parent opinion

'On the day I gave birth, I got a $1 million dollar offer.'

As I’m writing this, I am in a cafe across the road from a public library, waiting for baby story time to start, drinking a cup of tea, and rocking my son to sleep in a pram with my left foot. I’m typing with a single thumb, slumped rightward on a stool at a precarious angle to counteract physics and gravity to keep all of these things happening at once. I do it without thinking.

This scene is one working mothers, or working women in general albeit metaphorically, will be very familiar with; working to keep multiple things on the rails, and other people content, while sacrificing your own comfort, but still with a desire to be efficient, proficient and personally fulfilled.

My name is Kristen Souvlis, and I am a Part Time CEO.

Let’s take a step back.

Team Mamamia confess: I chucked a sickie so that I could…

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It’s 2015 and I leave my awesome full time job producing television to start a company with my business partner, Nadine Bates. We’d just received our first two commissions, one from Disney, and one from Sesame Street USA.

We have a choice – either produce these things after hours from our already demanding jobs, but while earning a wage, which is almost impossible (even for workaholics like us) or quit our jobs, use our savings and get as far as we can without an income and try to grow a global production business from scratch out of Australia. So… also almost impossible.

Nadine and I took this non-choice, worked incredibly hard with talented people, had a lot of support for our vision from our families and organisations like Screen Queensland and Brisbane Angels, and built Like A Photon Creative from a two person operation with not enough money to pay for a single desk at a co-working space, to a six million dollar company employing 35 people across media sectors.

And then I had a baby.

There’s never a good time to have a child, so there’s never a bad time either. But I would be lying if I said it didn’t come with its challenges. This would also be an understatement. How much of one, we had to find out.

For one, I was the CEO. Nadine and I work incredibly well together. She as the creative head and me as the operational. We had always acted more like co-CEOs, but me leaving presented a significant operational challenge. How do I take all of the stuff out of my head, turn it into process, hire some support and ensure our insurances get paid on time?

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Two, I love my job. I love working. I always have. It’s just part of my personality. How was I going to go getting cut off cold turkey at maternity leave and swap it for a joyous poop machine?

Three, how would people cope without me? This is the ego talking. Everyone is replaceable, even a CEO. But a little part of you hopes that everyone misses you and wants you to come back. I mean, I didn’t want it to fall apart without me… or did I? (Spoiler alert: I didn’t).

The one thing we both knew is that we built this business to be successful, yes, but part of our ethos is not to be huge wankers. Not to put being a business person above being a person. So we knew that whatever happened, there was a way to look after ourselves and have a successful start up.

The ways we worked through these things were big and small. I turned off emails and stuck to it. Mostly. We hired a CFO. We got processes in order. This actually helped the business grow and be more robust.

Nadine didn’t let any information from the company seep through to me on my maternity leave. She was exceptionally strict. On the day I gave birth to my son, we secured $1m in funding. Having had two children herself, she knew that nothing, not even $1m should disturb my love bubble. She was right.

full-time-working-mum Kristen Souvlis
Me and my business partner Nadine. Image: Supplied.

I’m now back at work four days a week, and in January, I moved my small family to San Francisco to grow the business. I’m the Co-CEO of Like A Photon Creative, and I deal with the digital side of the company, which includes Kindergo, our interactive reading app for two to seven year old children. Nadine is the Co-CEO of Film and Television, and runs our feature film division.

It’s a constant battle to try and get the work done across two rapidly growing sectors of the business, especially when one of us is in a different timezone, but we turn it to our advantage. My time away from the office lets my team breathe, so I don’t micromanage (as much). My limited time makes me focused, so I stay on task (mostly). I come at the creative with fresh eyes, and offer an outsider’s perspective. The team appreciates the clarity.

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I put these things in parentheses because I feel like I can’t offer advice to anyone. It’s a daily struggle. When I’m at work, I feel like I should be home and vice versa. There are too few hours in the day. I stuff up the balance all the time. I feel guilty all the time. Nadine and I sometimes get to the end of the day and go… UGH. Just ugh.

The only advice I can give is to just acknowledge those feelings, and move on. Anxiety about the anxiety doesn’t help. You will stuff up. It will be hard. You will feel like a bad parent. You will feel like you’re not doing enough at work. You will feel like you lean on your partner, your parents, your business partner too much. You will feel all of this. Acknowledge it as a normal part of your new normal, find a healthy way to yell into the void, and move on.

So I’m not part time. I’m full time. I’m double full time. Nadine is. All parents are. Parenting does not stop because you have to answer emails or think about strategy. The business doesn’t stop because you gave birth. It’s just that I contain my office hours to 24, to at least feel like there is a pause in the relentless march to raise two needy children.

I only have one child. The second child is the business. It’s a metaphor.

Have you started a business while raising a family? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below. 

Kristen Souvlis is Co-CEO, Digital, Like a Photon Creative, a multi award-winning and internationally acclaimed production company based in Australia. She is also Co-CEO of Kindergo, the children’s reading app which has been number 1 in the App store in over 30 countries.

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