How to Launch a Startup, While on Maternity Leave

Lizzy Brockhoff and Elizabeth Shaffer had their babies within 24 hours of each other, just the latest tag-team effort for the friends and co-workers. At the time, the two both worked at e-commerce startup Jet, a business they’d joined from their previous jobs at Moda Operandi. In the lead-up to becoming first-time moms, the women quickly learned there was a lot of stuff they needed to buy ahead of their baby’s arrival.

Brockhoff and Shaffer were introduced to “baby lists,” giant excel sheets and documents moms swap with each other. The lists are essentially a product-based version of What to Expect When You’re Expecting and include women’s personalized recommendations for the goods to outfit a nursery to which strollers are worth the price tag. The lists are sourced from all over the internet and the result of thousands of soon-to-be parents’ impassioned googling, but they’re not organized. Brockhoff and Shaffer sensed an opportunity.

They came up with the idea to launch a platform that would deliver real reviews from real people for all their product needs, baby-centric or otherwise. To date, MASSE have surfaced three million goods through its app, harnessing, as Fortune put it, the purchasing power of Facebook mom groups to drive the business.

Here, the co-founders break down using their maternity leave as an early-stage incubator for the company and explain how becoming moms pushed them to take the leap and launch their company.

Sometimes you have to balance bottles with business calls

Lizzy Brockhoff: On maternity leave, we only had small chunks of times between feedings, bathings, etc. So it was all about how much we could get done between those moments. We’re inherent planners, and are project managers by trade, so we set ourselves goals along the way to chip away at things. It was a lot of Google Hangouts and planning. Then the big concern became, how would we continue to work on this when we went back to work? It was a challenging time because we were trying to do three things: our full-time jobs, build out MASSE, and then also care for our families.

Elizabeth Shaffer: We both went back to work at Jet, and were working on this on the side, so that was really a challenging period. One of the hardest things about having kids and starting a business is that you don’t have time to catch up on the weekend. Your weekends are for your kids. But a lot happens after the baby goes down to sleep. It was really all evening work. We’d both go to work during the day—we’re both fortunate to have great childcare—and then we would come home, spend time with the babies, put them down, then post-8pm, get back online. It wears you down, for sure, but we both felt like it was such a passion of ours that we pushed through—and on an emotional level it was really helpful to have each other. I’ll also give a call out to our husbands who have really been phenomenally supportive and helpful with this. I think that’s often not talked about. Husbands and fathers have a really big role to play in working mothers re-entering the workforce.

Launching a company isn’t an individual decision, it’s a family one

Brockhoff: We’ve heard this from other women and colleagues. That having that first child is a real catalyst for thinking, “Where do I really want to be spending my time?” I think having a little one propelled us a bit more because there’s such an opportunity cost to what you’re doing, so we really felt it was time to take the leap.

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