Moms & Daughters: The Business Dream Team
by Monika Samtani
Ever since she was a teenager, my daughter and I have had deep conversations about women we admire and how they built their respective careers. Natasha’s favorite topic was, and still is, always about female artists and their music careers - from the Spice Girls and Britney Spears in the 90s to Billie Eilish and Tierra Whack today. In the 90s I was working my way up as a reporter in television news, and the conversation steered toward women on the big and small screen - Connie Chung, Barbara Walters, Oprah (always Oprah), and my fascination with female entrepreneurs. We had very different perspectives about career paths and what it means to be successful, and often had heated discussions about a woman’s ‘role’ in both professional and personal life. But the one thing we always connected on as mother and daughter was the journey of women; their history, their inspiration, and their stories. We didn’t realize it back then, but this connection would lead us to one day build a business together.
As Natasha worked her way through her first few jobs in Los Angeles after graduating from college, we continued our discussions about women’s choices in terms of career and identity. This time, we connected on the idea that social media has huge advantages in terms of building a brand or business and keeping in touch about each other’s lives and milestones. The conversation now revolved around the choices women were making and the psychological impact of social media on young women today. We agreed on the downside of social media - gauging our success by the number of followers and portraying an idealized view of perfection - in life and career. We surmised that we only get to see modified snippets of our lives and a narrative which can be misleading, putting tremendous pressure on women to try and live up to an unreasonable or unattainable ideal. So where was that one central outlet where we could find positive, change-making conversations and stories centered around the female experience? That’s when we decided to start our own platform, The Fem Word.
For the past year and a half, Natasha and I have had a blast traveling the world to film women’s stories. We set out to inspire change for women through storytelling. Our original plan was to do video interviews and post them on social media; but what started out as a passion project for two women of different generations - who happen to be mother and daughter - has grown into a team of brilliant, motivated women coming together with a mission to create a virtual newsroom filled with inspiring women’s stories. The journey has been amazing.
So for Mother’s Day, I thought I’d answer the question I get so often from people I meet: ”what is it like to work with your daughter?” I also asked other mother/daughter co-founders about their experience building a business together. The answers were insightful, and a testament to the relationship and the resilience a co-founder team must have when working together...especially when they are related.
Here are their stories:
Dormify: Karen Zuckerman and her daughter Amanda were having a hard time shopping for Amanda’s freshman dorm room. Nothing came in the necessary Twin XL size that still suited Amanda’s style. That is where the idea for Dormify was born. Karen and Amanda wanted to create a brand and online store dedicated to fashion-minded college students that would make dorm shopping much easier - all in one place. Dormify is the ultimate small space decorating destination for the fashion obsessed.
Karen noted that working together allows them to spend a lot more time together. She said, “as a mom I am so proud to watch and help my daughter grow into a powerful leader, and we both get excited watching our ideas coming to life.” Karen and Amanda have also started a program to inspire other women to begin their own businesses with “Dormify Doing Good,” to help students in need.
When I asked Karen what her favorite thing about working together with Amanda was, her answer aligned with my own. “It’s amazing to have a partner who you can completely trust, who has your back always.”
Find Dormify at dormify.com.
Em Pretty: Sandy Schoellkopf and her daughter Emily founded Em Pretty in September, 2018. Em Pretty is a cosmetic line with patent-pending makeup formulas rich in calendula flower extract. The calendula flower hosts a multitude of health benefits, is a proven antioxidant, and boasts anti-aging properties. Em Pretty's trademarked tagline, "Protect your Pretty," promotes the belief that youth protection should begin from the moment you start wearing makeup. The packaging of Em Pretty products is intentionally glamorous, because they say natural does not have to be boring!
When I asked Sandy what inspired her and Emily to start a business together, she said they both agreed there was a misconception that today's younger generation does not care about anti-aging and the ingredients used in makeup products; and that there was space within the cosmetic industry to develop a natural product that still evoked glamour and fun.
Sandy and Emily have figured out a way to leverage their unique co-ownership as a key aspect of Em Pretty’s brand and appeal to their target demographic. According to Sandy, “our makeup has generational appeal, which is reflected in all aspects of our business. Women my age - I'm 51 - care greatly about anti-aging and putting the right kind of products on their face. Seeing Emily's generation - she's 19 - have that same level of interest in youth protection is amazing.”
When I talked to Sandy about my experience working with my daughter, I began to see a recurring theme. She said, “our mother-daughter bond creates a level of trust that is essential in a business start-up. We trust in each other's talent, integrity, and instinct”. Sandy, you took the words right out of my mouth!
Find Em Pretty at EmPretty.com (coming soon!)
Soupergirl: Sara Polon (Soupergirl) and Marilyn Polon (Soupermom) are changing the world, one bowl of soup at a time. The recipes are by mom, and the company is built upon their mutual belief that they can change the world through food. When a message like that comes from a mother/daughter duo, it comes across as authentic. As it should!
This time, I got the daughter’s perspective on working with her mom and why she started her business. Sara said she was inspired to start Soupergirl after reading Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. She decided to get involved in breaking up the industrial food movement by starting a responsible business - with good food! She reminisced, “I didn't know where to start. A friend pointed out that my mother makes amazing soup. The rest is history!”
I also asked about establishing boundaries between personal and professional relationships, and Sara’s answer made me laugh. “Boundaries? What boundaries? To be honest, they fell into place naturally. She's the cooking genius, I handle business. And I always remember that she's my mother. She's usually right! So as long as I remember that...things go well!”
I loved this next answer the most, because it reminded me of what’s most important at the end of the day, no matter who you work with. “We respect each other immensely. We've been through indescribable stress together. Absurd situations. Crazy challenges. And we just keep laughing. When the laughter stops, we know we have a problem. Ten years in...the laughter is stronger than ever.”
Thank you Sara, amen.
Find Soupergirl at thesoupergirl.com.
The Fem Word: Finally, I got the courage to ask Natasha what it’s like to work with her mom - me - and that I wouldn’t judge! This startup stuff is hard work, and co-founders should always be transparent about their feelings, right?
So the first question I asked her was about establishing boundaries between our personal and professional relationships. She painted the picture perfectly, “we have a work call, hang up, and then I call her back with personal life things. Creating the boundary can be tough, mostly because we do not live in the same city, so when we are together in real life, it feels like we have a lot to accomplish and we want to take advantage of that time. But, it does become heavily work-related activities. However, I think we have become more respectful and understanding of each other’s lives and have come to know each other on a deeper, more detailed level than ever before.”
Then I wanted to know more about the good - and the bad - about working with me. I got an answer that made me realize even when you are building a business together and you think about it 24/7, sometimes you just have to be mom. Natasha told me, “sometimes I just don't want to talk about work, but it is an essential part of building something - working at it around the clock. I also feel that the relationship can cross lines at times in the sense that if my business partner wasn't my mom, there might be more professionalism in the way we - though infrequently - react to certain things with each other.” Hmm, good point Natasha. But can that be avoided? Maybe that’s why as mother and daughter, we can forgive and forget when things aren’t going so well in the business, and find a way to lift each other up - instead of break up.
I saved the best for last. I talked with Natasha about how working together has strengthened our relationship. This answered the why of our partnership. “We are best friends! And I think that because of the nature of our work and the breadth of topics our platform covers, it has made me feel more comfortable discussing almost any topic with my mom - things that in the past might have even made me cringe. I feel like she feels the same.”
I do, Natasha. I learn from you everyday. You are my colleague and my best friend.
Find us at thefemword.com.