We all know startup life is tough. Add an infant and a toddler into the mix, and suddenly, every challenge is multiplied tenfold somehow.
It’s something entrepreneur and mum-of-two Carrie Kwan knows all too well, and it’s why she set out to create a community for women like her to lift each other up and make founding a business a little less daunting.
Mums & Co is designed to provide a support network for women trying to run businesses while raising kids at the same time, Kwan tells StartupSmart.
With membership options ranging from a free learning- and networking-focused package to the $99-per-month ‘soar’ package, it helps women find services ranging from business insurance and media training to last-minute childcare, she says.
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For example, the network partners with a service that can provide childcare within three hours, “if you have that last-minute pitch meeting or investor meeting”.
Founded in 2015, the network now has events running in all states.
It also runs its annual Be Mpowered conference, including a pitch night for selected women-led startups, with mentorship and confidence-building pitching workshops ahead of the big night.
Having previously founded digital lifestyle guide Daily Addict, Kwan herself was six months’ pregnant when she launched Mums & Co.
“I loved the startup world, and I loved the generosity of it, but I found it really challenging at times, and really isolating,” she explains.
“I wanted to do more, but I didn’t have the support.”
There are about 345,000 business owners who are also mothers in Australia, Kwan says.
“It’s a significant cohort of business owners.”
For women balancing businesses, lives and families, “that support is really critical from a business-growth and from a personal-growth perspective as well,” she adds.
“I knew that small businesses needed more support. I knew that Australian women needed more support, and specifically mothers.”
There is a phenomenon, Kwan notes, of women just getting on with the job.
“A lot of women probably don’t see themselves as the ‘mum’ title,” she explains.
“They’re just business owners, founders and entrepreneurs, and they’re getting the job done.”
But managing not only the business-growth challenges that any founder would face, they’re often also the primary caregivers to young children — a job that, let’s face it, still falls predominantly to women.
“Those combined together … you’re probably doing two-and-a-half jobs,” Kwan says.
Mums & Co strives to provide a community to acknowledge this work, and to help women champion each other.
Just having people cheering you on “makes a huge difference”, Kwan says.
“I feel like I’m a duck sometimes … calm above the water but furiously paddling underneath,” she adds.
“We show up like we’re really strong — and these women are confident — but being a startup founder is tough and I can’t sugar-coat it all the time.
“It takes a lot of resilience and a lot of confidence to do what you do every day.”
Any startup founder has to work on getting people on board with their vision, finding and converting customers, keeping their team on track, and keeping investors happy.
No matter how confident that founder is, “that confidence, every now and then, can take a hit”, Kwan says.
“We all have to deal with doubt and imposter syndrome,” she adds.
“Having someone to back you is really important.”