So women who want to have kids leave, worsening an already embarrassing gender gap in technology but this isn’t the case for Nathalie Co-Founder and Managing Director of CookiesHQ. Nathalie and Nic, can I just say, bravo to you for so many things first, for being really cool people and creating a brilliant business for Bristol. But also for coming together to help others be just a little more successful in work and life. Nathalie is a woman who is juggling business and being a mum, like a boss!
Have a read of Nathalie’s story, take some notes and go smash it!
There are some brilliant groups set up in Bristol to help founders and entrepreneurs. Check out WTFounders and the meet-up set up by CookiesHQ which is happening this Thursday 19th DMB #6 Successes and Failures – see you there.
Who are CookiesHQ?
CookiesHQ is a digital agency based in south Bristol. We create bespoke web and mobile apps for businesses and build lasting partnerships with them. Our clients are mostly startups and SMEs, but we work with international organisations like ARTICLE 19 and Médecins Sans Frontières as well.
My husband Nic and I started CookiesHQ in 2011. Since then, we’ve grown organically into a team of nine. We mainly build applications in Ruby on Rails but we’re branching into WordPress and voice apps, and can offer design, consultancy and copywriting services too.
Why did you start your own business?
It came almost by chance. Nic was a freelance web developer, and I was looking for a new job. Nic’s client base was growing and he was struggling to manage the sales and paperwork on top of coding and client management.
So he suggested that we work together. I thought about it long and hard, and still went to a few interviews – working with your partner is not a decision you take lightly. But with my background in management and marketing, I realised our skills complemented each other. So we gave it a go.
What have been the main benefits?
Flexibility and understanding. We have the same life objectives, and even though we don’t always agree on how to achieve them, we know that we’re working towards the same goal.
We also don’t have to justify our working hours. Undeniably, I work fewer hours than Nic – even though we are equal partners in the business – simply because we decided that I would work part-time while the children are little. We always put our family first, and then we make it work with the business – that, for me, is the main benefit of working with my husband.
Our main goal is to build the kind of agency that we would have liked to work for – a place where team members are happy to come to every morning, where we can provide them with interesting and challenging work, and where we are all valued as individuals and can fulfill our full potential. It sounds a bit cheesy, but we believe that profit should help us grow rather than be an end goal in itself.
I’m guessing it hasn’t been plain sailing, with 2 children and another on the way (congratulations) what have been the biggest challenges?
We started the business, got married and had our first child within a year – it was a challenge! It took a while to find our feet, and understand what we could each bring to the business.
Early on, we laid down a simple rule: no talking business after 8pm and on Sundays. At home, when one of us doesn’t feel like talking clients or projects, we just say so and save it for later. Now the children do that too – they get bored very quickly when the conversation turns to business stuff!
Having these rules allows us to separate work and home life, and have quality time as a couple and a family. Work is important – especially when it’s your own business – but I don’t think it should be everything. It would be too easy to let it take over our whole lives.
The first couple of years were a steep learning curve. Then came the time to hire our first employees, which is a big step for a new business. As a husband and wife team, we had to make sure that the employees would never got caught between us. This issue was partly solved by the decision to have two offices – one at home and another for the team – so we don’t always have to work from the same place. We’ve kept this principle for all our team – they can choose to work remotely whenever they want.
Overall, I would say that the benefits have outweighed the challenges. We’re still married and had more children, so I guess that’s a good sign!
You are passionate about women in business. Do you think women in business need more support/more positive role models, particularly mothers in business?
These last couple of years have seen a rise in positive role models for women in business, and, even though there is still a long way to go, I think we’re going in the right direction.
I do think that mothers (and fathers!) in business need more support and would benefit from a change of mentality. You can run a successful company without working all hours of the day and night, or sacrificing your family life. It might take longer, but slow and steady is not a bad way to build up a business. We aren’t less committed or less capable – we’ve just realised that we don’t have to choose between fulfilling our career ambitions and raising a family.
Has running your own business allowed you to spend more time with your children?
Yes and no. It’s all about how you manage the time you have. Nic and I do have to attend meetings and events, sometimes in the evening, which means that our children tend to go to sports clubs and after-school clubs quite a lot, compared to other kids.
But I also have the freedom and flexibility to take a couple of hours off to attend the school’s Christmas performance or sports day – that’s what makes it worth it.
Flexible working is so important to many mums and dads, how can companies support flexible working?
Most workplaces can adapt to accommodate flexible working.
The problem is that many mothers who return to work struggle to find interesting, challenging part-time roles. Going part-time shouldn’t mean you have to do a boring job, or a job for which you’re overqualified.
I think that’s what missing – appropriate part-time jobs. Women don’t lose skills just because they’ve had children. If anything, they have to become more productive and organised, because they know how to make the most of the limited time they have, no matter what task they’re tackling.
Besides, traditional working hours (9am to 6pm) are incredibly difficult for parents to fit around. Children need dropping off and picking up from nursery or school at specific times. Employers can help by adapting their ways of working, which doesn’t require much effort.
We recently hired a software tester, Sarah, who is mum of two and works for us part-time. She works 4 days a week, during school hours, so she can be there to pick up her kids at the end of the day. We’ve had to adapt our meeting times so she can take part but, apart from that, it has worked seamlessly for us and for her.
Employers need to understand that mothers returning to work are often after more than just a paycheck. Yes, they want and deserve to earn money like any other employee, but the quality of the work and the prospect of a good work/life balance is more important.
What’s your favourite quote?
A poster on our office wall reads ‘No one said it would be easy.’ I’m not sure where it’s from, but it couldn’t be more true. Not every day is going to be easy, not every day will be fun, but it’ll all be worth it in the end. Sometimes you just need to remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you’re trying to achieve. I believe that the ability to remain positive and look at the bigger picture when things get tough is an invaluable quality for an entrepreneur.
Are you recruiting at the moment?
We are recruiting for maternity cover for our project manager, Gemma, who is going on maternity leave quite soon. We’re looking for someone who has at least a couple of years’ experience, good knowledge and understanding of the web and tech industry and great communication and multitasking skills.
We are also looking for an experienced UX/ UI designer to work on a variety of visual and interaction design projects, both for internal and client products.
If either of these sounds like you, please see our website for more information and how to apply.
We are always on the lookout for talented developers, so feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me why you’d be a good fit for CookiesHQ.