The tech world, needless to say, is full of men. There are growing numbers of female tech entrepreneurs, but their cohort is still dwarfed by the male one. So it may be a strange place to search for Mother's Day stories.
Nevertheless, male entrepreneurs can carry a woman's legacy forward. So in that spirit, Inc. spoke with two entrepreneurial sons -- one on the East Coast, the other on the West -- about how their hard-working mothers influenced their careers. Ben Chestnut, co-founder of MailChimp in Atlanta, and Tony Xu, co-founder of DoorDash in San Francisco, both credit their moms with exposing them to business acumen early on.
Ben Chestnut, MailChimp
Chestnut, whose email marketing platform earns hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, says his mother, Noi, was an inveterate entrepreneur. She owned a salon back in Bangkok, Thailand, but had to give it up when she moved to America with Chestnut's father.
As a child, Chestnut recalls his mom having a variety of side hustles, working on "whatever she could do to make a little bit more money." Her efforts included running a salon in the kitchen for friends and neighbors, but that wasn't all. "She would make dishes in the morning and sell them by the plate," Chestnut says. "She would sell stuff from our garden."
Now, he views his mother's efforts in the framework of a tech company. "She was adding products; she was merchandising," he explains. "But she never glamorized it or made it a big deal. It was just what you do to survive." That was the mentality Chestnut used when he launched Mailchimp in 2001, after getting laid off from a dot-com. He remembers saying to himself: "Okay, no big deal. I've always wanted to start a business, let me just do that."
Chestnut adds that the amount of hype around modern startups has obscured the basics. "The reality of it is that you're trying to come up with a product to sell, to make some money and serve a customer," he says. "There's really nothing more to it than that."
It's a lesson that Chestnut learned in his own kitchen while growing up.
Tony Xu, DoorDash
Xu, whose food-delivery startup DoorDash has been valued at $700 million, says his entrepreneurial mom, Julie Cao, emigrated from China to the United States, getting her first job as an entry-level waitress. Then she worked her way up to managing the whole restaurant. She saved her paychecks until she had enough capital to start an acupuncture and medical clinic, first in Champagne, Illinois, and later in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Xu's mother started out working a restaurant, because her Chinese medical degree wasn't recognized in America. That didn't stop her. "It's one of the reasons why she's an inspiration to me," Xu explains. "She's not just a fighter and entrepreneur, but whenever there's been a roadblock in her life, she's always found a way around it. She's always been able to push through regardless of the odds or the obstacles stacked against her."
As a young child, Xu says he didn't fully grok the significance of what his mother was doing. But then later, "in my teenage years, when I was building websites for her medical clinic, I started realizing what it meant to be your own boss and an entrepreneur," he says.
Xu's mother also let him see the books when he was a child. "As a kid, I wasn't good at many things, but I was pretty good with numbers," he says. "I always knew how the accounting worked for a restaurant. That taught me very early on that a restaurant's to-go business is more profitable than their in-store business." Since DoorDash primarily works with restaurants, his mother's background has come in handy. "That's a fact that I still carry with me today, twenty years later," he says.
Mothers work hard, whether they own businesses or not. The ones who do head up their own companies sometimes inspire their children to pursue entrepreneurship, as Chestnut and Xu's stories indicate. Getting your product into the market might be a little easier when you've seen your mom do it before.