Re-entering the workforce after maternity leave is a huge struggle for new mothers logistically, financially, and emotionally. While trying to balance their careers and adjusting to motherhood, Katya Libin and Amri Kibbler longed for a community of business-minded new mothers like them to give support, offer advice, and more. Together they created HeyMama, a private network of career focused moms, to do just that. Listen as they discuss the importance of support in the early stages of parenthood, the challenges working mothers face, and how they balanced motherhood and creating a business.
Sam: [00:00:04] Efforts to increase women’s participation in the labor force have been underway for decades. Recently, men’s labor force participation was at about 88% but for women, that rate hasn’t budged past 75% in recent years. Some of the best business ideas are born from a personal need. HeyMama was started when Amri Kibbler and Katya Libin set out in 2014 to create what was missing in their own lives. A supportive community for purpose driven mothers pursuing their own careers. Katya had a background in sales and business development and tech and had a media company with organizing global conferences. Amri’s background is in women’s publishing and fashion where she focused on ways to empower women. Katya, Amri, it’s a pleasure to have you with us on ideamix radio today.
Amri Kibbler: [00:01:02] Thank you. We’re excited to be here.
Sam: [00:01:05] So let’s start at the very beginning. What was the inspiration that caused both of you to start HeyMama?
Amri Kibbler: [00:01:24] Thank you. Well, as you mentioned HeyMama really came out of a need that Katya and I were both experiencing personally. And I think it’s something that a lot of moms feel. I know that after I became a mom, I was working in corporate, I was an editor at Hearst for years. And I just didn’t have a group of close friends or a network of women who were passionate about growing their careers, as well as wanting to talk about their motherhood journeys. I was feeling alone in that journey and isolated. None of the other options that were out there were really speaking to me. And I was at the time so busy. I was going to dinners late at night and I felt like I was just spinning my wheels. There were groups out there that were mommy groups that were meeting while I was at work. There were groups for entrepreneurs, but they are solely about business and neither of them were really what I needed. My priorities in life had changed because I had this little human and I just I really felt like this conflict between wanting to be the best person that I could, be a career woman, be the best mom that I could. And it felt like a lot. I really wanted to be growing in every area. And then I met Katya and we really bonded over our frustration over the lack of a group like this being out there. We met a lot of women on the playground or actually we didn’t meet a lot of women, but we saw them. And we would we would ruminate on like, do you think that that woman is going through what we’re going through like, do you think that she could be someone that we could be aligned with? And we felt like that was really speaking to us. There just wasn’t this multifaceted group for ambitious women that had kids. So we set out to create our own group. And that’s what eventually became HeyMama. Even in the early days, our feelings of frustration and isolation and needing to achieve and make an impact on the world, we felt like that was shared by so many women. Mothers just weren’t being supported in their dual roles of career women and mothers. And we just wanted to meet those women where they are.
Katya Libin: [00:03:39] I couldn’t agree more. Amri pretty much said it all, but I think for me the experience was very similar. I was working at a tech company and then– actually had no other woman at the company that had never had a child. So they didn’t have a maternity policy. I kind of sat there and crafted one with them. Definitely wasn’t asking those guys for advice on early motherhood. And I actually was one of the first ones to have a child among my friend group. So I would always see these moms at the playground that would be walking with their best friend and having this whole built-in network of moms. And I think these days, so many of us don’t naturally always have that. You know, there’s a lot of transplants in big cities. There’s a lot of people without a built-in support system. And I think to Amri’s point, you know, we wanted to talk about diapers and deals and business and our purpose. So a group like this was definitely not something we discovered. And we started to think about what it would look like to build a community that was meant to propel these working moms forward in working and life.
Sam: [00:04:48] It’s amazing you know, you’re both reminding me of before starting ideamix. I worked at an enterprise software company and it was very much the same. I mean, there was no one around me who had children. You know, by the end of my time there, there were starting to be a couple of women who were pregnant or had just had their first child. And it just felt like there was no conversation or discussion or support or sort of collaboration on that front at all. So totally makes sense. So 75% of expecting mothers say they’re excited to go back to work after giving birth, but 43% of them end up actually leaving the workforce. And this comes at obviously a high cost for them personally and the companies that they worked at and the economy more broadly. I’d love for both of you to share your thoughts on this, because you see this, you know, I imagine up close and personal in your community all the time.
Katya Libin: [00:05:47] Absolutely. I think sometimes the math that people do when they think about their career and motherhood is sometimes looking at the real short term. I mean, how many times have you heard someone say, oh, well, my salary is X and the nanny’s salary is Y and so it just doesn’t make sense for me to pay someone to take care of my kids. Oftentimes someone will go back to work after one child, but then it’s the second and third and it’s kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back. But what happens is you’re not looking at the lifelong earning potential of a mother. And so you’re you know, there’s a short term decision where, you know, it’s really tough in those early few years. And then at a certain point, your kids are off at school every day. And then now you’ve taken five years or seven years off from the workforce and you’re having a really hard time reentering. And so what I’ve found even recently, specifically moving to the suburbs where there seems to be more stay-at-home moms, is that, you know, these women never thought that they would be the ones that would leave. They always thought that they would continue to continue working. And somewhere along the line, the decision got made. And now they’re kind of stuck feeling a lack of purpose and a lack of purpose beyond them being moms, which, of course, they love and adore their kids. And it’s great to be able to spend all the time with them. But what we’ve found is that, you know, people crave more. And so keeping your network and really investing in your network and so that even if you do end up taking a couple of years off or some time or you get furloughed and you’re kind of in a transition, I think, you know, the power of community to bring opportunities to you is extremely important. And we’re gonna see a huge shift in the next few years, given Covid of how motherhood and work collide, often to the detriment of the mother.
Sam: [00:07:40] I couldn’t agree more. I think the benefit of work for each of us as individuals is so much greater than the salary or the hours or the nanny salary, as you said. And I think it’s very easy for people to lose sight of those elements in these moments where they’re struggling to be a mother and be a wife and thinking about their work.
Amri Kibbler: [00:08:06] I would agree with everything that Katya said and you said as well. There’s also the emotional aspect of it that I think as a new mom, sometimes we don’t understand exactly how much hormones and short term things that are putting pressure on us really do influence decisions to leave the workforce in the early days of motherhood as well, because it all feels like everything is so intense. And if there is not support there in those early days, support within large companies, a support group of friends, caregivers around you, that it really becomes such an emotional burden on the mother as well. You know, just speaking to like the mental state and the mental pressures, as well as thinking about the economic influences around the decisions to leave, too. So I think that by giving emotional support and allowing women to understand that things will change and develop in their roles as mothers much more quickly than they realize, also can really help women to see how important it is to think long term and stay in the game even if they are going to take a leave or change their hours up as Katya mentioned, being able to keep their network active or transition into a role that allows them to continue freelancing or doing something to stay in the game, I think is so important until they feel like they’ve reached a stage where they’re comfortable in what they’re doing and they’re re-able to engage back into the workforce.
Katya Libin: [00:09:49] And I just want to add one more thing, and we’re actually partnering with an incredible company called Inkwell, which was started by one of our members, and they are leading the charge and flexible work for moms. So we will be integrating weekly job opportunities at what we would call, you know, dream jobs. You know, incredible companies, really senior roles that are all guaranteed to be flexible and adaptable for moms. And I think we were talking about this before the podcast started is that flexible work has made such huge advances in such a short period of time, given everything that’s going on, every employer has to be flexible, that it’s never been a better time to really have work, work for you. And so we’re excited about that partnership and what it will allow. Some of the moms that are tired of being in like an acid seat sort of organization where you come in every day at 9:00, you have to leave at 6:00. It’s just so outdated. So I think companies are getting smarter to that. And hopefully that will allow for more moms to make it work around their schedules.
Sam: [00:10:59] That sounds like an amazing partnership. I can’t wait to see it and hear more about it. So I want to take you both back to the moment when you decide that you’re going to start this business. What were the first couple of things you did to go from concept to an executable business?
Amri Kibbler: [00:11:22] Yeah. I want to tell a story that I think sums up what you’re asking, but then also really tells the story of how HeyMama came into being in the early days cause she and I spent a lot of time reaching out to people that we knew in our networks and also cold emailing people and then being connected to people. And people were super generous with their time meeting up with us. And we were lucky enough to be connected to two other co-founders. They were from Tel Aviv and they were two female founders. They were very generous with our time. We met with them a few times. I remember walking in to meet with them at the Soho House and feeling really nervous and excited and sitting down, and they were really warm and open and they shared a lot of advice and insights with us as two female founders who had already launched their business but were in the beginning stages and facing a lot of entrepreneurial challenges. And I remember them saying to us, Katya, I’m sure you remember this, too. What can you do to get your business started today? And Katya and I made a lot of, not excuses, but we’re like, well, we need money to do this and we need to have our website ready and we need to have that. And they’re like, no, no, no, no. What can you do today to get your business started? And we’re like, well, we don’t– our website’s not up. And they’re like, no, tell me what you’re going to do today. So we looked at each other and decided that we were going to launch our Instagram account. And it really was a pivotal time in our thinking because we now had something that substantiated, that we had a real business and we had something to go forward with. We didn’t have a website yet, but it was that point of deciding that we were going to start our business with one step and never looking back, because from that day forward, we had to keep going. And it like it removed that barrier of a new entrepreneur could feel that everything needs to be lined up and perfect before you can really get started. I think it was some of the best advice that we got. And also, it really illuminated for me how I wanted to be able to support and influence other women and entrepreneurs. These two women had taken time out of their schedules to sort of mentor us and advise us and how amazing it was that women could give advice and support each other and really change the trajectory of someone’s business. And that’s what I wanted to see in HeyMama. It’s a big part of what we do as women are constantly giving advice and sharing their experiences and relating, you know, where they are in their business and what they’ve done to the other members of the community. And I think that that is really something that’s so important. So I think that reaching out to people, whether, you know, them or not. And making connections and networking would be the first thing. The second thing would be finding something that you can do to get your business started right away. That doesn’t really cost you a lot of money. And the third thing is we did a lot of market research immediately once we did start getting things going.
Katya Libin: [00:14:38] Yeah, you pretty much summed it all up, Amri. Squarespace actually and a couple of other tools out there were one of the early on tools we used after we launched on Instagram. And we had never built a website before, but we were able to figure it out rather quickly. And so I think we’re living in a glory age of how quickly you can start a business. That’s why there’s so many of them being created and defining your audience early on and kind of knowing what you are and what you’re not. I’d say my other pieces of advice just to add on to everything that Amri said, which I think got us off on a really scrappy foot. And we stayed scrappy for many years thereafter. Still are. [00:15:21][42.7]
Sam: [00:15:23] I mean, there’s so much in what you guys have said. And, you know, it takes me back to when when we started ideamix, we were very much of the same place. And I think there’s something about the training that we all went through of working at a large company that makes you want to aim for perfection before you launch something. And that is truly the enemy of any entrepreneurial endeavor because you’re never gonna get to perfection and you’re always short of resources and you’re not gonna be able to pay, you know, the best graphic designer or the best website developer to to build your first version. And I think it’s making that leap. As you know, these female founders you guys were mentioning told you to make, which was just get started. And it doesn’t matter if that first version is hackie and doesn’t look that great, but but at least it allows you to test the initial concept. And one of our, you know another founder who’s been on our podcast, Zoe Barry, said this really well, you know, she said even if you’re building a tech company, what is the sort of, you know, Google doc and Google Sheet version of your idea that you can start to test with, you know, 15, 20, 25, whatever the number is of people that, you know, so that you can actually validate that you have a concept there? [00:16:43][79.6]
Katya Libin: [00:16:45] MVP?
Sam: [00:16:46] Yeah.
Katya Libin: [00:16:48] Well, you know, just to that point, when we did start on Instagram, the first month was really slow and we were still figuring out our voice. And then something shifted and we figured out a stake in the ground that really resonated with us. And we went from 400 or 500 followers, which were basically everyone we’ve ever known in our lives, like all of our friends and our family and cousins and moms and all of that. But then we are growing to about 10,000 followers within under 3 months. So that insane growth was crazy. And that’s where we got the validation that we had something there. Now, Instagram has changed a lot. But, you know, if you start with just a small little concept and then you have people reaching out to you from all over the world saying, I want to be a HeyMama, how do I become HeyMama? I need this community. It gives you that validation that you’ve got to keep going and you’ve got to figure this out.
Sam: [00:17:41] Katya that’s a perfect segue to my next question. So it sounds like you guys started on Instagram to validate that there was an appetite for this kind of content and this concept out there. And the growth that you experienced, in a sense, gave you, you know, both the product direction that may have been sort of an amorphous thing in you’re in your minds until that point, but also gave you access to some of your first customers outside of the friends and family circle. Right. Can you guys talk a little bit about that?
Amri Kibbler: [00:18:18] Definitely. Yeah, no, you’re completely correct. Outside of our friends and family circle, a lot of our first customers came from social media. We were using that really as a connection tool. And, you know, this was five years ago and the landscape is so different. But at that point, we were commenting and tagging people that we thought were interesting. And it was like that was a new way to be connecting people. And we were dming people and setting up Skype chats with people. You know, I would have hour-long conversations with these really interesting women that lived all around the country that were validating our concept, and telling us that they really needed community. And we were struggling with all these things in their lives. But even to this day, I would say, you know, most of our growth is through referrals. There’s a lot of word of mouth. And, you know, moms really love to share things that have impacted them and help them. And that’s where our first customers came from, was by our customers sharing. And it continues to be one of the main ways that HeyMama grows because women are so passionate about things that change their lives and support them. And they need to tell their friends and their coworkers and their family members.
Sam: [00:19:43] Well said. So as you look back. Were there a couple of assumptions that you both made when you started that you might have subsequently revised or decided to pivot away from?
Katya Libin: [00:19:58] Good question. I think originally we had this strong inclination that we were going to build an app to connect moms. And then along the way, we you know, we didn’t quite feel like we were ready for funding or to go out and actually secure the money to be able to build that type of platform. So we ended up going the media route for a couple of years and really building up the audience and the content and the narrative around what this woman was struggling with. But like every good idea, you end up at some point hitting a wall where in order to actually do it at scale where you’re able to build and scale it as a business, you need either to make money or go out and raise money. And that’s where we decided to pivot and really focus on this membership product. And we did that all without any external capital. Completely, you know, built our website with a small design shop and ended up launching the membership back in 2017. I think had we originally set out to go out and pitch this concept to and done this without any proof, I think it would have been a lot more challenging and we wouldn’t have really built the authentic audience and community that we did over several years of really getting to know these women on a personal level. So I’m really grateful for the way that we did it. But that was a big pivot for us in that 2017 year of switching to a recurring subscription revenue model and a little bit further away from the media side.
Amri Kibbler: [00:21:36] I would like to add that I think because we were bootstrapped for so long that we’ve been really nimble and able to pivot as part of our ethos of the business. So I think some of our pivots we don’t even see as pivots. But when we see that the community is asking us for something, we really lean into that. We leaned in to starting to have events three years ago, three and a half, maybe it’s nearly four years ago now. But it was a point where we were having a few events and people really love them and they wanted more of them. And so we really added that into the community. And we’ve seen that women now are really needing more community around their industry and stage of motherhood. So we’ve been adding in small community groups to support them. As you know, all of this craziness with Covic happened and everyone was stuck at home. We really quickly leaned really hard into digital programming to be able to do that. So I think more so than we pivot away from things. We really lean into things that we hear from our community that they need and that they ask for. And that’s something that is really important to us and a really core part of HeyMama.
Sam: [00:22:55] So interesting. Yeah, I love that. I love the way you explain that with leaning in rather than pivoting away. So as you think about the company, your community, who do you think of as your competition and how do you think about platform and brand differentiation?
Katya Libin: [00:23:15] Yeah, it’s an interesting question. You know, I think with community, there really is no such thing as direct competition because every community exists to serve a different purpose and for different people and they’re not mutually exclusive. So just because I’m a part of HeyMama doesn’t mean I wouldn’t potentially be a part of something like The Riveter or Elevate. I think that all these communities have started from a different impetus at a North Star. I do think there’s a differentiating factor in how we approach things. Our PoB, you know, the founding team and how we specifically focus on moms and working moms as a targeted group of women that need a membership and an experience that’s really customized for them. So I of course, I think we’re unique because our members are such a mix across industries and stages of business and stages of motherhood. But there’s really this unifying factor in this group of women who are really passionate about supporting each other, specifically on this journey based on where they are. And that’s what I’ve heard from a lot of moms, that our community is, you know, they may be a part of other groups, but, hey, momma is the one that just gets them. And that really anchors everything around their whole self, their moms self, their business out there, you know, their self care side. So that’s kind of our PoB on it. And, you know, we think there’s a lot of opportunity for communities to partner and collaborate and send each other members because they’re not going anywhere. And I think there’s more potential for collaboration among these groups.
Sam: [00:24:57] Totally. You know, a founder, Jeff Wald, who we’ve had on the show, had really an insightful piece of advice. He talked about how when he is acting as an angel investor, he asks every founder team for an example of a conflict they’ve had and how they resolved it. And partnerships, you know, as you both know, I’m sure are amazing, but they also take work. How did the two of you think about your partnership and how do you actively manage it?
Amri Kibbler: [00:25:34] Should I take this one?
Katya Libin: [00:25:36] Yeah, go for it.
Amri Kibbler: [00:25:37] Okay, great. I actually love this question. And Katya and I, if I speak for you, think of our relationship as a marriage. I have so much respect for her. And whenever I come into a conversation, whether it be something that’s going to be challenging, that we aren’t agreeing eye to eye on. I always come from a place of respect and wanting to come with, like, the best heart. So I think that we know that where we’re coming from in the conversations is like a place of caring and love. But then we get down and we’re very tactical and we look at both sides of things. We look at the situation and we kind of take our emotions out of it and think about what’s going to be the best for the business. You know, Katya and I have a beautiful friendship and we try to make time to spend time together. Like taking a walk on the phone even and talking about things outside of work and then flip the switch over to. Okay, now we’re gonna talk about work and let’s really focus on that. And you have to kind of remove the emotional element around things that you’re trying to do to grow your business and just think tactically around what’s really going to be the best for the business. How is this going to get us to our goals? And we tried to reassess what our North Star is constantly and make sure that everything that we’re doing is laddering up to that. And it’s a good way to really tie back in and say, I’m feeling emotionally tied to this one thing but is it really going to get us to what our North Star is? And I think that that’s been really helpful for us. But we do do a lot of work on our relationship. And I just am so grateful to have someone who is so committed to being a supportive friend and a co-founder of you. What do you think?
Katya Libin: [00:27:31] I have so much more to add to that. I think you summarized it really well Amri and it’s about that respect and also trust. Amri is like a sister to me and we were really close friends before we started the company. We raised our little girls together. We’ve been with each other every step of the way. And no one understands the experience of building this business like Amri. You know, we’re really in it together and we know that no matter what happens, we have each other’s backs and we support one another. So having that luxury of building a business with a really close friend is a leg up because it really allows us to know that our anchor is always in doing what’s best for the company, but also knowing that there is an extraordinary, extraordinary amount of trust there between us and love. So leading with that has been really helpful. Spending time together, I can’t stress that enough. When Amri and I spend time together and actually are able to brainstorm and catch up and and be around each other’s energy, so many great ideas happen. I feel like the biggest challenges have happened or some roadblocks when we haven’t spent a lot of time together and then we’re only connecting for work and maybe there is, you know, some buyers here or there. So that would be my biggest piece of advice to co-founders is to invest in your relationship and develop it outside of work like Amri said.
Amri Kibbler: [00:29:03] Oh, I wanted to add one more thing. I can’t believe I almost forgot this. Katya and I try to take a trip every year if we can, with our older well, my older and her daughter. And it’s so pivotal in our relationship because the girls who brought us together and they’re turning nine now, get to spend time together and we get to see that beautiful relationship, but we get to have fun together. And fun is really something that’s very important to our relationship as well as we get time to look at all the big picture, things that don’t make it into the day to day conversations and are so important to growing and scaling a business.
Sam: [00:29:45] I love everything you both said. I mean, there’s so many lessons in there. I think, you know, so often people make all kinds of assumptions, right? When friends work together, they make assumptions about how they’re gonna interact professionally. And sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. And equally, I think, you know, when co-founders get together around a common business purpose, you know, as you both said, the personal relationship is in the end the sort of vessel for the professional relationship. And if you can’t get that right, then, you know, no matter how much time you spend talking about work, the professional piece isn’t going to be simpatico and sort of work smoothly and well. And I love this idea of taking a trip together every year, which is, you know. Sort of an opportunity to retreat and, you know, have a relaxed space in which to talk about all the things that don’t get talked about day to day. So some really amazing lessons there. Thank you both. So last question for the two of you. What’s the lesson that you feel you’ve learned? I mean, you’ve been at this now, you know, six years. So much has changed and evolved with your business and with the two of you, I imagine, personally water a couple of lessons that you feel other entrepreneurs should be aware of.
Amri Kibbler: [00:31:11] I think, we always keep coming back to this, like listening to your customer and you can learn so much from them. For us, checking in with our members. I’ve spent, since Covid happened, I’ve spent a lot of time just checking in with our members, understanding what’s going on with them. I think you just can’t connect enough with your customer to understand what the needs are for your business.
Katya Libin: [00:31:37] I love that. Mine was more on the management side. And I’d say the biggest piece of advice I’ve learned lately and actually it came up yesterday, is to not take things personally. There was a really good example of this where, you know, we had an internal call and a couple of team members approached the call in a way that I thought if I was taking things more personally, I might have been bothered by. But I wasn’t. I mean, I just I love when anyone steps up and tries to help in any part of the business. And I felt like seeing how important it is to know that everyone is coming for their own perspective and everyone’s doing their best. And people are trying really, really hard to do a great job. And sometimes things might come out well and sometimes things might not come out well. I just try not to take things personally. Same goes if you know, people aren’t all about your idea or, you know, you felt unappreciated in something that you did or someone is coming to, you know, to work. But there’s really a lot going on with them personally. But you don’t really know that. So kind of trying to take the personal emotion out of it and really kind of listen for cues and give everyone a lot of benefit of the doubt has been something from a management perspective that I’m trying really hard to implement and to ask a lot of questions. You know, people will come and give you feedback and about something that’s going on. One of my biggest questions, I just say, how did that make you feel? Tell me more. What was that like for you? You know, asking more questions instead of coming in with the solution or with an answer with an automatic reaction, I think is sometimes really hard. I find myself biting my tongue because the advice monster and the question I ask her wants to come out and really kind of tell him exactly what I think. And I’ve just learned that that’s for me, working a lot better is to not take things personally and ask a lot of clarifying and follow up questions.
Sam: [00:33:43] Amazing.
Amri Kibbler: [00:33:44] I have more to add.
Sam: [00:33:44] Go ahead.
Amri Kibbler: [00:33:45] Katya, you just bubbled this up for me and it’s something that I’ve learned just probably recently is setting clear expectations and making sure that you and the person that you’re either working with, entering into a partnership with or collaborating with has the same expectations and just really clarifying those to make sure at the very beginning that, you know what each of you wants and needs so that later on there is not a confusion where like. But I thought that this is what you wanted or this was our KPI? So it’s just, I think, transparency and setting up that clarity on expectations at the beginning of every conversation, every partnership and every relationship is something super important, like even in personal relationships, I am trying to really integrate that into my ethos.
Sam: [00:34:39] Amazing advice. Both of you. Thank you for that. Fabulous. Great advice. Thank you both for that. Here’s another fact you need to know in surveys 41% of women feel they have good promotion opportunities in their jobs. That’s down over 12% compared to the previous year. And the comparable figure for men is 47%. Childcare costs also remain prohibitive in most countries. So it’s more economic for new moms to leave the workforce. And until we change that, women are going to find it harder to strike a balance between work and home. Thanks to the Penny Order and the Federal Reserve for the data cited in today’s show. Katya, Amri. We love the purpose behind HeyMama and the business you’ve built together and the partnership that you’ve built together. So thank you so much for being here with us today.
Amri Kibbler: [00:35:33] Thank you so much for having us.
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