Courtney Jones was a top corporate exec when she and her husband decided to start a family. Thanks to a flexible company culture, she was able to continue on a part-time basis and rearrange her schedule. Despite having support from family and a nanny, Jones saw that there was a gap in how women take work breaks — you either work, or you don’t. There was no middle ground.
“What happened was that I started experiencing the absence of fulfillment; it’s the best way to describe it,” says Jones. “I very much wanted to continue working and growing professionally but I didn’t want to do it the same way that I always had before — with long days and arduous travel schedules.”
As shown in recent research, the most significant pay gap among women occurs during the 10-year “baby window” of age 25-35. The study found that women earn $12,600 less than men before children are born and $25,100 less afterward.
Jones decided to buck the trend and take the entrepreneurship route by creating the MomSource Network for individuals like her to connect with employers with flexible arrangements and provide support to those returning to the workforce after a long period. It helps those mid-career moms (and dads) keep a foot in the door until they feel ready to come back full-time.
From veterans and retirees to moms and trailing spouses, this Knoxville-based startup has a reach across 48 states with its partner companies and has attracted funding from female-led venture fund Jump Fund.
Here, Jones shares more about how her corporate experience helped her build the MomSource platform, the question she asks companies when pitching a partnership, and the one thing she wishes she would’ve done before jumping into entrepreneurship.
What prompted you to launch MomSource?
As I started opening up with others about those struggles with new moms, I started to realize that I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was. There are a lot of women that are looking for more flexible, binary options as it relates to career. Most of us think our options are either to continue working full-time in the same capacity or not work because you’re a stay-at-home mom.
We started MomSource because we recognized that the workforce has evolved, whether it is direct hire or moms returning after a break or trailing spouses — we work with organizations to empower the workforce of the future by being the gateway between those progressive companies and college-educated mid-career women who want an opportunity to continue but are just looking for some flexibility.
How did you go from idea to launching your startup? What kind of resources did you tap into?
For me, one of the things that was a real blessing during my entrepreneurship journey is that I had some great mentors. I definitely recognize in myself now that I’ve always embodied entrepreneurial traits, asking questions about the way things are done and whether there’s a better solution. If there’s a way to start a business, something that precedes a minimum viable product, that is what I started with at MomSource.
I kept thinking of the easiest way that I could get something into the market and decide if there’s really a marketplace for women and companies that want to hire women that want to work less than full-time. Before it was a business, it was a research project.
How do you deal with the challenges that come with pre-conceived notions of moms working part-time when looking for companies to partner up with?
The organizations that we know are the best partners are those with progressive policies around women, flexible scheduling, and have robust parental leave policies. Those are the kind of companies that are looking for a vendor that can help them create even more solutions.
We absolutely still encounter obstacles from organizations that are not ready. An interesting question to ask as a leader in a not-so-progressive environment is, what part of your business are you running today that is being managed or run the same way it was 100 years ago? The 40-hour week is more than 100 years old and very few people would want to admit that they are running their business in 2018 the same way they would have 100 years ago. If everything around us is changing, we recognize that technology is available that allows us to work remotely and with more flexible schedules. The market for talent is becoming more and more competitive, and if you want to reach great A-level talent, you have to open your mind to finding more agile strategies to build a workplace that encourages employees to find that balance.
We also help companies build returner programs that are specifically for individuals that have been out of the workforce for more than a year. Those employees may need a little extra TLC and support when they’re returning, but when you nurture them through that process, they are more loyal than any potential hires you could reach.
What lessons have you learned so far as a founder that you pass along to emerging entrepreneurs?
I always get a question about what I would have done differently and the biggest takeaway for me is I waited too long. The advice I would give any entrepreneur that is sitting on the sidelines is to do whatever is in your power to do it as quickly as possible. Nobody has the answers for how you’re going to build your startup other than you, and if no one has done it yet, they will if you don’t. If you keep coming back to it, it’s worth taking some action on. There are a lot ways to start with a very minimal viable product. As a female founder, oftentimes we are not as bold and aggressive at pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities as our male peers.
Lastly, humble yourself to the advice of others. I have more questions than I do answers about what our startup is going to be as it grows up. It’s all part of the adventure.