From Engineering to Tech Entrepreneurship, One Mom's Roadmap to Success

Recently my husband and I did a presentation at our daughter's 5th grade class on entrepreneurship, running a business, and making iOS apps. Our oldest daughter is writing an iPhone game with her dad, so was thrilled to be validated in front of her peers. It was very rewarding to us because we could introduce a seed of thought to the kids in the class—options! My mom's advice to me when I was a new mom was to expose my kids to as many things as I could—to show them they have choices in the world. We are thrilled to be able to have that chance to introduce the ambiguous world of entrepreneurship and encourage STEM. I had wished that entrepreneurship had been demystified for me when I was young. My parents intro'd me to a world of information and experiences, but I ended up quite risk-adverse; I even took an entrepreneurship class in my business master's program! So, here I am, an entrepreneur, running my own indie mobile development business with my husband. How did I get past all that fear of risk? Surprisingly, goals are what have driven me down this path, and those goals have as much to do with my children and family as my personal drive for achievement. In this post, I will share my story, from mechanical engineer to program manager to mom and president of my own company.

I'm glad to say that the man I married, Cory, has always been one to follow his dreams, one of which was to own his own company. I follow my dreams, too, but I have a very rigid roadmap. I wanted to be CEO of a major manufacturing company. I grew up in the Michigan automotive industry, so this was quite an ambitious goal for a female, but I didn't care. I love to be in charge, in control, and I'm confident. I laid out steps to reach my goal. Cory is more impulsive and is quick to jump on opportunity. I like to think, almost too much. This balance in our relationship has contributed to much of our successes, both in business and in marriage (this year we celebrate our 20th anniversary).

Safety First

We started with the safe thing—graduated engineering school (Michigan Technological University) and got jobs in Engineering (he's a degreed electrical/computer engineer). Though I was a Mechanical Engineer, I wasn't happy with just designing airbags, so I strived for a management position and set some high goals, eventually moving onto a program management position. I wanted to establish my career before having kids, since so many men stood in my way with attitudes about “child-bearing age” women. I thought I'd have more options if I actually “got somewhere” before splitting my focus between job and kids. (At this point, I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded good). I enrolled in graduate school as well, and earned my masters in international business. I was on a track for upper management, which triggered a move from Michigan to Chicago, so I could get plant experience, which my mentors deemed essential. In one week, I graduated with my masters, moved out of state, and started a new job as Plant Quality Manager. I was also expecting our first child.

The Baby Arrives

I got a lot of flack from my male coworkers—mocking me, “Sure you'll keep on your career after the baby comes.” I had no intention of becoming a stay-at-home mom, but I also did not have a very good roadmap on how I was going to do everything. Then the baby arrived—and we entered into the “parent club” as I affectionately refer to it. It's one of those things that you cannot fathom until you're in it. Those in the club know what I mean, those not in it (yet), don't, but that's ok. But, boy, do you start to rethink your roadmap! I still wanted all the personal things, but I also wanted to be a really great mom. Here I was working in a plant, responsible for quality for multiple shifts. I couldn't travel easily while nursing, nor could I work a lot of overtime with the childcare options. If second shift had a problem, I'd have to delegate it. Without flexibility of overtime and travel, my career was going to come to a complete standstill, which was unacceptable to me. (A very wise friend stated, “Your career just became a job!”) So, after a very long, very contemplative round of soul-searching, I decided that the corporate world could wait and I quit my “job” after a few months back from maternity leave.

Starting Creative Algorithms

As this was happening the internet was literally exploding and the opportunity to run a business on the internet became a real possibility. E-commerce was hot. Cory was also hot to start our own business, having written some mobile apps for the Palm platform, most notably Date Wheel (which we distributed as “freeware” since the only way to get paid back then was to ask people to send you a check via snail mail!). I was still risk-adverse, but an opportunity presented itself in 2003, money-wise, so we started Creative Algorithms and released our first shareware app, Date Wheel, selling it online. After spending 18 months creating Trip Boss travel manager, he went back to work full time (mostly due to health insurance constraints), while I managed our business with two toddlers at home. It was wonderful—I could do all the SAHM things, taking the kids to classes, participating in playgroups, going downtown to the Chicago museums, AND work from home. The income was moderate, but it worked.

Risk Goes Both Ways

However, Cory also wanted to participate more closely with our children. Permanently working from home on our own business was still in his sights. I wanted more flexibility, to be able to take longer vacations, for example, not being tied down to an office or a two-week vacation allotment. Owning your own business has a lot of risk, but the potential for income is greater than a salaried regular job. In preparation for the presentation to our 5th grader's class, I thought about this. Risk is ok, if managed. And the returns can be much greater. Of course, it can turn on a dime and you could be living in your car.

Everyone Has Their Own Goals

Our goals were set: support our family, work from home, spend quality time with our family, but live comfortably. More income would be great, but not required. Being already established (owning our second home, having savings and equity) helped a great deal, since we're Bootstrapping our business. In the middle of everything, we had our third and last child (I liked being a mom much more than anticipated). The iPhone was introduced, then later the AppStore was opened. We jumped on this opportunity and started by 'porting Date Wheel. The Affordable Care Act passed, which meant we had more potential options for health insurance (the ability to obtain health insurance for our family of five, with pre-existing conditions was a high hurdle to going indie).

Working Towards Our Goals

Since Cory does the coding, and this was our bottleneck, he quit his job again. I projected and managed our finances and we lived off our savings for roughly the first 18 months. We released our cooking app, Serving Sizer, on the iPhone and iPad platforms, and finished a 'port of Trip Boss travel manager. Multiple apps makes for better success. Then, to mitigate our risk, we took on contract work to make up the difference. This work is steady, so combined with app sales, we are hitting our targets: we support our family, both work from home, and spend quality time with our family. The next goal is to live a bit more comfortably, more on the security side of things. I still don't like risk and a bit of padding will help with the ups and downs of sales and income. And if I manage it right, we'll eventually pass that higher income potential than a safe, set of day jobs would give. In the meantime, I can help my kids with their homework, take the family to karate (the WHOLE family), and make my own hours (which are, unfortunately, more than 8 per day, but I'm ok with that). I've also hit my personal goal—I'm running my own company! We have tons of flexibility and I wouldn't give up the time I have with my family for anything. Some days are scarier than others—sales might drop for no apparent reason, or Cory gets sick and doesn't get in any contract hours. But for the most part we are doing what we love and surviving.

Lots of Turns on the Roadmap

Thinking back, it's amazing how I went from hard-hitting engineer to career-driven program manager and plant quality manager to mom of three who runs a tech company. When I graduated university over 22 years ago, I could not have envisioned being where I am now. With an open mind, I've taken all the skills I've learned over the years, with the help of many friends, family, and colleagues, and taken a hefty shot at all my goals. I'm in a great place as both a Mom and President of a successful tech company. I wouldn't have it any other way.

We Can All Reach our Goals if We Help and Support Each Other

Now onto some business—I'm in a heated contest on the Circle of Moms, the Top 25 Tech Mom bloggers. The list is about moms who blog about tech, and of course, if you're reading this blog, you know I blog about the inside look at the business and tech side of an iOS/iPhone/iPad app developer. I need your help—you can vote once per 24 hours and there are 10 days left to go. I'm maintaining a position around #11, but you can help me rocket up the charts with your votes. As you will see, my friends, the iMums are at the top and we are helping each other out (you can vote for more than one blog at a time, every 24 hours). So if you can give my blog a vote, then hop up to the iMums at the top, and vote, too, we'd both really appreciate your support. Of course, if you have an iPhone and/or an iPad, and you haven't taken a look at our apps yet, please head over the left side bar and click on the links. We appreciate your time and support.

I hope you are enjoying the insights I've been able to provide on the business side of tech, the encouragement you may feel on mixing indie dev life with family, and the optimism that we can all reach our goals—just follow the opportunity and always keep modifying that roadmap!

UPDATE: Thanks to all who voted for me! My blog placed #7 in the Top 25 Tech Moms on Circle of Moms.