When we had our first child, I was so aghast at the use of disposables or the thought of washing all those cloth nappies that I started a company that delivered freshly hospital laundered and folded nappies to families with new bubs.
This started a chain of various companies doing all sorts of things - pet care, real estate, property investments, and accounting which led to easygiving.co.nz and WooHoo.
In essence, the child preceded the company and actually drove its creation. That wee dot is now nearly 35 and a mum herself. People asked, especially my mother, ‘why I would do this at such a busy time?’ But I felt I could make a difference and change the way things were done. It seems these thoughts follow me around. Really, it was a case of why not.
MAKING KIDS PART OF THE PACKAGE
As baby number two and three arrived, my life was busier and busier, but still, I always had a project or was growing a company to keep me occupied. Children who grow up in entrepreneurial households just seem more adaptable. They are used to being in their baby seats at the office, or out visiting clients and suppliers. So many people seemed fascinated by these little people being there but were always very accommodating. It never felt like an issue as I didn’t make it one. I never apologised, I never considered not taking them with me; they were part of the package.
When the wee girls grew into their own busy lives, we just incorporated swimming pick-ups or class outings into our daily schedules. My husband and I worked well as a parenting team, each doing what we could whilst juggling work, life and things. The girls were really busy and Saturday morning sport was trying, sometimes with three venues to visit and children to support, but unless one of us was going to bring in another partner (not an option - married 35 years and still happy) we had to make it work. This was long before shared calendars on your phone.
"People asked, especially my mother, ‘why I would do this at such a busy time?’ But I felt I could make a difference.”
GROWING THE FAMILY AND THE WORKFORCE
They also quickly grew from being an unpaid workforce into keeping timesheets and demanding pay rises. Whilst some discussions were challenging (no, you are not the CEO, and minimum pay rates apply) they were all life lessons.
The girls moved from filing and general office junior roles through to various roles depending on their interests and geographical locations. They learned the value of business relationships, professionalism and responsibility rather than being bored in the holidays. Our most empathetic daughter, Genevieve, became more involved in our charitable works whilst studying to become an occupational therapist and our other more analytical daughters showed an interest in WooHoo.
COVERING ALL THE BASES
WooHoo grew very quickly from an ad in the newspaper to the largest online tax refund company in New Zealand. Managing such exponential growth was challenging, fun, exhausting, time-consuming and demanding. Just like having another child.
With such quick growth, there were staffing challenges, and it was like having three (four if we are counting my long-suffering husband) extra right hands. The girls were there to pick me up when there were moments of despair, millennial sounding boards for the diversity of ideas, generals when the army needed pulling back into line, takeaway collectors on 19-hour days and champagne pourers on the great days. When I had a confidence crisis or imposter syndrome moment I could either talk to them or think wow time to set a great example, pull yourself together girl, you’ve got this.
“They learned the value of business relationships, professionalism and responsibility rather than being bored in the holidays.”
LOCAL AND GLOBAL CHALLENGES
Occasionally some of our new staff took a few days to work out that we were related: no mum and dad at work, no special treatment over other staff, no car parks, any increase in salary was earned. This was slightly different in our Indian back office. By the time we opened in Bangalore, our eldest daughter was running the call centre in New Zealand.
She and I spent a huge amount of time going backwards and forwards to India, plus all the other associated zoom calls and meetings. I was called Big Boss, and she was Little Boss. It was quite a cultural challenge for our staff in India. Not only did they have a female boss, but they also had a female manager who was often younger than they were. It created some interesting discussions regarding why her husband and her family not only let her work but come to India unaccompanied and travel around. The 8 pm curfew on our under-40-year-olds caused a few challenges for social activities. It was a different world and a huge learning opportunity for both cultures to respect our differences and meld them into a unique culture.
Eventually, we expanded into the UK and took on HMRC. A start-up seems to work best when the founder is heavily involved in initial stages, so we moved to London and took our youngest daughter with us to manage the office there. Ellie had been my PA for a few years whilst she completed her Management and Entrepreneurship degree at UC. This meant that our newly appointed GM in New Zealand was also family. Our eldest daughter had taken over the reins and ran a tight ship. She brought a different skill set, a new pair of eyes, a new way of doing things and had great success. Just before this time, she had started her MBA and moved back with her husband from Australia to work in the family business.
As the push to change the legislation and the need for investment in a system upgrade for IRD became more apparent the decision (that HMRC was never going to be open to challenges on its technology and it was time to pull the plug) was made.
My husband and I returned home with Ellie to work with Gabrielle, our eldest daughter, in adapting WooHoo into what would be a new landscape. What I hadn’t realised was that the IRD weren’t actually delighted with being shown the problems with their existing system and had no intention of building a new system that could work in partnership with private organisations. The cost benefits for doing so were never up for discussion no matter how many times and who we had with us to discuss this.
In April 2018, just days before the usual rush period to ensure our clients received the full amount of overpaid tax owed to them, the IRD changed over to their new $1.9b system, and we were effectively out of business. Not only did we have to let valuable long-term staff go, but we had to wind up our WooHoo training school for call centres, our back office in India and sublet the building. It was like disassembling the family home and divorcing the kids.
“She loves working with entrepreneurs and helping kiwi businesses succeed internationally. That’s all thanks to her exposure to the ins and outs, ups and downs of entrepreneurship.”
MOVING ON TO BETTER THINGS
Gabrielle returned to Sydney and completed her MBA. Her knowledge and understanding of growing New Zealand companies both locally and overseas is in big demand in her new role with NZTE. She loves working with entrepreneurs and helping kiwi businesses succeed internationally. That’s all thanks to her exposure to the ins and outs, ups and downs of entrepreneurship throughout her life, starting with those endless nappies as a baby. Later that same year she became an amazing mum herself to our wee Zoe. I watch in awe of her mothering skills, her work-life balance, her outlook on life and know that Zoe is one very lucky wee girl.
A couple of months later, Ellie became an amazing mum to wee Lilikoi and is now either in Fiji with her husband or visiting the proud grandparents here in New Zealand. She still finds time to work as a VPA to a couple of very lucky people whilst balancing raising a bright and bubbly wee girl in two different cultures.
We also became proud grandparents of one of the largest grandpuppies ever, thanks to Genevieve. I love the huge paw prints through the house. It’s grounding.
And me? Watch this space! But meanwhile, I’m enjoying running Easy Giving, helping at the local food bank, sitting on the Global Women board, and enjoying an athleisure lifestyle whilst waiting to travel again and being a grammy.
Would I recommend being a mum whilst building companies? In a heartbeat.
“Would I recommend being a mum whilst building companies? In a heartbeat.”