Please tell us a bit about yourself, and describe your company.
I am a solo-founder-female-entrepreneur redefining the pregnancy and early parenthood experience through game-changing, inclusive, and affordable education and support with my company Birthsmarter.
As a teacher-turned-doula-turned-birth-educator, when I got pregnant in 2014, I knew as much as anyone could about childbirth. Despite my knowledge and preparation, I developed severe internal bleeding, was separated from my daughter and husband and rushed into emergency surgery. I questioned everything I had been taught; everything I was teaching. In the months and years to come, many students communicated similar sentiments: “Ashley, my birth didn’t go as planned!” The teacher in me realized: when too many students fail a test, you have to reassess your teaching.
Disappointed by how I was expected to teach birth education at a large hospital system and small boutique agency in NYC, I quit working for others, and launched Birthsmarter in May of 2019. Pivoting to virtual classes in 2020 catapulted our reach, which led me to hire four new employees and diversify the classes we offer and communities we are able to serve.
Our growth created an opportunity to partner with my brother, Loren Brichter (a software engineer who created Tweetie and Pull-to-Refresh). Loren stepped in as CTO and we’re days away from releasing our first piece of software.
I also sit on the board of CEA/MNY and ProNatal Fitness. And, have two kids at home in month 12 of a pandemic.
Birthsmarter, today, provides practical wisdom and guidance to the next generation of families through pregnancy and parenting classes, support groups, and curated resources. Built on the idea that when we know better, we do better – we believe childbirth and parenting can be catalysts for individual and systemic change.
Birthsmarter won Healthline’s Best of 2021: Pregnancy Award this January.
What has been the most challenging thing you have faced in the first two years of operating your business? How did you overcome it?
It’s hard to separate my “last two years in business” and “running a business in a global pandemic with two small kids at home.” COVID was a challenge to so many working mothers – but the larger theme there is probably being able to go with the flow. There’s so much uncertainty when it comes to #startuplife and the last two years have been filled with fluctuating teams and ending relationships, stressing over revenue and being responsible for someone else’s livelihood, and managing boundaries and literally having endless work that could get done. I’m constantly preparing for the next phase of growth, but I know, now more than ever, that I have to be prepared to ebb and flow and pivot quickly depending on the demands of my personal life, global politics, and industry trends.
One of the things I talk to new parents about all the time is the difference between failing and experimenting. I’ve adopted this mindset to running Birthsmarter and it’s been tremendously helpful. At moments I feel like I’ve really messed up, I try to focus on what I learned from the experience and use that data to head into the next experiment.
I also listen to a lot of podcasts with the founder’s success stories and have started feeling very excited about my “failures” because I assume it means I’m on the right path! You have to lose some to win some!
What are some of the biggest digital marketing challenges you have faced to date? How have you overcome them?
As a solo-prenuer with no background in marketing my biggest challenge has been the technical execution of digital marketing strategies. Birthsmarter is lucky to have a plethora of content however the actual logistics and backend of setting up sales funnels, analyzing our efficacy, and iterating strategy has been more time consuming and complicated than I expected. I’ve recently begun working with a coaching program for Female Entrepreneurs that’s offering guidance and support and am in conversations with marketing consultants to help us get to the next level. Basically, I’m hiring a tutor!
Please tell us what led you to the path of entrepreneurship.
I was raised in an immigrant-entrepreneurial matriarchal family. Between my Italian great grandparents who owned a Candy Shop in Sunnyside, Queens, my father who started a construction business after escaping the Hungarian Revolution, and my mother and aunt who’ve started multiple restaurants and event production companies, I grew up around people – primarily women living “The Dream”.
Despite being surrounded by entrepreneurship, I was born with a passion for babies + kids and assumed to help improve the lives of children, I had to be a classroom teacher. In college, I pursued my passion for education and social justice. When I graduated, I was met with hiring freezes on the heels of the Great Recession and instead turned to postpartum doula work. This was a natural extension of my interests and abilities since I grew up supporting my own single-mother!
Once I got the taste of being able to actualize my own vision and setting my own hours, I knew entrepreneurship was in my future!
What are the three most important things every woman entrepreneur should do, when first thinking about starting a business?
- Find a mentor
- Connect with other entrepreneurs
- Develop boundaries around self-care
I work in the early parenthood space and am accustomed to the idea of a brand new being totally engulfing your life as you know it. Starting a business, like welcoming a baby into your family, comes with distinct challenges. Finding someone who’s been through it, who understands the ups and downs, and can offer you reassurance and direct you to resources you might not otherwise know about, is critical. Even with a mentor, I’ve relied on the camaraderie that comes from connecting with other female-founders. Sometimes you don’t need advice, you just need to complain and commiserate and know that you’re not alone. And, before anyone really gets started – I would encourage you to have healthy routines in place to care for your physical body or mental health. When you start your own business it can feel like you need to work all the time but ensuring that you’re taking walks, doing yoga, meditating, eating well or whatever other flavor of taking care of yourself exists is essential to staying productive and avoiding burnout.
Are there actionable steps a woman in business should take to ensure that her company is successful in two years?
For me, success was dependent on building a team that complimented my weaknesses. It took time and, fortunately or unfortunately, making mistakes but I quickly realized I needed to hire an accountant, a lawyer, and an assistant to help me stay compliant and afloat. I’m working on hiring someone to take over social media now. Basically, what I’ve learned is that as the founder you should be doing what you are uniquely good at – and your time is incredibly valuable. Hire people to do everything else.