Laura Rich, two time Internet start-up founder, author, columnist, former editor and mom to one-year-old Graham.
How Does She Do IT?!
Laura Rich is the perfect candidate for my first How Does She Do IT?!profile within Navigating Vita’s Working Single Mother series. Laura is the co-founder of Street Fight, a news analysis site and research organization dedicated to “hyperlocal” business. Laura is also a veteran business journalist who has worked at Conde Nast Portfolio.com; The Industry Standard and Recessionwire—which she co-founded in 2009. Laura is also known for her past work which includes a column with The New York Times; editor roles with Inc.com and FastCompany.com, as well as authoring the Paul Allen biography: The Accidental Zillionaire. After being a Manhattanite for many years, Laura relocated to Boulder, Colo. where she currently lives and is raising her one-year-old son, Graham. I am so excited to include Laura in this series because anyone who knows Laura personally or professionally (which I’m happy to say I do both!) instantly realizes how hard she works—while making it all seem effortless. We all know that it is NOT effortless to raise a child solo and start a company simultaneously. With that in mind, I sat down with Laura recently and we discussed how she does it all. Of course, she shrugs and thinks it’s not that big of a deal—which gives you a glimpse into her positive attitude and chutzpa—part of her ‘just do it’ mentality that makes me feel rather like a chump for not doing more. 🙂 I hope you find this Q&A as inspiring as I do.
Q: Can you tell our readers what motivated you to launch Street Fight and when you began the process?
LR: I have always been inspired by the formation of new communities and their needs for information and finding one another. “Hyperlocal marketing” was a new industry that had emerged out of the proliferation of mobile apps and new technologies for targeting consumers. These were exciting new developments. I brought my journalism background covering Internet startups to develop a media company that focused exclusively on this new, exciting sector with content and community.
Q: Were you pregnant with Graham at that time?
LR: I was! I had the original idea before I became pregnant, and then I put it on hold through the first trimester with the thought that taking on a new business might be too much at the same time as taking on a new baby. But as I got into my second trimester—you know, when you get that burst of energy!—I also realized that running my own business was the absolute best thing to do for my child. As a single mom, it would give me more control over the time I could spend with my child, and I wouldn’t be stuck on the corporate treadmill, beholden to the man for my salary and health benefits. It has turned out to be absolutely the right decision in that regard!
Q: How did you manage all the travel and meetings and the fundraising aspect while pregnant? Did you experience morning sickness? Did you feel like you had to hide your pregnancy? How did you manage any fears that may have been creeping up?
LR: I didn’t have morning sickness and it was a very easy pregnancy. The travel was only challenging when I was 8 months pregnant and had to fly to New York from Colorado to host a dinner for some of the leading CEOs in the industry that Street Fight covers. It was more exhausting than I expected and I cut my trip short.
As for hiding my pregnancy—I did try too, and that was made easy by the fact that I had the excuse of being in Colorado, far from being able to pop out to see people for meetings in New York and San Francisco. Instead of the pregnancy being my excuse, the distance covered for me. Because I did believe it might give some people pause.
Q: Describe a typical work day scenario for you, balancing out the needs of Graham.
LR: I have a nanny 25 hours/week, so I work very hard and intently during that time. Much of the time, I work from my home office, which makes it wonderful to be able to see Graham here and there, but is increasingly challenging for my nanny, who has to wrangle back a baby who wants to hang out with his mama. So it’s best when I work out of friends’ offices and I’m currently looking for a regular office—which has the added benefit of getting me out of the house! I should also mention that I typically work about four hours at night as well, plus Sunday afternoons when Graham is with his dad, lest anyone think I’ve got this cushy 25-hour workweek. (I wish!)
Q: You recently went on tour with Graham, just kidding, but you did take him with you when you hosted an event in New York. How did you manage the child care and travel when you clearly had so much on your mind?
LR: I do not recommend it! I joke that Graham is no longer invited on trips with me. At least not until he is at least two years old (he had just turned one when we spent two weeks on the east coast with friends and family).
It was definitely very difficult to get any work done during that time, but it was timed well to fall over a holiday week and another week when my business partner was able to cover for me.
— (oh wait, I just read the question more closely—he didn’t come with me when I hosted our Street Fight conference recently, though he did come with me last fall to New York during that conference, but he was just four months old, not mobile, not eating solids, not crawling, not even rolling—so there wasn’t too much to manage. I hired a babysitter who looked after him for 12 hours each day, and during the conference I ran to the office every few hours to pump 🙂
Graham turns one!
Q: Working full time is hard enough for all parents of young children, but single moms who live far from family have to become incredibly dexterous and inventive in times of crisis. Do you have a moment you can share when you had to become incredibly ingenious to manage it all? (Has Graham had an emergency or illness on a critical meeting or travel day, for instance?) If so, can you describe what you did to balance it all?
LR: I don’t know. It feels like that describes every day. It’s not easy being isolated and far from family. I do have Dom (Graham’s father) to help me with things like adjusting the crib when I couldn’t figure it out.
But Graham did have surgery last month and the first night was kind of hard—he was really upset and the usual things didn’t do the trick. It was a little overwhelming to have to figure out how to soothe the poor little guy all by myself.
Q: What advice do you have for other single moms venturing out into the business world or who’d like to launch a company? Should they not discuss their status as a parent or single mom when meeting with clients or investors? And how best should they tackle the fear that they may not be able to handle it all?
LR: Absolutely they should not discuss their status—unless the other party is discussing their own situation and it seems similar or it seems appropriate to discuss. I don’t care whether you’re single or married, childless or loaded with kids—it’s just not often appropriate to lead with anything like that. It’s distracting from the matter at hand: business.
As for tackling fears—I’ve always found the best way to get past fears is to just jump in and get started. Fears hold you back, so you just have to ignore them and get going. (Not that I haven’t been hugely guilty of this myself at times!)
Q: Do you have concrete advice about certain tools or baby gear that helped you more than others? For instance, traveling solo with a baby and brief case and computer and possible other gear. How did you do it? What products worked or didn’t work for you?
LR: I only traveled once with him on a work occasion and he was 4 months old, so it was pretty easy. No toys or food or bottles to tote around. I have a single back for my laptop and wallet and phone etc., so I just threw a few diapers, wipes and burp cloths in there for when we were on the plane. Otherwise, he wasn’t with me when I was running around in work mode. I may have to figure that all out this year!
Q: Over the years freelancing for FitPregnancy magazine and the Industry Standard I have written a few articles about “mommy discrimination” in the corporate workplace. (Subtle discrimination might include getting passed-over for promotions when you are pregnant, and not-so-subtle discrimination could be a boss suggesting that you won’t be able to handle your job after you return from maternity leave.) Do you think prejudice against mothers in high profile roles is starting to erode? Are there changes that you’d like to see happen in perceived stereotypes, for instance?
LR: I think that talking about your personal life is just not usually appropriate for business settings, but perhaps in certain industries it’s more okay than others, and perhaps certain geographic markets than others.
With that said, I didn’t really experience that (kind of discrimination) but I owned my own business, and I had already been working with my main consulting client. But as you know, as we discussed, it doesn’t seem fair to me, from an employer perspective, to hide pregnancy from a new prospective employer. I’d really resent that and it would not set them up well in their job—but that’s not about being a mom, it’s about being honest about circumstances that would have an impact on a potential employer.
Q: Do you have a ritual that helps you shed your mommy self and get focussed on business to start the day? Do you meditate? Did you learn to let go and trust the nanny? (If that was hard for you, any advice?) Do you exercise daily?
LR: Unfortunately I am already in work mode the moment I wake up. I grab my phone and check my email first thing—and since my business partner and others on the east coast, our work is already underway. The question for me is more, how do I tear myself away from that and focus on my little baby guy. So I try to just keep the technology nowhere nearby (unless expecting an important client call or email) during my time with Graham.
Q: Finally, what’s next for you? Another child? Another company to launch? Another book to write? All of the above? 🙂
LR: I have no idea! I used to be a big planner, but I’m trying to learn to be less of one and just experience life as it comes. 🙂