Jennifer is Founder and CEO of WeMakeItSafer, a company that builds web applications for consumers, manufacturers and retailers around the issues of product safety and recalls. By developing solutions that identify product hazards in homes, resale shops and online marketplaces, WeMakeItSafer is able to reduce injuries and save lives while helping companies to mitigate product liability risk, decrease product recall expense and increase sales. Prior to founding WeMakeItSafer, Jennifer was an Expert (testifying/consulting) in Commercial Damages. Most recently, she was a Principal with ERSGroup and, before that, a Senior Consultant with Navigant Consulting. As a business and litigation consultant, Jennifer worked with numerous companies in the consumer products, retail, technology, energy, telecommunications and insurance industries. Jennifer’s cases included product recall, product liability, intellectual property infringement, breach of contract, and antitrust matters. Jennifer graduated with Honors and as a Community Fellow from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business where, in addition to her MBA, she earned certificates in Entrepreneurship and in Management of Technology (MOT) – a joint curriculum program with the College of Engineering. Jennifer completed her BA early, in three years at UC Berkeley (cum laude) with degrees in Economics and Japanese. Jennifer also studied and conducted conducted research in Economics at Oxford University (UK). Jennifer lives in the Bay Area with her husband, two little boys and an adorable Lab puppy. You can find Jennifer on her blog & on Twitter @Jennifer_Toney & @WeMakeItSafer
Transcript follows & video below.
- I’ve not actually interviewed any Mompreneurs. Have I said it correctly with my Australian accent? Is that how you say it?
You know I’ve heard Mommapreneur, Mompreneur, Mom entrepreneurs. I think you can say it any way you like.
- In Australia we don’t even spell it that way, we spell it Mum so that’s why I wanted to clarify the pronunciation. So I was just wondering what it’s like being a Mompreneur & how do you manage to balance it all? Do you notice any biases towards you in the entrepreneurial community or the investor community?
Sure, I think there are a few questions rolled into one. I do think there are some biases towards mothers in general in business in general. And the venture community are probably not separate from that at all? I think there tends to be a fear that Moms aren’t going to have the same amount of time as a single person or someone without children to spend on their startups. To that I would say everybody has something else that they’re working on. I think by definition if you’re a successful entrepreneur you’re most likely an overachiever. So whether you’re a marathon runner or a sailor or you’re sitting on boards of other startups or you’re trying to work on a charity & solve world hunger, you’re doing something else anyway. So for a Mom your something else happens to be your children. When I had kids it wasn’t the business & technology & entrepreneurship that got sidelined, it was the other things that I was doing. I didn’t spend as much time at the gym. I didn’t compete in triathalons anymore. I didn’t do painting & things that I normally did. So it changes but it doesn’t mean necessarily that you have less time to work on your business. I think also talking about work/life balance, you switch how you think about things. I’ve sat in a number of conferences where there would be a panel on work/life balance & you do unfortunately hear a lot of women who are in positions or CEO positions that will say it’s not possible to do both. I think that will always come from somebody who doesn’t already have kids. So they feel like I know what I’m doing now, I know how hard it is, I know how much time I’m spending, there’s no way I could have children. That’s probably true! In that mind frame & in that model that you’ve set yourself, you probably couldn’t also have children & do a good job. I think that a lot of work/life balance is being very creative, intelligently creative about your organization & changing your mind about how things work when you get things done.
- Yes & as a coach, I know in our training years ago, we were taught that it is impossible to multi task & I put my hand up & said however women tend to have to do that no matter what profession they go into. I know I did that when I was raising my own children. I did that by myself & I had to run a business as well. You just have to do it really, don’t you?
You do, you find a way to make things work. I think again it’s about changing the model. It’s being willing to erase the lines & redraw them & step outside of the box. Sure you might not be able to do the 10am to 4am work & incubator with a bunch of people. But you’re also not doing other things that take away from other entrepreneurs/startups. So Thursday, Friday, Saturday you will never find me at a bar from 9pm to 2am. I’m back at my computer working very hard & progressing on the company. Whereas my single entrepreneur friends will out at the bar drunk tweeting. Some of it I’m sure is helpful to their business & networking but a lot of it is just drunk tweeting. They’re having a great time & it’s great. But those are a lot of hours during the week that Moms are spending, or people who have other obligatioins are spending on their companies. So I think it’s a misnomer to think that just because you have children that you have less time to spend on your company. I think if you were to compare productive hours, it would be very similar it’s just that they’re happening at different times & in different ways.
That’s really great advice thank you very much.
- I was wondering if you could talk a bit about your own startup & whether or not you have raised venture or angel investment?
Sure the name of our company is WeMakeItSafer & we build web applications to identify recall products in homes & in market places. We alert consumers & sellers if a manufacturer or the government recalls a product or there’s a safety issue with that item. So its web applications around product safety. We have raised money. We raised angel at the beginning of last year. We kind of fell into it, we weren’t looking for money. The money sort of found us. I had started the research & development for WeCanMakeItSafer when I was a grad student at UC Berkeley. And as such any project for any class turned into a project for WeMakeItSafer. I’d always bend the rules a little bit. The assignment would be do this & I would say what about this? It would tend to work & we’d mold it into a project for WeMakeItSafer. So as such there were a lot of classmates & professors that got to know very well what I was doing & were very helpful. After I graduated & started working on it on a more regular basis I would occasionally send out emails to the people that were involved just to keep them apprised about how things were going. What I didn’t know was that one of the professors involved was an active investor. After one of these apparently particularly interesting emails that I sent out, he called me & said what are you doing for funding? It just sort of happened from there & he introduced me to other people. The round happened in that way. As far as gender issues, I don’t think that it would have mattered whether or not I was a woman in this particular case because what they were excited about was the technology. They understood it because they had been involved, at least my professor had been involved from beginning. They knew it was breakthrough technology that had several market applications across different industries. So he was very excited about the market opportunity & the technology. So I don’t think that gender played a role there.
Thanks to the Four Seasons, Palo Alto for their hospitality & use of their beautiful hotel.
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- WES 2010: Pics from the WES 2010 Tweetup (blogs.blackberry.com)
- Mom or Entrepreneur – You Don’t Have to Choose (jennifer.p.toney)
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