Amy Nelson launched the Riveter, a co-working company built by women, in January 2017, when her oldest child was two years old, her second child was eight months old, and she had just learned she was pregnant with her third. In less than three years, Nelson has raised $20.5 million in venture capital, grown her Seattle-based company to six locations, and achieved profitability in the earliest locations. Now eight months pregnant with her fourth daughter, Nelson shares why she moved her retired mother across the country to live with her, how she deals with skeptical VCs, and why mom-guilt should be a thing of the past. --As told to Kimberly Weisul

When I became a mother in 2014, the ground shifted beneath me. I was a lawyer, and I was asked, "Do you still want to go to trial?" Of course I still wanted to go to trial. That's the only interesting part of being a lawyer. But I knew women with kids were less likely to be promoted. So why was I buying into a system that was not buying into me?

I wanted to learn more about how to start a business, so I started going to classes. Mostly, they were held at WeWork and Galvanize. The spaces felt very masculine and very young. And the classes themselves were almost all men.

I started asking women where they went for community, but there was no real space for community. I thought that might be what I should build. I thought I would build one location and have a flexible schedule and be home more. I called a friend, a startup attorney, and said I was going to start a company called the Riveter. He asked if I could get a beer with him. When I showed up, he asked, "Why are you building one? Why wouldn't you build a hundred?"

I knew women with kids were less likely to be promoted. So why was I buying into a system that was not buying into me?

For years before I left my job, there were a lot of times when I didn't want to be a lawyer. As a family, we couldn't afford for me to do that. I had to pay down law school loans, although I still have some. We had to save enough for our house. I started the business at age 37 because it took me that long to save the money.

Before I decided to build 100 the Riveters, I asked my mother for help. She was in Ohio, and she had retired from teaching. She moved in with us, so I have a stay-at-home parent in my mom. She spends 80 percent of her time with us. My dad still lives in Ohio. He comes out a lot. 

When I was fundraising, at the end of one pitch a VC said, "Great, you've got so much traction, but you've got three kids and one is a baby. Are you physically up for building a national company?" I am on a mission to reframe motherhood. I said to him, "I know you will never understand this, because you are a man. The fact that I started this company when I was pregnant means that physically, I will be able to do anything." 

I realized I have to run the household the way I run the business. We have a shared Google calendar for myself, my husband, my amazing nanny, and my mom. We have a dog walker for our 80-pound dog. We pay for help with laundry. We use Instacart for groceries. We make meals on repeat so we don't have to think about it. Mondays, we eat tacos. We pay all our bills online. Everything is on autopay. We swim every weekend--that is our big family thing. We try to simplify as much as possible.

The hormonal swings are hard. No matter how I feel, I have to show up and be someone for my kids, my 50 employees, my investors. We've decided to budget for a night nurse for this next baby, and we're privileged to do so. It will help if I can sleep. What man would have to deal with these hormones?

At the end of one pitch, a VC said, "Great, you've got so much traction, but you've got three kids and one is a baby. Are you physically up for building a national company?" I am on a mission to reframe motherhood.

I try to not be away for more than two nights in a row. But, the other week, I got back from a two-day trip, and my 4-year-old said to me, "Mommy, I just wanted you and you weren't here." I said I'm always just a phone call away and that I love her all the time, and I miss her when I'm away. The fact is that my kids are growing up with me traveling. The thing we can do is talk about it.

I don't look at my email for one weekend day. During the week, I spend either the morning with the kids until 9, or from 5 to 7:30 at night, and then I'm back online. Once a week, I leave early to swim with the kids. I make up the time. The world will go on.

People see mothers in one light and business leaders in another light. They can and should pair in incredible ways. Motherhood makes us ruthlessly efficient. Today, it's not viewed that way. We don't even know how to look at women who are mothers and leaders. None of us understood how to talk about Hillary Clinton as a leader.

I had a lot of mom-guilt when I was lawyering. Now that I love what I'm doing, I have very little guilt. I have built a village around my children, of people who love them to death. That to me is real.

Published on: May 7, 2019