5 Huge Misconceptions About Startup Life, Revealed In Private Email

A (former) Silicon Valley entrepreneur and mother explodes some of the myths about “having it all” by combing through old email and IMs.

5 Huge Misconceptions About Startup Life, Revealed In Private Email
[Photo: Flickr user Blake Burkhart]

When news of Hillary Clinton’s email trouble broke, I felt queasy, but not with worry over national security or doubts about the woman who might end up running our country. No, my instant concern was much more visceral and self-centered: What if that had happened to me while I was running a company?


For a time, I was the cofounder and CMO of a well-funded tech startup, mom to two young boys, and wife to another entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. My husband, Noah, was deep in the trenches with me raising our sons, and in a parallel trench at his own startup a few blocks away from mine, testing, releasing, funding, hiring, and firing, just like I was. My cofounder and CEO, Philippa, was also a mom to young boys. She lived in the equally fast-paced Manhattan, and the two of us had an intense long-distance work relationship.

From the outside, I may have seemed to fit the mythical “woman-who-has-it-all” rubric, with a glamorous career and easy-street home life that various articles about Silicon Valley superwomen tend to reflect. At times (and perhaps most egregiously on Facebook), I may have even promoted the perception that I moved confidently through my days with perfect work-life balance and equanimity.

I did not, of course. And nothing exposed this reality more fully than taking a spin through my inbox and IMs from that time, especially in my exchanges with Noah and Philippa. Here are some of the common misconceptions about balancing entrepreneurship and everything else that they revealed:


Myth #1: Women who “have it all” work and also singlehandedly manage the kids’ schedules—or have a staff to do it.

Oct. 6, 2011, 3:28 p.m.:

Noah: Hey . . . showed new sitter where piano is, Max’s school and Max’s karate
Me: Thank you! How’s it going?
Noah: Okay . . . back in the office. Max pissed his pants again. Need to get to the gym, but I won’t of course. Are you going home by 6 or me?
Me: Oh, thought you were staying home. The team is asking that I stay for a Twitter party
Noah: You can if you want. I’ll go back.
Me: No I’ll go. But I’m swimming tomorrow morning right? I need a work out or I might kill myself.
Noah: Let me see how the next hour goes. I have a big demo early tomorrow and we still have bugs. Love you.
Me: Fuck. We have no lunchmeat for tomorrow.
Noah: I’ll grab meat.
Me: Awesome. Halloween party in Matt’s class next week will you dress up as gorilla? I have all hands (meeting) at same time.
Noah: Serious? I have a exec team dinner at 6pm that I probably shouldn’t skip.
Me: Phew, party is way earlier than 6 so you can do gorilla.


Myth #2: Women who “have it all” are effortlessly put together, just like their homes.

July 27, 2010, 10:35 a.m.:

Me: I am still itching.
Noah: Yuck. do you want to go to that debugging salon place?
Me: I got an appointment at 12:30. Now that’s a good business. I think Ben has had lice for MONTHS. I am cleaning the house like crazy. Why do we still have this shitty couch?
Noah: That sucks. but great that the house will be clean for once!
Me: I used that spray on the couch. but now I think it is not good. I feel lightheaded. I’m supposed to dispose of it in some special hazardous waste place. Probably along with the couch pillows. Aaaaah. Investor meeting in 30. Will lice jump off my head?
Noah: I’ll get rid of the spray. Lice are very small. Kick some ass in your meeting.


Myth #3: Women who “have it all” limit their drinking to kale smoothies and eight glasses of water a day.

January 20, 2012, 6 p.m.:

Me: Did the wine come yet?
Philippa: No. might need a glass later.
Me: I sent you six bottles!!!!! Should have been there by now. And now i’ve given away the surprise
Philippa: What?? No wine yet. What is the occasion??
Me: Because you need it. If you feel anything like me.
Philippa: Oh. Right. You couldn’t have sent a full case?


Myth #4: Women who “have it all” have a seat at the table and are taken seriously. They always “lean in” and never feel like walking away from it all.

Me: WTF!!!!!!!
Philippa: Dumbfounded.
Me: Did that just happen? He did say, “If you have something worthwhile to say then speak up. Otherwise, please keep quiet,” right?
Philippa: That he did!
Me: I’m so done. You are the only reason I’m still here. Just say the word. When do we want to walk?
Philippa: Now?
Me: Seriously. Value proposition not holding!

Myth #5: Women who “have it all” never worry about whether they are sacrificing career success for family time or vice versa.


Philippa: Am so depressed. Just asked James (6) to put Nick (3) to bed. Thinks he can do it. Everything but the diaper. Am bad mum.
Me: You are a great mom.
Philippa: I just want to not miss my kids for this.
Me: Me too. I want part time!!!! Business has to work but don’t want to be regretful later.
In the end likely it won’t work and kids will thank me for not caring about the company more than them. Won’t they?
Philippa: Motherhood very hard to combine with a male domineering cutthroat environment.
Me: I know you think you’re “a bad mum” for not being there 100^+% during bedtime. But you are THERE. You are.

Clearly, I had never been a flawlessly maintained mogul, or fit the supermom stereotype. My daily juggling act was a desperate attempt to keep all the balls in the air, and I did not do it alone (or with a hired staff) by a long stretch. The truth is, now that I’m no longer living the entrepreneurial life, not much has changed. Sure, my Facebook posts look like nothing more than trips to the beach, family hikes, and zany adventures, but all the tears, embarrassing failures, cursing, and self-doubt are still there. After all, I’m still human, I’m still a mom, and I do not have it all together.

So the next time you feel vulnerable or insecure as you peruse Facebook and drool over the amazing lives of your friends, or see that well-dressed mom drop off her child at school and then rush off to an executive meeting, try not to assume you have less than exactly what you need, because my sneaking suspicion is that no one “has it all.”



About the author

Sarah Eisner is a Silicon Valley native, mom of two, and entrepreneur turned essayist. Her writing has been published in The Rumpus, Salon, and Brain, Child magazine, among others.