Our company started one morning on Heather’s back porch, as we drank steaming mugs of coffee and commiserated about how hard it can be to leave the kids with a babysitter (assuming you manage to successfully book that babysitter in the first place after going through the Herculean task of texting everyone you know to see who’s available).
As we sat and talked, Heather offered up an idea, almost as a throwaway comment, “There should be an app for this.” Then, after a long pause, “You know, we could build an app for this. We know how to do it.” I smiled and nodded. I didn’t think she was serious.
She was serious.
We’ve had a lot of fun ideas during the many years of our friendship, about books we wanted to write and law firms we wanted to found… but we’ve never executed on any of them. Yet for some mysterious reason – was it the timing? The coffee? The sheer audacity of the idea that we could found a tech startup? – we decided to execute on this particular idea.
That was our first act of bravery.
Two women who’ve spent their entire professional lives working as tech lawyers for giant, largely risk-averse companies, are not the obvious choice to found a company. After all, 92% of startups fail in the first three years – that statistic right there is reason not to do it.
We decided to do it anyway. The more we worked to map out the app, the more invested we became. We drew wireframes upon wireframes and had endless debates about functionality. We handled all the logistics: decided on a name, filed the incorporation paperwork, found a graphic designer friend to create our logo, and set up a website. Then, in stroke of tenacity coupled with amazing good luck, we convinced our engineer friend to code the app we’d so carefully designed.
And then we did the second brave thing: we started to tell our friends and family about it.
To say they were incredulous is probably an understatement. Heather and I are both stereotypical first-born, high-achieving daughters. We do things like get good grades and marry kind, appropriate men and take jobs with Fortune 500 corporations. We organize carpools and volunteer as room parents. We don’t found high-risk technology companies.
And just to pile on, multiple people deeply immersed in and knowledgeable about the tech scene told us that a startup with two women founders, both in their mid-thirties, without engineering degrees, living on opposite sides of the country from each other, was a bad bet and definitely wouldn’t succeed.
We took in all this information, thought about it for a while, and decided we didn’t care. We made the conscious decision to be deeply appreciative of the friends and family who supported us, and tune out the rest. Our app was looking good. Other moms had validated the need for our product. We were determined to see it built and in the App Store.
Then we did the third brave thing, almost by accident.
As admitted tech nerds, Heather and I read the website TechCrunch daily. TechCrunch regularly holds live-event competitions where startups can pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. We’ve read the coverage of these events for years, and then Monday morning quarterbacked about which startups we liked and which we didn’t. On a whim, Heather entered us into one of the pitch-offs. She filled out the form and promptly forgot about it.
We were chosen to compete.
So I hopped a plane to Atlanta, we practiced (and practiced, and practiced), and then we walked into the Fox Theater (wearing matching black dresses, because we are slowly morphing into the same person), and pitched to a packed house, including a panel of TechCrunch editors, VCs, and successful startup CEOs.
I cannot overemphasize how entirely out of our comfort zone this was. I remember waiting our turn to pitch, watching the other founders go before us one after the other, and feeling both panicked and incredulous. I couldn’t believe we were about to stand on a stage and talk about CluckCluck in front of all those high-powered people. I look back on that night and still kind of can’t believe we did it.
But we did it. Oh, and we won the Audience Choice award for our pitch. As our prize, we were given two tickets to TechCrunch’s giant bi-annual conference called Disrupt (you may have seen it very accurately parodied on HBO’s series Silicon Valley).
There were a lot of reasons not to go to Disrupt. For one thing, we’d be two of only a small handful of women in the entire conference. For another, historically we’d been observers of the tech scene rather than participants. And to tell the truth, we still felt more like lawyers playing entrepreneurs than like actual entrepreneurs.
We decided to go anyway, decided we could convincingly fake being entrepreneurs for the long weekend. So a few weeks later we flew to New York with a working beta version of the app on our phones, and spent three days and nights at Disrupt demoing CluckCluck to anyone who would listen, including some true luminaries of the tech world. They took us seriously, gave us excellent feedback. And they told us to keep going, to launch our product.
So we did.
Our biggest act of bravery took place on May 30, 2014, when we took a deep breath and pushed the app live to iTunes.
I very distinctly remember sitting at my kitchen table (aka my home office) feeling sick to my stomach, mouse hovering over the “submit” button. This thing that we’d worked on for over 18 months, that multiple people had told us we’d never launch – we were about to put it out into the world, and let people judge it (and us, of course).
Heather and I hesitated, then kind of shrugged. And then we clicked the button.
Minutes later, people began to download the app. And to our great astonishment, the media began to talk about it. A TechCrunch reporter we’d met at Disrupt who had loved our idea, loved the app itself and wrote a fantastic piece about our launch. CluckCluck appeared on Babble, Real Simple, and even in Business Insider, among other places.
It was somewhere around this point where we decided we’d better act like a real company and market our product to try and sustain the media exposure. I’ll point out again that we are both lawyers. We write great software contracts, but had basically zero knowledge about marketing. So we started researching things like online advertisement and SEO. We got serious about our CluckCluck website and started to blog about working parent issues that really, deeply matter to us as a means of getting out the word about our business.
The more we blogged, the braver we got, publishing posts about our very personal, sometimes painful experiences as working moms. We talked about leaving jobs we loved, opting out of the workforce entirely when our children were babies, and then trying to get back in again. About maternity leave and sexism and divorce.
And this past week, Heather and I were brave again. We attended an excellent conference to learn more about marketing and blogging, and spent the entire weekend surrounded by bloggers and brands and PR agencies who are way better at it than we are. Despite feeling sort of outclassed, we spent the entire weekend introducing ourselves as both co-founders of a tech company and bloggers. I think I speak for both of us when I say that for the very first time in our three-year journey, we didn’t feel like total pretenders.
All those baby steps, all those tiny moves forward, got us here. Got us to this amazing place where we love our business and love working with each other and are proud of how far we’ve come.
So let me sum up what we’ve learned so far, which can be boiled down to three simple points:
- Be Brave.
- If you can’t be brave, pretend for a while, because that might be enough to get you through.
- If you’re scared of something but do it anyway, it turns out that’s actual bravery, not pretend bravery.
But the biggest lesson of all is this: if you want to do something, and it’s both amazing and terrifying, then go for it. Take the leap, even if it’s a little leap to start. We are cheering for you, my friends.