Tami Zuckerman is founder of VarageSale, which was acquired in November, 2017.
In 2012, while on maternity leave, I created VarageSale – a safer community-based platform to buy and sell secondhand items. Co-founded by my husband and I, our startup brewed right out of our kitchen and grew to serve millions of users, buying and selling billions of items. The company was backed by U.S. and Canadian venture firms, such as Sequoia Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Version One Ventures and Real Ventures, who together injected nearly $50-million into the business. That same year, I also had a baby.
Juggling motherhood and business is no easy feat, but it’s doable. In fact, if you can raise a child, you are more than prepared to raise a company. I realized along the way that “mom guilt” is a thing and instead of trying to figure out how to do it all, I learned to forgive myself for not always balancing them perfectly. No decision was ever made lightly, including putting off having more children while I grew the two “babies” I already had.
Five years later, my company turned 6, my son turned 6, and everyone was well established. That summer, we decided to extend our family. Not only did I get pregnant in August, 2017, but we learned that we were having twins! I’d be lying if I said the thought didn’t intimidate me. More juggling was to be had, but after about five seconds after learning the news, we were elated.
I began thinking about the little things, such as what kind of car would fit three car seats? We chose two names for boys and two names for girls, and the idea of them was born. It didn’t matter that my doctor said that one seemed to be progressing better than the other, or that my HCG levels weren’t climbing as high as they should be with twins. I became attached to the idea of two babies growing inside of me, and I did everything I could to nurture them. We were in the seed stage and I was convinced growth was going to happen.
During this time, VarageSale was in the process of being acquired.
I was in one important meeting after another and in and out of doctor appointments almost daily because of some complications with the pregnancy. I was okay, I was used to such pressure. Six years of being a mother and running a fast-paced, venture-backed startup armed me with great resilience.
Two months later, an ultrasound confirmed that both babies had stopped progressing. They died. And a little piece of me died that day, too.
A 2015 PwC survey found that 58 per cent of Canadian tech startups are expected to be acquired within six years. Medical stats report that 25 per cent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. I was exiting on all fronts. At one time I was building a company and having a baby. Now I was losing two babies and selling my company.
The ultrasound that confirmed their deaths was on a Tuesday morning. Immense sadness came over me. I felt like I failed my babies.
That Friday, I needed to attend a meeting that would be instrumental to the success of the acquisition. The doctor informed me the babies could come out at any given time: Three hours, three days, three weeks, with no warning. When asked if I could sustain a meeting while miscarrying, she quietly said, “No.” Embarrassed and mom-guilt ridden, all while trying to forgive myself, I told her that I needed them out by Friday. I made a deadline to miscarry.
That same day, I was prescribed misoprostol, a drug to induce labour. After twelve hours of painful contractions, I passed the babies within an hour of each other in the privacy of my own toilet. I flushed two round ping-pong-sized balls. I tell myself everyday that I flushed my babies down the toilet. Maybe I should have buried them? Maybe I should have touched them? Why did I repeat these questions to myself so often? Within 48 hours, I was sitting in that meeting, as scheduled.
My doctor assured me there was nothing I could have done to prevent my miscarriage. Dr. Google told me I caused it by being a 35-year-old stressed woman. I know better. I know that chromosomal abnormalities are often the cause. But I still whisper to myself that it was my fault.
When a couple gets pregnant they often keep quiet about their exciting news for various reasons. For some, it’s because miscarriages occur early and if the pregnancy failed, God forbid, they’d have to tell everyone they lost their baby.
For others, like me, it’s just not something you talk about at work. Being the heart of my company, I wondered how and when I’d tell my employees and investors that I was pregnant. This shouldn’t be a question, but it’s a reality of being a female founder. I wondered how my employees would take the news. I questioned if investors would further invest. I wondered if it would hinder the acquisition process. The acquisition, by VerticalScope, was announced on November 7, 2017, just three weeks after “Baby A” and “Baby B” exited. Those babies will always remain in my heart.
As for VarageSale, it will always be in my heart, too. Though I’m no longer with the company, I still use the product daily. Today, I spend my time enjoying the company of my son, who I am so thankful for. I also share the VarageSale story with other founders, as well as students, and mentor early-stage companies.
When one miscarries, at a time when support is needed most, so many of us stay silent. Even later, so many never tell the tale of their unborn babies. We should be talking about it, not hiding it. Today, I’m telling because I know 25 per cent of us have the same story.