanted to follow my lead, which was terrifying given that for the first time in my life, I had no idea what I was doing. I realized that finding the right child care was the most important hire I could make not only for myself, but also for my company. Without someone I could trust to take care of my daughter, I was never going to be able to fully focus on my job. I believe more than ever that child care is the work that makes all work possible.

2. Take a time out. Once I found the right person, I forced myself to take a time out and get some much-needed rest. I put Ollie (slightly) aside for a few weeks and allowed my team to run more independently. I also spent time focusing on what kind of mother I wanted to be instead of running around attempting to get everything done. It was only then, after a couple of weeks with a clear head, that I was able to have the confidence to better manage life and business.

3. Be adaptable. Managing startup life and mom life means there’s a new challenge I have to tackle each week. Just when I think I’ve figured one thing out, I have to confront something completely new. Change is inevitable with a child, and the same holds true when you’re an early stage startup. As a working parent, I’ve learned that adaptability — to employees, to the marketplace, to customers, and to my daughter — is key to growing a business (and a family!)

4. Learn what quality time means to your kids.

Every child is different and even the time I spend now with Sasha is different than the time we’ll spend tomorrow, next week, and years from now. Today, she’s happy playing ball with me and Pancho at the park. Next year, she might just want to quietly sit and color with me or her dad. I overbook all the time on my calendar, but I have that time each day that is Sasha’s time and I’m learning how she wants to spend it.

5. Accept the fact that there is no work life balance. I’ve learned to embrace the fact that there is no separation of family and work. Just like being a parent isn’t a 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. job, neither is being an entrepreneur. So, accept it and make the most of the time we have.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

There is no one definition of how to be a good parent. Every kid is different and every good parent is looking for the right fit for their kid. Some kids need encouragement and need to be pushed, other kids might need to be told to slow down, take their time, and explore on their own. Sometimes kids need different things at different times. For example, Sasha is extremely bold when it comes to pools. She doesn’t hesitate to jump in even if I’m not ready to catch her yet. We have to explain to her safe rules around the pool and why it can be dangerous. Other times, we have to encourage her when she’s scared to go on the monkey bars.

Good parents also encourage their kids to do what they love, even if it’s not what you love. I really wanted Sasha to start ballet, but it didn’t take long to see she wasn’t into it at all. She didn’t want to be confined by following the rules and expectations there. She was really interested into guitar, however, where she could express herself more freely and so we got more lessons.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

I hope I inspire Sasha by chasing my dreams just like my mom did. My mother had her PhD, went into Public Relations, and started a career in her first passion, publishing, all before I was born. When I was born, she took a break to be a stay-at-home mom for five years. When she did return to the workforce, she wanted to follow a new passion: art. She went back to school and worked hard to become an art curator. She forged her own path and inspired me to do the same.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

It is constantly evolving. Some days success is getting a full night of sleep. Other days it is getting everything done on my to do list, and other days it is beating a record at the office and making it home in time for bed time.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

The Longest Shortest Time podcast is my go-to podcast when I’m commuting. It’s a mix of parenting stories, advice, and current world issues…with a big dash of humor.

I also belong to a parenting group called seedlings. Led by a development psychologist, it’s a support group, a discussion, and a resource for moms all in one.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“I love you, tiger.”

When I was in high school, my father had gone to see a motivational speaker give a talk about self-confidence. He returned home with a fistful of smiling cartoon tiger stickers that had Hello, tiger. I love you! written on them, and proceeded to apply these stickers to every bathroom mirror in our house.

Every morning this sticker would stare back at us as we brushed our teeth, and my father would make us say to ourselves, out loud: “I love you, tiger.”

That was our daily ritual, one designed by my dad to make us think about self-confidence as a habit. It was a little embarrassing, sure. But he always used to remind us, “You’re your own worst enemy.” Believe in yourself and put in the work, he told us, and you can do pretty much anything.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

We see Ollie as a movement for change. The pet food industry is highly unregulated and ripe with recalls, and on top of that, more than 50% of pets in the United States are overweight. Pets have been fed highly processed food filled with fillers for decades, and it needs to change. Studies show that pets who eat a freshly cooked diet can live up to three years longer. It’s my hope that pet parents learn the health benefits of feeding their four-legged family members healthy, freshly cooked, high-quality food. It’s my mission to put healthy fresh food in every dog’s bowl so that all pups can live healthier, happier, more appetizing lives.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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