“From Avocation To Vocation: How I Turned My Hobby Into A Career” With Rebecca Egbert

You’re going to die one day, so do the thing anyway — I have a healthy relationship with mortality experiencing a lot of premature death starting in my early on in my own personal development. Whether a parent, a lover, a best friend, or a clinical experience, I have had to face moments of death I never […]

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You’re going to die one day, so do the thing anyway — I have a healthy relationship with mortality experiencing a lot of premature death starting in my early on in my own personal development. Whether a parent, a lover, a best friend, or a clinical experience, I have had to face moments of death I never expected. The morning after each of these experiences has burned into me the reality that life is short and you never know when your card is up, so if you love something passionately and you think you can build a business (which is mother-effing hard work) then DO THE THING, surround yourself with good people, and build your business.

As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Egbert .Becca has spent the past 18 years focusing on women’s and maternal health, and building small businesses. As a midwife, educator, and entrepreneur, she views social and business challenges in a fresh way while developing creative solutions. She brings an intuitive and human-centered approach to her work. What keeps her going every single day is the focused vision and drive to leave maternal and postpartum care better than she found it.

Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I was raised in Southern Minnesota by a Cajun mom and dad from Iowa. How they found each other is a great story, but too long for this interview. My parents both started their own businesses, my dad when I was in middle school and my mom when I was in high school. Their independence and hard work enabled both of them to build incredible legacies and businesses while inspiring two entrepreneurial and independent daughters. I knew I wanted a job in healthcare since 8th grade — I was inspired by my grandfather who was a family practice doc in rural Iowa who did a bunch of cool women’s healthcare services under the radar. I left my small town for high school and discovered my love for long distance running during the summer of my junior year. I set some lofty goals to reach before I turned 40. I accomplished half, and I’m still working on the other half.

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

The past 10 years of work in the maternal care field has been a series of ah ha moments that sparked me going from running small clinical practices to starting a business in the Femtech/Women’s health startup ecosystem.

In 2013, I was burned out from midwifery practice. I had gone through a series of crazy life events and I needed to sleep. I took a day job at a Medical School, in curriculum. After being in clinic for a bunch of years, this job was a cake walk and I found myself incredibly bored after about an hour in the office. My sister and I were talking one day, she struggled with postpartum depression after the birth of her child, and she said, “Talk to moms. Ask them what’s missing in their experience of receiving care in this country. Then make it a business.”

So I did.

In 2016, The Mother Love really took form as a business. Until 2016, I was building the foundational community in real life and online, traveling meeting women where they were at to hear their stories and experiences postpartum, and following the research on postpartum care practices in the US. I lived on rice and beans to pay the bills, and I recovered from burnout with a lot of self-love and self-care.

There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

Overcoming challenges is something I do. It’s in my DNA.

It’s some combination of having a spirit filled with grit and perseverance, watching my parents do the same thing when I was a kid, and using the tools I had at my fingertips to connect with strangers around the world who ultimately became our early adopters and evangelists that inspired me to keep going everyday. Plus, I had traction from the minute I started the business.

In the beginning of this leg of my career, admittedly I put myself down a bunch. Imposter syndrome? Isn’t that what they call it. I would think, “Who am I to sell to hospitals and health systems? Who am I to think I can be an authority in reforming postpartum care? Who am I to write a business plan — I don’t have an MBA.” Then my mom would say, “You started a clinic straight out of school, you are one of those people who figures things out and gets things done.”

Getting your good idea to translate into a scalable business takes so much more time and energy aligned with a positive, growth mindset than you will ever imagine. I wish every person wanting to be an “entrepreneur” (like it’s the new rock star status) would understand the path is hard. It is not big valuations and big dollars for everyone. That field is small! You can get there with a TON of energy and focus. If you have an idea and something you love — understand that a successful business is about generating positive returns for your stakeholders. By stakeholders, I mean the community and humans you serve. The people you will positively impact by creating incredible solutions that makes their lives easier and more whole.

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

Ask yourself: will this make one person’s life better?

Can that one person share it with three other people to help improve their lives?

Will I regularly surprise and delight them?

If your answer is yes to these questions and you have validation from people already consuming products or services from your hobby/pastime, then do the thing. Full time.

Be wise. Plan ahead before you do the thing and leave your job. Save at least 3–6 months of your dollars to cover your living expenses. Have the financial buffer, it’ll help you do your best work.

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

That’s a great question.

I keep it fresh and fun and enjoyable by living my life and having specific boundaries about when to shut down and “leave” work for the day. I mean don’t get me wrong, putting in 12–18 hr days happens. And yet, the business-people who inspire me the most seek to find balance in their lives. They play. They love. They challenge themselves physically. They move and shake. So for me, I keep things fresh by mixing boundaries with incredible health and well-being practices that might lean towards a little woo and a splash of my insanity being an endurance athlete for nearly 20 years.

This is the career I want to retire into. In order to do that, I have to strive towards equilibrium and joy.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

Enjoy most — fixing something that is systemically broken, working with moms all over the globe, having a great cast of characters to call a “team” that make magic happen, and having the opportunity to elevate the health of women postpartum through unique tools and experiences.

Downsides — The shit nobody talks about when it comes to the downsides of running your own business. It’s like a secret society..but I’m a nut and like a good challenge.

Overcoming the drawbacks — ask for help. Find your mentors and make them be people who have done things you’re not sure you can achieve but you know you’ll work your heart at to get there at SOME point in your life. Hugs — have people to hug you at the end of the day. There will be days when you just need a big fat hug from someone who loves all the parts of who you are and what you’re trying to achieve. Oh, and lots of water — drink lots of water.

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

That would take 10 years.

The most striking difference is just that — I thought I was going to do one thing when I started and five years later I am doing something I never ever, ever imagined doing in women’s and maternal care. It’s wild and inspiring.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?

I am weird.

I started running ultra-marathons in the mountains in my early 20’s. These experiences taught me grit. I would say almost daily over the past four years, I’ve tapped into the reserves inside of me I built from the races and training that help me overcome the moments of fear in business that force my brains (and likely low-self esteem that day) to say, “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job,” whatever “real” means individually.

Yes, I have definitely said, “Shit, can I make payments tomorrow? Do I go get extra work or a salaried job instead of running this business?” It isn’t always easy to overcome the negative Nellies running in our brains, but having a growth mindset has helped me learn to develop a basic sense of trust that things will work out, even when they get painful. I have a basic sense of autonomy that standing alone is OK when and if I must do it to keep growing. It is in my blood to have a basic sense of initiative to solve problems and make decisions, including tough decisions. This self-direction comes from an adult career scope spanning from leading back-country wilderness trips in remote parts of the world, to working as a midwife, to teaching kindergarten kids. Living with a growth mindset has helped me get clear on understanding my identity, and gives me a generous sense of worth to keep moving forward. One step at a time.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The most unexpected experience was the creepy level of harassment from a VC when we first launched Little Mother’s Helper. It was wrong on so many levels.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Does wearing two of the same shoes but different colors to my first day of clinical rotations with the hospital where my clinic had reciprocity count? If so, I learned to let go of what I thought I should dress like to be “professional” and learned to dress how I want as it makes me feel rock solid and empowered and confident. I have to feel confident in what I’m wearing to work, a pitch, a training, a talk..or I fiddle and be nervous.

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

Here’s my list of people who inspire me to be a great leader:

Seth Godin — I level up every day because of Seth.

Scharlemann Klapste & Tamara Newmoon — therapist and spiritual teacher — without them my world wouldn’t be half so beautiful, or half so meaningful, or half so large.

Jen Mayer & Courtney Kates — two of my closest entrepreneurial friends and loves. Both moms, and have had access to me postpartum. They believe in me when I question myself, and I know without a doubt we are there for each other at 3 in the morning.

My family — for all the reasons they are my stronghold.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Depends on how you’re defining success. Success to make the world a better place, to me, means ensuring that women come into motherhood with a safe, generous experience and they are enabled to have agency in their healthcare. If that’s the case, then I exercise my success daily to make the world a better place.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Save 3–6 months of money to cover your personal finances — because there have been really hard financial months when runway is thin and it’s hard to rebound if you don’t start with a stable piggy bank.
  2. Be extremely patient with your process and plan — because all the things you’re reading online will likely not align with your reality and it is extremely self-destructive to compare your journey with anybody else.
  3. Strive everyday towards practices of self-improvement, learning, and self-love — because if you learn to do these things while starting a business your Jedi-mindset and big bright heart will take you so much further than you ever dreamed.
  4. You’re going to die one day, so do the thing anyway — I have a healthy relationship with mortality experiencing a lot of premature death starting in my early on in my own personal development. Whether a parent, a lover, a best friend, or a clinical experience, I have had to face moments of death I never expected. The morning after each of these experiences has burned into me the reality that life is short and you never know when your card is up, so if you love something passionately and you think you can build a business (which is mother-effing hard work) then DO THE THING, surround yourself with good people, and build your business.
  5. Run regular well-being checks on yourself and the business. Begin by asking yourself on the regular:
  • How is your heart?
  • Is your breath happy, here?
  • Do you feel free?

Do a check-in with yourself as the founder of the business. Then run a check on the actual business. I know it’s hard to imagine how to say, “how’s your heart, business,” but if you have a team, advisors, mentors, family members, anyone who is around to see your progress, bring them in and run the vitals of the business.

Just like a clinician, run a SOAP note. Look at the Subjective (the experiential story or history), Objective (the “physical exam” or values), Assessment (exactly that — what is your assessment of the business right now), and Plan (what actions do you need to take to thrive?). I believe the health of a business needs regular self-care and maintenance as much as the humans running it.

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

The movement I would inspire is to continue on the path I am on today to reform postpartum practices and procedures, education, and policies so that the US moves into the #1 position for Maternal Survival Rates around the globe.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods. And the nights will flame with fire.” — Bukowski

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Cindy Gallop — she is my dream mentor. Her fierceness and experience in the world is what I need around me to take the US to that #1 position for maternal survival rates. She is a trailblazer, and even as a “virtual mentor” she has helped me run through fire on my hardest days.

Kara Swisher — I learn more from Kara then I’ve learned from any other woman in tech in a single podcast. There is something powerful, as a woman, listening to her weave her experience as a journalist with modern mediums online and in tech. She is not drinking the Kool-Aid and I am down for that.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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