Pooja Sankar’s son is less than two months old, but the founder and CEO of Piazza is already back at work.
With the summer ending and students getting ready to return to school, Sankar is busy updating and managing Piazza, an online space where college students and professors can work together when they’re not in the classroom. The startup employs about 30 people at its office in Palo Alto, Calif.
Running a business and raising a child at the same time is no easy task, but it is a reality for many professionals, including Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer, who is expecting a baby this fall.
Here are three ways Sankar is making it work for her:
1. Iterate, iterate, iterate. Constant iteration is part of Silicon Valley culture: Startups continually assess their products and services and look for ways to tweak and make them better. Sankar says that’s the same approach she and her husband have been taking with their son. Juggling both a family and the startup means that she’s always looking at whether everything is working or whether she needs to try something new.
“When we develop software at Piazza, we make a lot of little changes and see what works. We stop doing the things that don’t work and invest more heavily in the things that do,” she says. “I think of learning to manage our postpartum lives in the same way. There are a million people who want to tell you how you should bring up your baby, but every family makes its own way.”
2. Make your time count. With only 24 hours in a day — and much of that dedicated to being a mom in the first few months — Sankar is disciplined about managing her time and that of Piazza’s employees. She says she directs employees to work on features and functions that affect the majority of Piazza’s users (versus a small group). She also believes that a project that could be finished in one day shouldn’t take three days.
She says her priority is to focus on the tasks that she needs to accomplish as CEO. Because she plays a big role in Piazza’s product design, for example, she asked employees to come to her home the first few weeks after the baby was born so that they could brainstorm. Meanwhile, she outsourced or delegated housework, such as laundry, which freed up her time to focus on the company.
3. Find mentors. They don’t have to be the same gender. All three of Sankar’s mentors are men, but they all have young children and have faced the similar challenges in balancing a startup and a new family. Sankar says she has turned to them for advice and best practices on how to make it work.
It doesn’t have “to be another woman or a CEO,” she says. “The value I find most in a mentor is when they know how to speak my language and know me deeply. They know how they should message certain things.”