Le Souk founder Benita Singh has had one of the more unique entrepreneurial experiences: Leading VC pitch meetings while several months pregnant (and yes, she got the funding). As I've shared with my own parenting experiences, raising a baby and leading a startup is like having twins. For Singh, both her online marketplace Le Souk and her baby daughter are thriving.
I talked with Singh about her popular platform, maximizing time and being honest with yourself and others about your priorities.
When did you start Le Souk?
It began as a side business in 2011, based on my experience doing textile sourcing for Levi's and other major companies. I was able to spend lots of time in India, Peru and other countries, but I realized most companies did not have the large travel budget necessary to send their people all around the globe. There had to be a more efficient way.
At the same time, I was reading about Alibaba and the rise of online marketplaces. I started Le Souk with 15 textile mills and invited a few hundred people to join. I raised capital in 2013, which is when I quit my job and started full-time.
It's named after the souk, like a Moroccan marketplace?
Exactly, specifically referencing Arabic and Persian craftsmanship. We focus on high quality, classic materials.
And the funding had some interesting timing with your personal life.
In a few ways. During the first money round, I was simultaneously planning my wedding. Later, Le Souk hit the classic Series A crunch: We were not quite ready to show that we were at the next level of performance, but we also didn't have enough runway to prove it. We needed an extension.
I was pregnant with our daughter at the time. We did get the extension, closing it on October 1. She was born on October 10th! It ended up being a great and fulfilling experience and I was enlightened by the support of my current team as well as those new investors.
When I ran my startup, I was initially reserved when it came to people knowing I was taking care of my baby, too. How did others make you feel supported?
Sheryl Sandberg could not be more spot on when she emphasizes the importance of a supportive partner in creating a successful career. My husband was the most supportive - from investing alongside his friends in Le Souk to doing countless night shifts with the baby.
On the startup side, our lead investors were predominantly male, and I sometimes wondered why they didn't ask about how I would manage - it is a legit question - so I started initiating the conversations with them: "This is my plan. This is the time I'm planning on taking." And so on. I think they appreciated the transparency.
I asked them, after the baby was born, if we could do weekly calls to keep me on track. One of our investors got so excited, he transitioned from board member to our full-time Executive Chair, which wouldn't have happened. I think you get what you give and I'm so glad I had those open conversations. You need to be surrounded by motivation and support. Board members focus on the big picture and helped me with the sleepless nights since, particularly as a solo founder, it's tough to have some perspective.
On another note, the fact that I was going into their offices 35 weeks pregnant spoke to my commitment as well.
What advice would you give to others who are concerned about pursuing both a rich entrepreneurial career and a fulfilling personal family life?
I'd say take advantage of bursts of energy, as you may end up working in the middle of the night. It's also about being screen agnostic, since I can connect with my team on my phone while I'm with my daughter or at my laptop. Manage your teams well, because coordinating my home life is just as important as my work life. Finally, manage your work shifts: My day shift is for connecting with people, while my night shift is all about emails and things I can do on my own.