Why not to birth a baby and a startup at the same time

Fiona Rayher
6 min readNov 13, 2020

And why I wouldn’t change a thing

My girls! Brooklyn on the left and Frankie on the right.

You know how authors dedicate books to people?

Well, I’d like to dedicate my company Hoovie to my daughter, Brooklyn Joy Tippett.

Brooklyn was made in New York, which is also where I first raised money for Hoovie. Even before she was born, I knew this little one held serious grit and tenacity — interestingly, the same qualities required to birth and grow a startup.

My besties and I in New York at my surprise baby shower.

The birth of our film-tech startup Hoovie has a unique origin story. The idea for Hoovie — a platform that gives you everything you need to watch a great film and connect with like-minded people — came to me as a filmmaker when I realized that audiences have few meaningful ways to experience cinema with others.

That’s the short story. Check out the long version here.

Now, I’d like to tell the story about giving birth to two children and one startup — one that I believe the world needs.

On “leaning in”

In 2018, we launched Hoovie while Brooklyn was a newborn. Back then, I remember being fairly vocal about being a new mom with a startup, but my second daughter’s birth six weeks ago has been kept under wraps.

Why keep quiet about my bundle of joy?

Two words: Unconscious Bias. The status quo does not accept mothers of newborns who fundraise — at least not in the tech sector.

Meanwhile, the stakes for Hoovie are high. So I’ve been careful.

But, who am I kidding. The unintended consequences of “leaning in” with women trying to manage it all, often within the confines of their home and workplace, hinders both innovation and healing — at a time when we need it most.

It’s time for more women to tell their stories.

The truth is, I gave birth to my second daughter, Frankie Rose Tippett, 48 hours before launching our equity crowdfunding campaign.

Check out our campaign video! (I was eight months pregnant in this photo!)

The six weeks since have not been easy — especially as an overachiever. (My saving grace is our Buddha baby and my mom who lives four blocks away.) Many people call me “Super Mom”, as if I’m invincible.

One thing’s for sure: I’ve been leaning in, A LOT. (Sheryl Sandberg would probably think I’m quite wonderful.) Nonetheless, I’m beginning to remember how our social structures and cultural norms are not designed for mothers of very young children who own their own businesses.

And compared to many women, I have it easy.

An example: here in Canada, most women take a full year of paid maternity leave; but for women who don’t qualify (because they own most of their own business) or for women who want (or need) to keep working, it’s extremely difficult to find infant childcare because the market is small (compared to childcare for toddlers, or more so 3–5 year-olds) and competition is stiff.

At the same time, studies show that women outperform men in critical areas for business acumen — notably, leadership. In fact, the Harvard Business Review reports that women score higher than men in most leadership skills.

It’s time we take a long-game approach in terms of how we fund and build companies — so they don’t crash and burn, and instead benefit society for generations to come.

My five-day postpartum workmates: my fellow entrepreneur husband, Jonathan Tippett, and little Frankie.

Part and parcel to evolving my own leadership, I was pregnant during a pandemic, our team pivoted Hoovie to include a virtual offering, and I faced many other hurdles which in most cases would have made a person quit.

What I’d like to share is: why I didn’t quit, why I won’t, and why building community matters.

1. This is not my job.

Hoovie has never felt like a job.

At a Creative Mornings talk earlier this fall, cultural anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author and photographer, Wade Davis, spoke about vocation. He said to the group:

Never have a job, but work harder than anyone you’ll ever meet.

This really resonated.

Vocation is hard work, for me.

There’s a combination of trepidation and inspiration when you realize that you and those around you are cut out for the challenges that startup life brings (trepidation because you realize what’s ahead and inspiration because you know you can pull it off) and that’s when the rubber really hits the road, such as the year that is 2020.

The crucible of this year tested my commitment — and in the end, strengthened it.

2. Hoovie is not just me.

This year I virtually attended the Spero Ventures Founders Summit, and I was lucky enough to hear Matt Cooper, CEO of Skillshare, speak for a second time. (There’s a reason they had him speak two years in a row!) With reference to the realities of this year, he said:

When a building is on fire there are three types of people: those who reach for the water, those who run, and those who yell — fire! fire!

He went on to describe how the companies that will survive the dark times are the ones brimming with people who reach for the water.

Being around these people (aka, my team) is a huge part of the reason I “never give up”, as cliche as the saying is.

3. The world needs us.

I also never give up because — the world needs Hoovie.

It’s what Hoovie does for society that not only keeps me going but gives me the spirit and drive to “work” with joy, even amidst all the chaos.

Here’s the thing: If the 2020 US election tells us anything, it’s how remarkably divided society is. We must find ways to come together, and hear each other.

This is where Hoovie comes in — a gateway for brave conversations, and fun conversations, and vulnerable conversations, and those conversations where… you didn’t know you needed until you’re in the experience.

Hoovie is much more than just Airbnb for film screenings.

We are on a mission to empower everyday people to build community through what we like to call social cinema, where films spark conversation and connection. And ultimately, belonging.

We believe that film has the power to transport and transform us, particularly when the experience is shared with others.

Our vision is to mainstream social cinema and redefine the movie-watching experience to be social, human and conversational. More than just another way to watch a movie, Hoovie screenings and movie clubs become containers for connection and exchange, couched in the comfort of human hospitality.

Tom’s park screening (part of a series) mid pandemic.

As much as we love cozying up in the living room of a kindred soul to watch an incredible film over a delicious glass of pinot noir, as I mentioned, we’ve had to pivot Hoovie in response to lock-down restrictions. Initially this was painful. But then we realized, as gatherings continue to move online, we have an opportunity to bring the magic of what we’ve created into the online space — redefining what it means to connect with each other virtually in a way that nurtures and energizes us.

4. I do it for my kids.

I’ll end by saying, I also pursue Hoovie because I want my kids to be proud of me. I want to inspire them to do anything they want. Even when they face adversity. Even when people tell them they can’t, or shouldn’t. In the words of Maya Angelou:

Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.

I want to leave the world a better place for Brooklyn and Frankie.

We believe the next Greenpeace will spark at a Hoovie screening, and that Hoovie will create a renaissance for film: connecting like-minded people across the world, activating civic engagement, sparking social impact, promoting compassion, and reducing loneliness — all through the simple act of watching a movie together.

For Brooklyn.

Brooklyn, this one’s really for you. You’ve been through it all with me, through this crazy journey so far, and I’m so beyond grateful. I hope I can make you proud.

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Fiona Rayher

Mother of two, social enterprise and film-tech startup founder, past documentary filmmaker, communications and partnership specialist, experience designer