Startups and Babies

Yes, my baby and ShareYourCart were born and raised pretty much at the same time. That’s a hardcore experience, I’ll tell you that!

But it has also taught me a lot. It challenged me in so many ways! I have spent the last two years running, competing against myself. Since the moment I gave birth to my son, I probably didn’t feel even once really in peace with myself. I always wanted MORE, I always kept running. When my startup started growing, I was thrilled, but that also meant I had to sacrifice my child for it. When I spent blissful mornings with my incredible son, I felt tormented with guilt for the work I could have done but didn’t.

(because this article is about startups and babies, I won’t tell you about the biggest torment of them all: missing my husband, my pair, half of my soul).

Ok, so let’s get to the point: WTF do start-ups have to do with babies? I could never have imagined HOW MUCH growing a start-up resembles to raising a person. And yes, motherhood kindda helps me understand things better. But all the lean startup talk helps me understand life better.

  1. BIGGEST SIN: aiming for perfectionAs a mother, you want the best things for your child, you want to be the best mother, the person he laughs the most with, the person he loves the most, the person whom he respects the most, the queen of his Universe, you want to raise him to become the strongest man, to be the smartest kid, to be the happiest kid, to have fun, to…………. you want the world for him, and you expect from yourself to deliver it to him.                   NOT GONNA HAPPEN. You are not born a ‘mother’, you learn every single day how to become a mother. There is so much information and baby theory nowadays, that you cannot possibly apply it all and stay sane. It is humanly impossible to do EVERYTHING the best way possible. There IS no such thing as ‘the best way possible’. But you still want to…..you still torment over not being able to….                                                       As an entrepreneur, you want to deliver the perfect product. You want to grow the perfect business. Hit the sky, leave your footprint in it. And there are so many theories, so many articles to read, so many stuff you have to learn. You were certainly not born ‘the perfect entrepreneur’. And even if they tell you ‘If you deliver the perfect product, it means you launched too late’, even so, you are always hurting about not being able to deliver perfection. It always hurts when customers start bitching about your imperfect MVP. There is always MORE you could have done. No matter how much you work, there is always MORE to do.                                                                             SOLUTION: You must learn to settle with ‘the good enough’. You cure your perfectionism every day. You must learn to celebrate victories more and focus on imperfection less. You learn from expeience and do better next time. You choose what KPIs to focus on – you cannot have it all, silly girl! You re-learn every day to move on, live on.
  1. FOCUS ON VISION – boy, I love this one!                                                                        In both growing a startup and raising a child, you cannot be successful without focusing on the bigger picture. It is darn easy to get lost in daily routine and urgent issues that come up, so tempting to choose the comfy roads or safe bets. You might even feel completely lost in so many opinions to chose from, so many advice and smart asses telling you what you should do.                                                                           You cannot raise a good man if you are not focusing on the future. If you focus on the present, you teach him obedience. If you focus on the man you envision him to be, you focus on strenght and freedom of choice – which will make your task so much harder, but infinitely rewarding. When you successfully raise a child, it means that you envisioned how you would like the world to look like, and worked damn hard at making it happen.                                                                                                                     Must I stress again the importance of vision in a startup? In all the talks about failure in startups, the most frequent of them all was ‘we made decisions based on short term benefits’. Weather it’s about advice that you didn’t filter through the vision, about a big fish you chased and it drew you away from your vision, taking the roads that make you juicy for investors, not making sure they lead in the right direction….. all of it would have been obvious mistakes if seen with the vision filter.
  1. THE EASY WAY – always stay away from it!                                                                 Why is it hard for me to do both business and motherhood? Because after working for more hours and with more commitment than at any job, I come home and want to give to my child as much as possible, educate him, make him laugh, teach him about the world, give him my love and my heart. And that requires more energy than I have left. So I am squeesing myself dry every day. I could take the easy way: let him hypnotised at cartoons and take a nap, watch TV and ignore his curiosity, feed him anything anytime to keep him happy, etc.. I am not saying I am perfect, I lost my hope for that, but I certainly didn’t take the easy way.                                                                  Startups and ‘the easy way’? Well, anything that resembles even a bit ‘the easy way’ is highly probable to be distracting you from your vision.
  1. BREAKING YOUR LIMITS – every day if you want to do greatSounds like a great evolutionary thing … but is actually a lot of pain, cause in order to break them, you first need to face them. And facing new limits every day, learning to accept them and work on breaking them, is a lot of hard work. I strongly agree with those who say you are not a parent, you become a parent … more and more every day. Obviously, I was not born a CPO, either 🙂 And that’s a great settlement for the perfection seekers. When facing new limits every day, you kindda get the point: perfection is a myth. You can only aim your best …. and no, your best is not perfect. THERE’S NEVER ENOUGH …. of you, your work, your time.
  2. YOU WANT MORE – you never HAVE enough
  3. They are both kindda addictive. In your blood. You obsess over them, you fall in love and then hate them and then love them even more.

Now that I draw you a picture of why they look so much alike for me, let me tell you the one thing that makes them completely different:

YOU CANNOT AFFORD TO FAIL IN RAISING A BABY … but you are respected for failing fast in startups.

 

 

 

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Monday Morning

Journal page, first of April:

Woke up at 6.30 with no alarm clock (yes, this is it, second day in a roll, i’m so nailing it!) with a terrible back ache (what if my spine is crushing? what if I cannot move anymore and stay stuck in my bed for days before anybody notices that I am not at the office/not responding to messages?).

It was so early that I had to take 5 to figure out ‘ok, how should I do this?’. Opened the window (it’s still night, OMG), done some stretching (never in my life did my back hurt this bad. Am I gonna be paralyzed? No, I don’t wanna! I want to get back to my boys healthy and cheerful!), brushed my teeth and prepared myself a perfect breakfast (fruits, cereals, nuts, black tea). While eating it, I watched a video I had on my email from a dearest friend: about sexuality in long term relationships (honey, they said that ‘distance makes desire burst into flames’ – we kindda nailed that one with me living in Sofia, hah?).

Finished breakfast and started with the business emails (what’s wrong with you people? How can I leave my email clear saturday afternoon, and find it full again on Monday morning, at 7 am???). Then I read some TechCrunch and VentureBeat (best news says that ‘The concept of doing well by doing good has caught fire in a time where economic, social and environmental sustainability are more meaningful than ever.  Strong focus on positive social and environmental impact has spurred contests, scholarships and even best business practices to be centered around the concept of giving to a global community.’ – well that’s the world I wanna leave in!).

Since it was a bit over 8 and I had already done stuff, I decided to write this blog. To tell you all that Monday Mornings can be fun!

Happy me, Monday Morning style

Now I’ll prepare myself for the office (I decided to look pretty EVERY SINGLRE DAY – bought more hair grips). I will listen to loud music and dance.

I will get to the office and have a great day, I will do all the work I planned to do, I will laugh and I will enjoy a gorgeous day that will be unusually long…..even for a Monday.

About bears and leaves

This weekend my husband took our baby to see a bear reservation, and he sent me a video. There was my baby, 5 feet away from a huge bear, only a regular fence between them. And what was he doing? Well, the kid was playing with leaves. There was a whole bunch of rustling leaves that he could scatter. My husband is asking him about the bear, so he says, in his baby talk, something that meant ‘Bear’s eating’. Totally unimpressed. And then goes back to his leaves and the joy of scattering them.

When people here in Sofia ask me ‘how do you like Sofia?’, most of the times one of the first things that come out of my mouth is ‘I love being so close to the mountain, seeing the mountain anywhere I am.’ First responses from people living here: ‘What mountain? Ohhh, Vitosha you mean. Yeah, that’s nice.’ Guys, there’s a MOUNTAIN right next to the city of Sofia.

Vitosha street What’s my point? Well my point is that we should always be able to notice the mountain. And the leaves. Sure, big powerful bears seem more interesting even if they’re ‘just eating’ – for adults, the bear means power. And power in all its forms is the hottest drug out there. While for a kid, the world has no predefined rules. He is not threatened by or threat to a bear, so they both just mind their own business. Kids find thrill in scattering leaves.
I find thrill in seeing the mountain.

How addicted are you to POWER? What level of power is enough for you to feel the thrill, the joy of being alive? What level of power does something need to imply to get noticed by you?

How self-sufficient are you? How comfortable do you feel by yourself, maybe scattering leaves?

About my WHY

On a plane again. In between worlds, where I am closer to myself and find my peace.

Here and now I can listen to myself, put it all together and start answering tricky questions that haunt me on land.

I left Sofia with a burning question on my chest: WHY? I had seen this TED talk about the businesses that put the WHY? Before the WHAT? And HOW? My business partner had this answer to the WHY of ShareYourCart: ‘To help small and medium businesses, that don’t know how to do it, grow using social media’. Yeah, it is a great ShareYourCart WHY? But left me with a ‘not quite enough for me’ feeling.

Then I left the business world and went home. Where my family is. Where a loving husband and a more-than-loving baby are always waiting for me to return. ‘Is THIS it? Is my family my WHY? Am I doing this for my family and future, for the farm and the porch where me and my husband sit and talk for hours after putting to bed all our kids?’

Yes, of course I want that future, that farm, that porch, three kids loving me madly and a happy husband adoring me…….and no………that’s not why I am now leaving again for Sofia, that’s not why I am returning to my business world where I work and pour myself into an eCommerce solution.

Then WHY?

Out of the blue, my husband said to me: ‘I have two questions for you: What do you WANT to do? And If ShareYourCart failed, would you get into another startup?

I’ll give you my answers in reverse order:

I don’t belong in the startup world……without Andrei, my business partner. He is the reason I am here in the first place, and he is the one providing the passion, interests, skills that are complementary to mine and that allow me to adapt my own to this level of business. My inner passion, interests and skills have nothing to do with money, with power and business strategy. Then where do our individualities connect? WHAT makes them work together? We both want to have an impact. We both want to change the world. We both want to matter.

The first thing I did after starting my own consultancy,  was to start working on the Brand Identity. I needed a character in my logo. After a couple of months and quite a few designs, I was finally able to articulate in a comprehensive way what I was actually looking for in that character: ‘I need it to look like the man I want to work with, a young entrepreneur that does business the right way not the good-enough way. He knows he needs me to do what I know best, and needs to let me do my job.’ – I was defining my ideal customer in order to create a character in my brand identity that would make them relate to it and draw them to my business. More months of work came, I found the perfect designer for my brand, and started working step-by-step to getting there. My feed-back sounded like this: ‘I need his eyes to express more passion, his smile should be discrete but visible, let’s lose the hair, make his fingers look like he’s typing on his laptop’.

And then, one day, I met Andrei. And we clicked. And we started working together on this new and adventurous project that brought me on this plane. And THEN, the designer sent me the final version of my consultancy’s logo. I found myself shocked in front of the computer: I was looking at a drawn picture of my business partner Andrei. Do you know what The Secret is? Then you will certainly understand my feeling about that journey: I spend months working on a logo that I would never use, that was supposed to look like the man I want to work with…..and now I am working with THAT exact man, hairless and with the same look in his eyes.

Ok, so is THIS why I am now on a plane between family and business? No, it isn’t. Andrei is what I needed to be in a SaaS business, Andrei is what I need to stay in the global startup multi-billion business environment. But it is not for Andrei that I am doing this, I am only doing this for myself.

That’s how we get to the next question my husband asked: What do you WANT to do?

Let me tell you ‘The Demmers story’.

Demmers is a tea-brand that I love. They have all sorts of great smelling and incredible tasting tea varieties. You enter their shop, full of jars with bulk tea blends that you can take home in red classy paper bags, cutest tea cups, cookies and the whole package. Once I went there to buy myself a tea to make life better. And I started looking at all those jars, smelled a couple, read the ingredients on others. All sounded special and yummy, tasted incredible and looked charming. But obviously I could not buy ALL of them, I didn’t even want ALL of them. I just wanted THE BEST for me. For example vanilla scented teas smell good, but I don’t particularly fancy vanilla as an ingredient in food or cosmetics. Wooden teas have a rich flavor, but as I don’t like heavy perfumes, I also dislike heavy tasting food&drink.

The young lady selling the teas just asked me which one I wanted. Oh but how hard that question was for me! I wanted ONE tea that best suited my taste, ONE tea that would make me feel like I am drinking the best tea ever, the one tea that would make life feel better. How could I possibly know which one to choose?

I now believe that it is the moment that the inception of my WHY began.

I felt so disappointed and frustrated in that gorgeous tea place, and thought ‘if I was running this place, the shop assistant would know exactly how to recommend the tea that would make me feel like I was drinking THE BEST TEA EVER TASTED. She would ask me about what kind of taste I preferred, which were my favorite flavors, what scents made me feel good, if I was tired or stressed. She would pick the perfect blend for me and hand it to me in full confidence: THIS is the tea you are looking for! I would go home and boil water as soon as I entered the house, because I would be so curious about that tea. And when I took my first sip, melting on a soft sofa, I would mawn and take a deep breath to absorb in the divine scent, I would hold the first sips longer in my mouth just to get more of that taste. And when I would need to buy another tea, I would most certainly go to Demmers but never ask for a specific tea, but let them hand me the perfect tea.

WHY then?

Because I don’t believe my work is separated from my life. Because my work is part of my life. Because I want to work the way I live. Because I want my life to be more. Because I feel so blessed with being myself that I need to give MORE. Create value. Just like I want to give my husband something more than a wife, and my child gets more than a mother, the same way I want to give more through my work. I want the people that use the products and businesses I build to feel they got more.

Yeah, that is my why. ShareYourCart is my work now. So my purpose is to make it a product that gives more to those using it.

Disclosure: You know what the best part is? That by giving more you always get more in return. Proven fact! Thanks again, beloved husband, for giving me, once again, MORE.

Sunday Morning

Baba Marta - Bulgarian 1st of MarchIt’s Sunday Morning!!! The only day when I am allowing myself to ‘not feel guilty if I am doing something other than work, eat and rest’. Unfortunately, since I am a bit sick, I will probably work today, too, sitting in my bed.

But it is a GORGEOUS Sunday morning, sunny, clear blue sky. I hate catching a cold and then not getting rid of it – for almost a month now I am spending my precious Sundays in bed because I don’t have the energy to go out and explore the world – but somehow I manage to get to work and do things that need to be done. But no more. Even if I don’t probably look that sexy with my eyes and nose drooling all over and my face looking like a baboon’s, today is the day when I get my Sundays back! (disclosure: I will for sure be working today, but I just need a couple of sunny hours).

….and just like any confession, it starts going deeper as it’s coming out of you. ‘I miss my love, I miss my baby. I feel crappy being sick, I don’t feel like going out AT ALL, I just want to lay in bed and look out the window at the clear blue sky, watch tv series and let it pass by.’ ‘WHAAAAT? No, you are most certainly not doing that. Get the fuck up from bed and out of the house!!! It’s Sunny Sunday!’

So,  dear all, as a famous classic said: I’LL BE BACK! I will continue this post after I get back, right now, I need to listen to the schizophrenic me and GO OUT.

UPDATE: I got up. Ate a KFC healthy brunch. The sky got darker. Got back in bed and I am watching the clear sky (yeah, it cleared up again after I got back in bed) from inside. I so wanna get better!!! Stupid cold!

Flavors, or ‘the candy bar theory’

I call my life philosophy ‘the candy bar theory’. It goes like this: If I went to a candy bar that offered all sorts of cakes and candy, I would rather eat a bite of as many cakes as I can, rather than eat one yummy cake over and over and over again till I’m fed up.

I use the candy bar theory in my life as much as I can. When I went to get donuts the other day, I got a 6 pack and ate half of each first, so I don’t get fed up before tasting as many as I can. When I chose my restaurant today, I looked for one that didn’t look like other restaurants I’ve been to before. I believe life’s too short to waste it with the same things, as good as they may be – how can I know there’s nothing BETTER out there, unless I try different things? I don’t always go for better, but different.

Yes, that means that sometimes I get to taste stuff that sucks. But I change it quickly with the next one, and accept it as a necessary step to finding interesting things worthwhile.

And then I thought of my husband. I used to NOT want to get married because on some levels men were different-flavored cakes, too. And me committing to one was losing my freedom of choice. So by marriage I am breaking my life philosophy? After a brief moment of meditation, I had my answer: I married a candy bar! Even after a looong time as a couple, I can still find new flavors in my relationship and in my life partner!

And then, in the Thai restauraImagent with intriguing setting, it made sense to me: PEOPLE are keepers, every individuals have so many flavors, that one person can be your whole candy bar.

Oh God, thank you again for my personal candy bar that never stops amazing me with every bite I take!

….. and for the Rose wine that I drank before writing this brilliant blog post.

Lufthansa, my love

Up, somewhere between Munich and Sofia, I started realizing how much closer to myself I felt.
Romania is where my family and heart is, Sofia is where my business is. I find it incredibly refreshing to separate them like this, in both time and space. I can now focus, really focus, on each of them at its own time, with no feeling of guilt for the other. I am more of a wife and mother and more of a professional.
And up, in the air between spaces, I suddenly realized I was feeling so much closer to myself here where both halves
of my life are not present. Up, above all clouds, where the sky is always blue, where what I left behind and what awaits ahead are both important and nurturing for me.
I was reading a Tori Amos interview from the Lufthansa magazine. She compared herself with an aromatic spice, that, used in small amounts, brings flavor to food, but if it is put on every meal, it stops being special. I felt like someone was telling me a think I had never realized about myself.
And I embraced all over again the opportunity of dividing my life in two: here, up in the Lufthansa plane, I refresh my spicy self and keep myself special for my beloved ones and my startup life.

View from an airplane window

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