A while back, I was informed that I’m the first black woman tech founder from Virginia to raise over $1M in venture capital and only one of a handful to raise over $3M (as of 2021). For this venture (Time Study), runway has been instrumental to our growth; the platform is currently used by employees in over 75 hospitals in the US and growing. These are the highlights often shared on social media, but here’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the day of my first pitch for venture funding.
Subtitled: “Learning How To Think Straight”
I think one of my father’s favorite phrases is “I can’t think straight.” For a long time, I dismissed it (rolled my eyes) until I became an adult with responsibilities, then I found myself saying it also. A recent example is the day of my first venture pitch, which occurred a few years ago. I walked toward an unknown building in an unfamiliar city to present my new tech startup to strangers for their investment. As I was standing on a corner in Midtown NYC, 10 minutes before my pitch, I received a call from my son’s school. When I answered, the principal stated, “He’s having a rough day. Someone needs to pick him up now.”
My mind was racing for a solution. I was eight hours from home, and my husband was in town, but away from his phone, in meetings. At this point, I’m standing in the entryway of the building, one hand wrestling with luggage (another long story) and the other on the phone coordinating pick up for my son. I’m doing this while watching the clock (I had less than 8 minutes to get checked in, on the elevator, and into a 40th-floor conference room). At the time, my son’s grandfather was our backup plan for these situations. I called him, coordinated an early pickup, then went on with my meeting. I think I walked into the conference room 30 seconds before the pitch began.
Here’s what else you need to know: I’m the Black mother of a Black son. And any time the school calls me, I miss a few breaths worrying if he’s okay or if he’s done something that has been misunderstood and will follow him for the rest of his life. So after I received that call, I had a few seconds to adjust & refocus.
At the start of my pitch, I understood exactly what my father meant by “I can’t think straight.” There are so many things that get in the way of our thinking in the linear, rational, problem-solving way that we expect:
- busyness (too much to do),
- noise (literal noise, but also distractions),
- environmental noise (clutter),
- baggage (unresolved issues, regrets), and
- all of the unexpected events that life may offer.
And for a black woman, engineer, entrepreneur, mom, advisor, mentor, etc., I can assure you that there are lots of these distractions all the time. So here’s how I use my training as an engineer and expert in systems thinking to organize my life, so I can not just manage but thrive amidst all of this noise and confusion, some of which includes navigating pervasive inequity and pain:
- Expect variability and plan for it.
- Learn to (re)direct your focus to things that are within your control.
- Stay prepared.
It truly takes a village.
“We can’t impose our will on a system. We can listen to what the system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone.”
― Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer