Pando

Whack-a-threat and the power of the Evie recharge

By Sarah Lacy , written on November 27, 2015

From The Lessons from the Trenches Desk

Pando is fighting for its life.

I don’t say that to alarm you -- or even to ask for something. Nothing new has happened. Not even a new legal threat (knock wood.)

The past two weeks have been amongst our best ever in terms of new member sign ups and our Pando Patron page is close to sold out. In fact, new member signs up have grown steadily week on week since our relaunch in June. Back then we said we were aiming for memberships to pay for the cost of our entire newsroom. Remarkably, new and recurring membership revenue currently pays for half of our total monthly expenses-- not just the newsroom. And that’s all happened in less than six months.

But like all journalism (or -- ugh -- “content”) companies, or companies that haven’t raised an equity round in two years, or companies whose mission requires they continually piss off the community they “serve”-- we are constantly fighting for our life. We have been fighting for four years-- in a sense-- but really for two years since we decided we were going to get profitable or die trying.

And the stakes are only getting higher, as the "techpocalypse" becomes more pronounced and we continue our mission to speak truth to bad actors in the tech industry. I’d guess about half our investors are cheering for us… and half wish they’d never written us a check in the first place.

Every time we solve one seemingly existential threat, another pops up. Whack-a-threat. It’s exhausting. So exhausting, I wound up in the hospital with pneumonia earlier this year.

And yet, it was while in the hospital that I made myself a promise: Between Thanksgiving and the end of the year, I was only going to work four days a week.

Yep. You read that right.

For the rest of the year-- including today-- I am taking Fridays off to take care of my daughter, Evie.

This is the same Evie who I was pregnant with in nearly every PandoMonthly you may have seen the first year the company existed. This is the same Evie who wailed from the green room during Brian Lee’s PandoMonthly in LA and Fred Wilson’s PandoMonthly in New York. The same Evie who I wasn’t able to take maternity leave with. Evie has never known me-- in the womb or out-- not being CEO of this company.

This is also the same Evie who-- you might remember from this piece-- is a total badass. As is her current alter ego “Evie Kitty” who wants you to feed her “meow bacon,” which is bacon from her breakfast torn into the shape of a cat treat, fed to her from the palm of your hand.

Evie will ask for what she needs. And she’s never asked for more mom. She does what I call “mommy recharges.” Like everything Evie does, they are incredibly efficient. When she needs me, she’ll climb into my lap or come just slump on me in an almost depleted, sloth-like hug. Then, she’ll just lie there soaking me up. After a few minutes she’ll run off satisfied.

She won’t sit in my lap for long thirty minute stretches at night, like Eli does. She’s never asked me to skip work, like Eli has. But sometimes parenting is about giving your kids what they aren’t asking for. What they don’t know they might need.

Evie is going to school four days a week now, and going up to five in January. Fridays for the next few weeks are our last delicious window for pure 1:1 time on a regular basis during the day.

And Pando fighting for its life or no, I’m grabbing it. I actually started last week. When I saw Paul at the end of the day, he noted that Evie was deliriously exhausted, but I looked ecstatic. “Maybe you are the one who needed the Evie recharge,” he said.

The battle between work and family-- and thanks to pneumonia, my own health too-- is about almost never doing what seems conventionally wise from the outside.

It didn’t seem to make sense for me to quit TechCrunch on maternity leave, turning down pretty much whatever salary I would have demanded given the free-fall the brand was in back then, to take on the biggest risk of my career and start Pando. But my kids sharpened the focus on the lens of my life, and I only wanted to do things with the most meaning.

It didn’t seem to make sense for me to have gotten pregnant again, six months into Pando’s life with a nine month old already at home, and a (then) husband working out of town. But I didn’t go by logic, I went by gut. Fast-forward to the tumultuous fall we’ve had, and tiny two-year-old Evie has been our family’s rock. She’s the toddler I can count on being at least predictable, and she’s more important to Eli’s sense of security than his beloved blanky.

Likewise, it doesn’t seem to make sense to work fewer hours as the startup you were put on earth to build may get profitable or still go out of business in the next year.

But, then again, from the outside, Pando doesn’t make a lot of sense as a company either. We publish three to five stories a day, mostly long investigative pieces, at a time food videos are ruling social media. Just look at the stuff we write about our investors for Christ’s sake. We’re constantly daring the world to put us out of business. But we don’t know any other way to be, and fortunately thousands of you like it enough to pay us money to do it. Fortunately, our advertisers and event sponsors, also in the tech world, value it enough to write even larger checks.

Manish Chandra of Poshmark did an interview with us a few months ago where he talked about steering his company by always “embracing its weirdness.” This is Pando’s weirdness. And my own personal weirdness as a mother and a CEO is to follow my gut when it comes to finding “balance”-- even if it doesn’t seem to make sense at first. I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow my weekly “Evie recharges” make me even better at my job.

Too often in the “mommy war” nation we live in, you are put in a bucket of “working mom” or “stay-at-home mom.” Why can’t we have a little of each? Why can’t that balance constantly be in flux? I love my career and company way too much to be a full-time stay at home mom. It’s just not me. Besides which, most of us have to work, whether we chose it or not. I certainly do. But I certainly don’t judge women who are. It must be amazing to spend so much time with your kids.

By the same token, work is a lot to me, but it isn’t everything. I don’t want to work so hard, I miss my kids grow up. This isn’t guilt or obligation.  I need the recharge. I need the recharge to be a better person and a better CEO.

I know the answer to my own question actually. A tiny, tiny, tiny amount of women have this luxury to continually tweak the mix of work and kids. If I didn’t run my own company-- or ran one that had raised more capital and had investors on the board-- I’d be laughed at or even fired for this plan. Straight up. I’m insanely lucky.

That’s why we need more prominent men and women in the business world who are making “unconventional” choices when it comes to their own childcare, and discussing them openly. Two recent examples are Marissa Mayer, who once again doesn’t plan taking much maternity leave at all with her twins, and Mark Zuckerberg, who is taking two months off when his daughter is born.

Because it drives clicks and views, both decisions have been dissected at length. Both criticized, both applauded. Motives of both questioned.

As I said, I refuse to judge anyone’s decisions related to parenting. I’ll leave that to others. Although on a practical level those who decry Zuckerberg’s decision by saying a CEO of one of the most valuable companies in the world must have “better” things to do are missing a huge point. It was a recruiting and retention masterstroke for anyone starting a family who may work for him or be deciding whether to work for him. When Google increased maternity leave to 18 weeks, the rate at which new mothers left the company fell by 50%. Zuckerberg’s decision will have even more cultural impact-- on parents within the company of both genders-- because it not only sets down a policy of parental leave, it sets a tone from the top that no one is too busy to actually use it. If a CEO can take invest two months in something that meaningful to a company’s culture, I’d argue that’s an incredibly important priority.

What I find intriguing about the two stories taken together is what it says about the “roles” of men and women in society blurring… whether so many forces want them to or not. There was an amazing piece in the New York Times on this this past Sunday called “Men’s Lib.”

It talked about the need for men to embrace traditional female jobs and roles in the home, as women continually make strides into “a man’s world” breaking through glass ceilings in historically male dominated fields and increasingly becoming primary breadwinners.  

From the piece:

As painful as it may be, men need to adapt to what a modern economy and family life demand. There has been progress in recent years, but it hasn’t been equal to the depth and urgency of the transformation we’re undergoing. The old economy and the old model of masculinity are obsolete. Women have learned to become more like men. Now men need to learn to become more like women.

Will this transformation be good for men? In the long run, we think so. But in any case they don’t really have a choice. Recent changes in women’s status and in the economy aren’t going to be reversed. Men must either adapt or be left behind.

Many men have felt a double whammy: a loss of economic status as jobs in traditionally masculine sectors have disappeared and a loss of social status as women have advanced. Male wages are stagnant and among the less educated, they have fallen: Median earnings for men with only a high school diploma have dropped in real terms by 28 percent since 1980.

These disturbing trends have led many observers to call on boys and men to regain their competitive edge over women, so they can once again be successful breadwinners and leaders. But that’s the wrong message. Rather than trying to recreate a patriarchal past, men have to embrace a more feminine future.

And this:

Men need to adapt on the home front, too. Women are now the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of all households with children under 18, according to the Pew Research Center. Most of these women are single parents. 

Gender roles are a frustratingly difficult thing to navigate, as is parenthood, work-life balance... all of it. Half of us worry we’re getting parenting wrong at some point, the other half are lying if they say they never have. When you worry about something so important, it’s easy to lash out at someone else to feel better about your decision. It’s easier still to accept a “role” society has constructed for how you are supposed to behave as a parent.

The older I get and the older our company gets and the older my kids get, I learn the key for me is refusing to put myself into any of the buckets that the world has constructed for me and just follow my gut. As long as it makes sense to me, it doesn’t have to make sense to the world.

And now I’m off for my Evie recharge.