In the winter of 2010, Jill Salzman was pregnant with her second child and running two businesses. One was a music management company, and the other an online jewelry business. She knew life was only about to get more stressful, and she wanted advice. The problem was, she didn’t know anybody going through the same thing.
So she decided to host a meetup in Oak Park, Illinois. Twenty women showed up that night, and they shared experiences about being entrepreneurs and mothers.
It was supposed to be a hobby. But not long after that first meetup, someone asked her to open up a chapter in Chicago, and Salzman realized she could expand the organization and open up more chapters around the country.
It was a lightbulb moment — and also the moment The Founding Moms was born.
“To this day I get chills talking about it,” she said. “I was in such dire need of help in growing my business.”
She knew men who started businesses, and she knew women who were partners, but she knew no one who was a solo founder and mother. Now, that blows her mind, she said, because they are thousands of members strong. She had 200 members in the first six months. When Salzman opened up a chapter in New York City that spring, she dedicated her time to figuring out how to scale The Founding Moms and monetize the business.
Five years in, The Founding Moms is now in 46 cities with more than 8,000 members. All the meetups between entrepreneurs are kid-friendly. Many of the women aren’t looking for big investments or how to obtain venture capital funding, they just want to scale their businesses and make it so they can provide an income for their families, and have support along the way.
“It’s an offline [network] for mom entrepreneurs to come together,” Salzman said .
But she’s about to launch a paid online platform as well, to reach the women she hasn’t been able to yet geographically. It will offer video courses, directories, and more.
Salzman grew up in New Jersey, and attended Brown University for undergrad. Her freshman year of college, she worked in the computer lab, helping people learn how to use computers — which meant, Salzman said, basically teaching them where the power button was. She had the first Apple PC in her kitchen the moment it came out, and has always been interested in technology and computers. She remembered even being the one who introduced a lot of her friends to email.
“I think from birth I’ve been an early adopter,” she said. “Anytime anything new came out, and when ‘new’ became technology, I was on it.”
For a long time, though, Salzman never affiliated herself with technology professionally. She started a music management company in 2005, where she managed several bands. A lot of what she was doing for them was online, like making logos and helping fans reach them through the web. Then, she started her next company, a web-based baby jewelry business, which she sold in 2011 when Founding Moms took off.
When the organization started, Salzman wanted to provide tools for women to use for their businesses. She asked for feedback for months, and continues to do so, and it grows as she finds out what members want.
“[I] just make it known that mom entrepreneurs are badass, and not just sitting at a kitchen table, barefoot and naked like a lot of people think,” she said.
But she also tries to make sure women know The Founding Moms isn’t too serious — the work being done doesn’t have to be 24/7. They don’t have to get burnt out by it, and she wants the network of women to make sure of that. The brand is humorous, colorful, and friendly. Above all, Salzman wants it to be accessible.
In the process, she has “wildly improved” as a business person, she said. She’s taken on the role as leader of the brand, and now does public speaking events often. She is the manager of the chapter hosts around the world, making sure they have all their needs met so they can host successful monthly meetups.
“I’ve learned not to shy away from that,” she said.
In her own words…
What do you do to unplug?
“I am a singer. Finally come out of the closet and starting admitting that. I am a wedding singer. So every Saturday for the rest of the summer, I have wedding gigs. It’s a ton of fun. I have a band too but I am one of those wedding singers. Professionally, I started singing and getting paid in college. Long long time, many, many bands. I’ve been a music biz chick for a long time…I have a band that does mostly R&B and Soul music. Think Motown.”
Looking back, what advice would you give yourself?
“Number one is raise your prices. I learned really hardcore from my podcast buddy. [The podcast] is called ‘Breaking Down Your Business, and it is so much fun — we call it car talk for small business. His whole thing… driving home to me and a lot of women that every time he does it it works. I would go back and tell myself raise your prices from the get go. It’s so important.”