Sara Mauskopf’s daughter Bryn was just a few months old when she decided to leave her position at Silicon Valley start-up Postmates and launch her own venture. But just as Sara began throwing herself into Winnie, an online directory for parents on the hunt for family-friendly activities in their local area, her husband Eric was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about quitting,” admits Sara, who has held product roles at Twitter, Google and YouTube. While Sara’s co-founder Anne Halsall initially picked up the slack so she could care for her husband, Eric’s diagnosis forced Sara to address whether Winnie was worth pursuing.
“During the start-up journey I think many founders consider quitting at various points in time,” Sara muses. “It was nice to be faced with that decision early on and decide I wanted to continue. Every other reason for quitting since then pales in comparison.”
After committing to the start-up, Sara juggled caring for her daughter, supporting her husband through his cancer treatment while getting Winnie – which has since raised over $2 million in seed funding – off the ground. It sounds like an impossible feat, but Sara somehow managed it. This is how:
Allow yourself time to decompress
Sara’s situation is certainly unique but we all need time to emotionally decompress, so make sure your schedule allows for it.
“As far as coping emotionally, I try really hard to set boundaries so that I’m not working all the time,” says Sara. “When I’m at work during the week I focus on that, but when I come home at night I focus on my family. Weekends are pretty precious time for me and I always reserve the weekends for quality time with my family. Having that balance helps me cope. In fact, I’d argue that having a healthy balance between work and other priorities in your life will make you a better founder.”
Make building your business is your priority
During the months that Eric – who is now, thankfully, cancer free – was receiving treatment, Sara declined every invitation from VCs to catch up and discuss her project. She and Anne weren’t raising funding at this point, so reasoned that any free time would be better invested elsewhere – like, you know, actually building their business.
“Remember, it’s a VCs job to meet lots of people and learn about what everyone’s working on so they know what investments to make, but it’s a founders job to build their business,” says Sara.
Prepare your tasks in advance
It’s amazing what you can achieve from a hospital waiting room in just 15 minutes – just ask Sara. The mum-of-one would take the time to establish what needed to be accomplished each week, before dividing each task up into the time she expected it to take. That way, if she had two hours to kill while Bryn was sleeping or 20 minutes while waiting at a chemo infusion centre, Sara didn’t have to waste any of that precious time merely deciding what to work on.
Accept offers of help – but be specific
Predictably, the offers of help came pouring in following Eric’s diagnosis – yet precious few of those offers actually amounted to any real assistance.
“People are really bad at being helpful,” notes Sara. “Even when people ask to help you, they usually don’t follow through with it or do it in a way that is actually helpful.”
Instead, Sara advises that when someone offers to help out, accept and be specific about what you would like them to do. For Sarah, asking for feedback on Winnie was apparently too vague so instead, she started asking her friends to download the app and write a review.
Imperfect is better than incomplete
“Perfectionism is a tough habit to break so you have to set time limits and force yourself to just put things out there even if they aren’t 100% perfect,” argues Sara.
Incidentally, a certain Mr Zuckerberg shares this sentiment, famously stating “Done is better than perfect.” Just get it done – end of.