My First Year in the Startupsphere
Gili Golander had three kids under eight and another job in Israel when she got into DreamIt Ventures in New York. How did she make it all work?
By Gili Golander (Co-founder & Style Director, Bazaart)
It was exactly one year ago that three young men came to my house for coffee and a chat. We did not know each over before that — a mutual friend set us up. I just had my third child six months before. I had left my well paid, nice, safe job at the user experience department of an international company, and I was working on making a career change that I’ve been dreaming about for ages, from software to fashion. Little did I know that our lives would soon be so intertwined that we would be sharing an apartment in NYC, working side by side into the wee hours, shedding some tears and laughing a lot.
I chatted with these three strangers, who seemed nice and smart, and they told me about an idea they had to build some sort of fashion app that learns your sense of style and brings new outfit suggestions daily in the form of collages.
“Neat!” I said, without even thinking. “I want to be involved.” At the time I had just started a new online magazine with other partners, where I was the fashion editor. It was exciting! I got to write articles, recruit other writers, edit and best of all, go to fashion shows! I was happy with my progress towards my new career. But now, what should I do with this startup idea that came out of nowhere? It really wasn’t a good timing.
No Miracle? Hard Work Will Have to Do
After some soul searching I decided that it was an opportunity that I should not miss. I’d work part time on the startup and part time on the magazine, and somehow, miraculously, it would work out. After factoring in the fact that I have three kids under eight, a house to maintain and a husband that is also a startup entrepreneur, I realized it would indeed require a miracle. Since miracles are hard to come by these days, I had to make do with, well, hard work.
I would work in the mornings when my kids were in day care and school, and then I would pick them up and take care of the daily family routine, then in the evenings I would pick up where I left: writing, emailing, brainstorming, and finally I would go to sleep, exhausted but excited.
After two months like that, the fashion section in the magazine was advancing nicely. I had five writers and I had just styled and produced my first fashion shoot. The startup was also advancing well, and we already had a prototype in the AppStore and a first collaboration with a fashion blogger. Then, in April, we found out that we got admitted into the DreamIt Ventures accelerator program. Great news! But wait, I live in Tel-Aviv, Israel, and the program is three months in New York City thousands of miles away. OMG. What do I do now?
I did what I know how to do well. I improvised and planned. I found myself a replacement for the magazine, trained her, and resigned. I made a “kids schedule” detailed by the hour. I booked a new babysitter with a car that was able to pick up my kids from three different places. I recruited the grandmothers for help a day a week each. My husband did a helluva lot. My neighbors helped. And we made it. They helped me make it. I couldn’t have done it otherwise.
Off to New York I went, back and forth, three times during that summer. My partners and I shared an apartment in Queens. Luckily, at 37, at least I had my own bedroom…We met huge numbers of people: entrepreneurs, investors, mentors. We pitched our startup at major fashion-tech events in the Big Apple. We molded the original idea into a user-generated fashion catalog, one that’s suitable for the new millennium. We had our big demo day in the Time-Life building in front of hundreds of people. It was a challenging summer for my family, and for me, but it was also very rewarding. I learnt so much, met so many people, and did so many things I had never imagined I could (hello, Mashable article covering our launch).
Not Just a Fling
Then, in mid August, we returned to Israel. I was able to take a few days off and be with my family. I thought about it and I understood that this startup thing is not a fling. I hired a nanny — the best one. I rented some office space so I could concentrate on work. We twisted and pivoted a little until we finally found what our app really was – a kick-ass collage app. We realized that focusing only on fashion was missing out on what our forming community was creating with our app – collages about home décor, greeting card and art, amongst other things. It was a true moment of revelation. We keep working on it and growing every day. In fact, we just released an upgrade to the app store. I love these days!
I’m not saying I don’t have my down moments. The times where I feel like I don’t know where all this is going and think of the price my family and I pay for my adventures. But, there are also times—like when we presented in Microsoft’s ThinkNext event with Steve Ballmer as the guest of honor, or when I participated in a round table at 10 Downing St, London with select Israeli startups, or when we got selected as one of the ten most promising Israeli startups for 2013, or when our users write heartwarming emails to me — when I smile and feel alive like I’ve never felt before. I’m creating something new in the world. Sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s amazing, sometimes it’s even both on the same day!
This is the story of how I came out of my hobbit hole to the biggest adventure of my life, took the journey to the unknown, fought some dragons, and didn’t quite make it to the treasure yet. In short, this was my first year in the startupsphere.
About the guest blogger: Gili Golander is a co-founder and style director at Bazaart. Bazaart is a fun and easy way to create collages from Pinterest images on your iPad. Oh, and it’s free!
Women 2.0 readers: Share your own experiences of extreme feats of work-life juggling in the comments.