Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Work, Kids, and Women Entrepreneurs

Jason just sent me an article from NY Times on why women make such good entrepreneurs even when they have to balance work and family. It brought up all the usual reasons: women are good at multitasking, women are more compassionate, blah, blah, blah... I sometimes get annoyed at these stories because they try to make women look more angelic than they are in real life. This article was more realistic and did mention that women can get just as power hungry as men in the workplace and can take their aggression out on their co-workers even more than men do.

But I think the discussion completely missed the real reason why women often start successful businesses. I believe it's our willingness to start small. Very small. All those start ups that get millions of dollars of venture capital because they want to revolutionize this industry or that industry? Those are started by men. The women interviewed by the NY Times reporter for the article were starting businesses like nanny agencies, and renting “stork announcement” yard signs for new parents. These businesses don't look like much at first, but they are usually profitable from day one because the expenses are so low and before you know it, they can turn into much larger enterprises, like the Tupperware or Mary Kay empires.

Most men (and the academic / corporate culture) encourage people to think big. And most successful women entrepreneurs know how to think small. I don't mean "small" in the negative sense of the word -- just the opposite. When you think small, you make sure you can sustain your business at all stages of development. Besides, there is always room for growth. Could it be that this philosophy comes from women's innate desire to nurture children? On one hand, a new baby can't do much -- no talking, thinking, or walking yet. On another hand, she can't really get herself into much trouble (I am a little scared of the time when Sammy starts to crawl and walk, by the way). But by the time she'll be able to do those big people things, I hope to be more prepared for them. At least that's my theory, but my knowledge of bringing up children is limited to 3 weeks for now.

Why am I writing about women and business all of a sudden? Because I have a baby girl and a toddler of a business. Helen's Kitchen has really taken off since I started it in 2005. By the end of 2006, I managed to quit my software job and teach cooking classes full-time. Obviously, I am taking a break at the moment, but it's time to think about starting to teach again since I have to post the class schedule and start registering people at least 2 months before the classes start. I am planning to start small (that's my strategy with everything in life). On September 15th, I'll start teaching once a week and gradually add more classes after Sammy starts daycare.

Just the thought of all this is scaring me to death at the moment. When will I go shopping, make hand-outs, and clean up the kitchen? When will I process all the registrations? Jason will take care of Sammy while I am teaching, but what if she cries? What if she'll need me and I won't be there? How will I survive taking her to daycare for the first time? It all seems completely overwhelming at the moment. But so was posting the schedule on-line by the end of July. The first 2 weeks, I barely checked my e-mail and just the thought of processing class registrations gave me chills. But here we are: the schedule is up, I am still alive, even after registering 12 people in 2 days, and Sammy is doing well (she loved our first playgroup meeting today :). I did have to reply to lots of registration requests while pumping milk for my little sous-chef (thank god for hands-free pumps!), but women are supposed to be good at multitasking, right?


BipolarLawyerCook said...

You can do it! I have asked for one of your classes for my birthday. : )

Helen said...

Thanks Erika! Can't wait to meet you in person :)

SteamyKitchen said...

Can I request a class in Florida? I'll even babysit!



Helen said...

Hmm, class in Florida sounds tempting (as long as it's in winter) :)

Anonymous said...

As long as we are requesting classes outside Boston area, I would like to put in a word for Seattle. All the recipies I have tried from your site turned out delicious. So I would love to attend one of your classes!

Helen said...

Seattle -- now that sounds even more tempting than Florida. Jason and I were just there for vacation last summer and I LOVED all the wonderful fish you guys have. Unfortunately, off site classes will have to wait. But I would love to do something like this one day.


Anonymous said...

A fascinating post, Helen. First, yes, you will know how to deal with a crawling/walking child when those things happen. Parents grow right along with their children. When our girls were little, I would see people with teenagers and think, "We're not ready for that!" And we weren't. But by the time they became teenagers, we were. We'd grown into it with them.

Regarding women entrepreneurs starting small, I read about some country [India, perhaps?] writing microloans of $1,000 or so for women to start businesses. Not only do many successful businesses get started--they have virtually zero defaults on the loans. Big-budget start-ups, on the other hand, with big loans fail left and right, defaulting on said loans.

Sounds like you and Jason have a great game plan for making your family and your business work just fine, Helen. That's not to say there won't be hectic times. But you'll weather them.

Helen said...

Hi Terry,

No, we are definitely not ready for teenager issues yet -- still working on breast feeding :)


Anonymous said...

Our son is 8months old now, and we are just starting to comprehend how it will be when he is moving around (he is almost crawling). Each month brings something new to deal with, and yes, you definately grow with your children.

The most incredible thing is that just when you think you have them figured out, they go and bloody change on you, and you are back to square one!

Daycare was the hardest thing we have ever done, but thankfully we have a great one, he loves it there, the teachers love him.. The excitment on his face when he approaches the classroom door is just fantastic to see.

And yes, my wife and I cried the first time we left him there. It was tough.

Classes in Seattle would be awesome. I was thinking of teaching some there myself.

mary grimm said...

Reading your post made me remember when my 2 daughters were young, the fears I had. One good thing is that things keep speeding up as they grow older, and you have less time to worry. When I look back (they're in their 30s) I sometimes wonder how I did it!

Anonymous said...

Long time reader - first time poster.
Oh my gosh you guys I don't know if you've heard of ""conversations with miollionaires"" but I just found out Jason Oman who did that book is going to be doing a new one for female entrepreneurs like us. Here's the page I came across so you can get updates about it too.
I can't wait for it because I loved his first book. I hear he's gonna have Martha Stewart, Ray Rachel, Kim Kiyosaki the wife of the guy from rich dad poor dad.
You can obtain more info at

Deborah Dowd said...

Woman= multitasking! I know what you mean. I have a full time job, a consulting busness, a blog, six kids, am a CASA volunteer and a member of my loca library board. It just comes with the territory. Just recognize at any one time you can't do everything well and prioritize!

Anonymous said...

I've read that women entrepreneurs are also less emotional than men. It makes sense! Women tend to have a much larger network of close friends to share problems with and get advice.