My Silicon Valley Adventure: 3 Days, 12 VC Meetings, and 1 Breast Pump
June 17, 2015
With pumping equipment in hand, our intrepid CMO Annie Thorp jetted to the West Coast to raise our next round of fundraising. Below, she shares what it’s like to balance the demands of motherhood (and breastfeeding) with start-up life.
I’ve been topless in a number of Silicon Valley’s most well-known venture capital firms. Spicy, right? Alas, this isn’t that kind of love story.
I’m a working mom of two little girls, one of whom was only three months old when I recently flew from New York to San Francisco to raise money for my fast-growing professional womenswear startup. My challenge: to pack 12 fundraising pitches into three days in order minimize time away from my nursing infant.
I was nervous about pumping at work. Only weeks earlier, Newsweek had excoriated Silicon Valley’s chauvinist ways on their cover. While we were scheduled to be in town, the Ellen Pao trial was kicking into gear and the valley was abuzz. Here we were: three women pitching a female-led company that makes dresses for women. In the valley of alleged sexism and gender discrimination, it seemed the last thing we needed was for one of us to be shouldering a large piece of mechanical equipment designed to milk her boobs. It was as though I was emphasizing the fact that we were NOT MEN! And, even worse, ONE OF US WAS JUGGLING THE DEMANDS OF TINY CHILDREN WITH THOSE OF STARTUP LIFE.
Luckily for me, our company’s founder is the kind of feminist whose attitude toward my being a pumping, working mom is “high five.” And when it came to my concerns about turning off investors by reminding them that we were (a) ladies and (b) of reproducing age, she assured me that if they couldn’t handle it, then they weren’t the right investors for us. And so with her support, I packed my bags, grabbed my pump, and booked my tickets.
The adventure began just a few hours into my cross-country flight when I discovered that the outlet near my seat was defunct (get your act together, Delta). Gone was my mental image of surreptitious pumping beneath my Hooter Hider™ whilst watching The Mindy Project from the comfort of my seat. Instead, I hailed a flight attendant and explained my situation. She was understanding and invited me back to her secret hangout where I plugged in my pump and enjoyed some small talk with the crew, while holding plastic “flanges” to my chest.
But the fun didn’t stop there. For the next three days, I Uber-ed and walked my way around San Francisco, workbag over one shoulder and breast pump over the other. I plotted out pumping opportunities in the gaps between meetings, making a mental list of where I’d find privacy and the all-important electrical outlet.
In the end, I was surprised. Investors were generally supportive, if not downright enthusiastic. Of course, I tried to read my audience and make requests strategically. If you happened to mention that you were a parent? Hello, friend. Show me your finest pumping facilities! But overall, I came away with a profound gratitude for the kindness of strangers and a feeling that my anxiety had been overblown. Two female investors I queried actually had young children and were using the mother’s room themselves (they both earn my lifelong friendship for feeding me, in addition to offering me topnotch facilities).
Each day, I found a way. Each night, I stashed my supply in my sister’s fridge, eventually amassing enough breast milk to fill two small coolers. I estimate my haul to have been about 15 pounds. Standing in the security line at the airport, my arms ached holding my carry-on, but the staff let me through, nodding understandingly when I explained why my liquids were not confined to two small sandwich bags.
In the end, the trip was successful, but would I do it again? Eh. Pumping is easier when you’re in a routine and not actually carrying around your equipment—breast pumps are ridiculous, arcane pieces of machinery. But I am happy to report that for three brief days in San Francisco, I experienced the heady sensation of having-it-all-ness: of providing for my baby and working on a business and tapping into the zeitgeist all at once.
I am woman. Hear the gentle thrum of my breast pump as I fundraise.
Illustrations by Mai-Dea