Introducing Brazen Conversations, an interview series with brazen women and people with periods. To kick things off, we interviewed our founder, Kirsten Karchmer, about the intersection of motherhood and entrepreneurship. Read the conversation, and get a glimpse into the inner workings of her brain and life, below:
Brazen isn't your first company. What came first for you, chronologically, motherhood or entrepreneurship?
I was 30 years old when I started my first company and 32 years old when I had my first child. But I’d say I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was a couple of years old. I had a little painted rock business. I would go door-to-door getting people to pay me to paint little rocks and I kept the money in one of my brother’s tube socks.
It sounds like you’ve always known you wanted to be an entrepreneur. Did you always know you wanted to be a mother?
Quite honestly, because I was so sick with MS when I was younger, and have always been struggling with my health and my energy levels, I was kind of afraid to be someone who took care of patients all day long and be a mother at the same time. I just really didn't know if I would have enough energy for both.
I accidentally got pregnant with my son and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. What I realized is that no matter what you do during the day, the love for your child transcends fatigue, exhaustion, and irritation. It allows you to find a part of yourself that you've never discovered before.
What’s the most challenging part of being both an entrepreneur and a mother?
I think for me because I work from home, it’s that the day bleeds into the night. And I'm shifting from mothering to working all throughout the day.
As an entrepreneur, I sacrifice a lot of time with my kids. Sometimes I think they could use more attention than they get. But in reality, they might get a lot more attention than most kids do because I'm home all day with them. I'm always home when they come home from school, and I'm always up with them in the morning before they go to school, often at night. I'm working at the kitchen table while they're doing their homework.
And the data is clear. It shows that seeing their mothers working hard and accomplishing things is really important for children’s modeling and future life – especially for girls.
What’s the most rewarding part?
The most rewarding part of being a mother is watching my children evolve into the kinds of people that I would want to know as an adult. Their journey into adulthood has been so fascinating. I'm so proud of what kind of people they're becoming.
A lot of entrepreneurs refer to their businesses as their "babies." As an entrepreneur with a business “baby” and real human kids that were once babies, what do you think about that comparison?
I don't really relate with any of my companies being my babies. They're extensions of myself for sure, but I don't have that maternal feeling for them. Maybe it’s because what we do is so much more about the people that we serve than ourselves.
I think for me, my business is a way to model what's important in life for my human babies – that service trumps everything, that kindness, love, and helping people are the ingredients to a happy and fulfilled life.
Have any lessons that you learned from parenting informed your route as an entrepreneur?
The most important lesson I learned from parenting that influenced my entrepreneurship was something I learned from Dr. Phil when I was nursing my first child, Ari. I’m paraphrasing here but essentially he said that you'll raise great children if they can predict, with a very high degree of accuracy, the consequences of everything they do.
What he was saying is that consistency is critical. This has always been a challenge for me because I have so many ideas. And I want to go off in a bunch of different directions. But knowing how important consistency is in parenting and growing companies is not dissimilar, because when you're growing a company, the people who work for you, in many ways, are like your offspring. You want to nurture and grow them and help them to become the most powerful and empowered and inspired people that they can become. But in order to do that you have to be consistent.
It's the most important lesson I’ve learned but it is the one that I still struggle with the most. And I think this speaks to the parallels between motherhood and entrepreneurship; you're raising your home with your children or you're raising your business with your employees in it, all of which you hope you're growing into something beautiful and inspired and impactful.
Any stereotypes about motherhood or entrepreneurship that you want to call bullshit on? Any similarities you see between motherhood and entrepreneurship?
I think there are a lot of stereotypes about motherhood and not enough good ones. There are stereotypes that mothers are boring or nags. But the reality is that a mother can do almost anything because she has to. She has to be able to juggle a zillion things at the same time to get anything done, and she can do that gracefully. And with a smile on her face most of the time. She can accomplish superhuman amounts of things, all with children hanging off her, crying and shitting on her.
An early-stage entrepreneur has to do the same thing. They're not necessarily skilled at every single job that has to happen inside of their company but they have to quickly learn. They have to multi-task to be able to squeeze out an amazing product that impacts and helps people in a profound way.
Do you have advice for moms considering taking the leap to start their own business?
It seems like entrepreneurship has a lot of sex appeal and everyone wants to do it. People should know it’s risky, time-consuming, and not for the faint of heart.
I don't have specific advice to moms, I have the same advice to anyone with a family that is thinking of starting their own business: Do it as a side gig to start and bootstrap it as long as you can while keeping your day job.
This is incredibly hard to do. I've never done it because I'm too impatient. But if I was going to start a third company, I might take this route to take the pressure off a bit. Starting a business while keeping another income stream would allow you the opportunity to grow your company without having extreme pressure to succeed at every turn. If you give up your day job, the stakes and the stress are higher because you’re depending on the financial success of your new business – and that pressure is amplified if you’re responsible for your children.
Any advice for entrepreneurs who want to have babies?
I don't recommend entrepreneurs have babies in the first two or three years of starting their companies. It's too exhausting and you're too exhausted.
If you're thinking that you want to have a baby down the line, whether you're an entrepreneur or not, take one year beforehand and really get yourself in the best shape of your life. When I say that I don't mean physically like doing cross-training and running marathons, I mean, mentally and spiritually.
You need to get your house in order. Meditate sleep as much as humanly possible. Eat the most beautiful food that you can find growing in your local area. This can be tough to do if you’re an entrepreneur with an early-stage business.
What’s the best advice you've received about parenting?
The best advice I received in parenting was from my sister in law. I have a very independent, incredibly intelligent teenage son. We were going round and round about a variety of things and my sister in law told me, “At some point, you have to tell your children that you can't wait to see the life that they earn.”
Essentially what we're saying is that, for teenagers at least, we have to create opportunities for our children to also take risks and fail. They need to know that ultimately they will own the outcome that they get in the long run. If they're not willing to work in school, then they might not be going to the college that they want, they might not have the job that they want, etc. Teenagers are not good at making these kinds of long term decisions but having many conversations about these choices and putting the choices back into my son's responsibility actually transformed our whole relationship.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
The best advice that I received in business was from one of my mentors. Early on, when I was just getting started with Conceivable, he told me “I don't think you're failing enough.”
I thought that was crazy because I felt like I was failing all over the place. He said, “you have the ability to crack something open that will profoundly change the course of health. But in order to do that, you're going to have to take a lot of risks and you're going to have to break things. That means you're going to have to fail a lot. You should be failing 50% of the time, otherwise, you're not playing a big enough game.”
I've used that as my model. In entrepreneurship, you take a lot of wrong turns and you have to be willing to get up every single time, dust yourself off, and say, “Give it to me again.”