We’ve all heard the productivity propaganda. But what if you’re a new parent and you’re still being told that you can have it all without giving anything up? If only you had the right systems, the right attitude. Can’t keep up with the demands? Well, that’s on you!
Our guest today, Sarah K Peck, heard it all as a new mom working at a tech startup in New York City. Wanting to document her real experience and meet people going through the same thing, Sarah decided to do a series of interviews. The resulting podcast raised $30,000 from sponsors before it even launched and, by accident, a business was born.
Sarah’s Startup Parent is all about living a full life and building a business around your needs. In this episode, we tackle the future of work, rejecting hustle culture, the art of saying no, and being a woman in business. We also go deep on community. Sarah and Jillian discuss everything from onboarding and setting expectations to pricing and the three things you need to do to run fantastic online events.
Fair warning, we turn it up to 11 right from the start on this one. So, prepare yourself for a note-taking bonanza!
Sarah K Peck
Sarah K Peck is the founder and CEO of Startup Parent and the host of The Startup Parent Podcast, an award-winning podcast featuring women in entrepreneurship, business, and parenting. She runs The Wise Women’s Council, an annual leadership program for women to come together honestly while navigating the challenges of working and parenting.
Sarah’s professional career started in environmental psychology and the design of environments. She pursued a Bachelors of Arts in psychology and a Masters Degree in Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Design. She worked as an associate on international design projects of the built environment before charting out a path in media and communications to help change the way we talk about the world around us and how it influences our behavior and well-being. In 2011, Sarah began consulting with Y-Combinator backed startups, and launched her own consultancy in 2013. Today, she’s the CEO and founder of Startup Parent, a company focused on the narratives we share (and the ones we don’t share) about work, parenting, and motherhood.
Sarah is also a 20-time NCAA All-American swimmer and has successfully swum the Escape from Alcatraz nine separate times, once doing the swim totally naked as way to raise $33k for charity: water. Her writing and work has been featured on Forbes, Inc, Fast Company, The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, and more. She lives in New York City with her family.
In This Episode
- Productivity propaganda, hustle culture, and the future of work
- Setting boundaries and the art of saying no
- The bill of lies that new parents get sold on
- Sarah’s unexpected entrepreneurial journey as a new mom during the pandemic
- Onboarding your community members and setting expectations
- The three things you need to do to get your members to show up to events
- Why Sarah is a big believer in charging a lot of money
- Startup Parent, The Wise Women’s Council, and Founders With Kids
- The Business of Authority podcast episode featuring Sarah
- Startup Parent newsletter
- @SarahKPeck [Twitter]
- The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden [Amazon affiliate link]
The CX 044: Productivity Propaganda Is Toxic; Build Your Business around Your Needs with Sarah K Peck
Jillian Benbow: This is a special disclaimer for a special episode. Sarah and I talk about lots of fun things in this episode to do with being a working mom in a society that is not designed for us. We also get into some high level discussion about things new moms go through post birth. If you don't like to listen to women talk about being treated like second-class citizens or what many of us have experienced after childbirth, you may want to definitely listen and hear a new perspective. I also throw a couple F bombs out here and there too, so enjoy the show
Sarah Peck: It's okay to work less. It's okay to say no. Hustle is a dial, not a way of being. So it's fine to dial it up and go to a six, but there's also different gears to live life, including parked, You don't have to be burning your engine 24 hours a day, right? You have to know how to stop and how to slow down in order to really get the most out of life.
Jillian Benbow: It's Tuesday, which means this is a brand new episode of the Community Experience Podcast. Thanks so much for joining. I am your hostess, Jillian Benbow, and today I am talking to Sarah Peck, the CEO and Founder of Startup Parent. We get into all sorts of things in this episode, I'm most excited for you to hear about this super juicy talk about how Sarah accidentally started a business by following her curiosity and doing it all on her own terms as a mom, as a pregnant person, as a driven human that wanted to follow her curiosity, as I said, to figure this thing out and do it in a way that made sense for her. I think a lot of us can relate to that.
We talk about some great, great things, boundaries, emotional literacy, power dynamics. We just jump right in. We jumped right into parenting and being pregnant while working, especially at a tech startup, which was Sarah's experience, how you think it's going to be and how it really is are just two whole different realities. And we talk a lot about things that are specific to community and figuring out your ideal member, the strategy of starting with services and not focusing on scale until you've really dialed in the services and how a community can come from services.
Sarah is hugely passionate about charging a lot of money, charging your value. She had some amazing, amazing tips going back to making it work for you and on your own terms, but just some amazing tips about how to get people to show up to events, especially as someone who maybe has a hard time showing up to events as a mom of young children and a CEO and all the things she's doing. So I think all of us are always trying to figure out, how do I get people to show up to more events? So this episode is for you if that is something you're working on, I'm sure you are, we all are, I am.
So on that note, let's jump right into the episode and then after the show, I want to review a few of the key takeaways because they're so good and I think we all can learn from them. So enjoy this episode of the Community Experience.
Jillian Benbow: Welcome to this week's episode of the Community Experience Podcast. Today I am talking to Sarah Peck of Startup Parent and the Wise Women's Council. Welcome Sarah.
Sarah Peck: Hey, thanks for having me.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Super excited about this because you have some interesting communities that you build and I'm so excited to talk about all sorts of things that we briefly discussed before hitting the magic record button. So, let's start with, just tell the audience who you are, what you're about, how did you get into what you do now?
Sarah Peck: Yeah, I am Sarah Peck. I'm the CEO and Founder of Startup Parents, which is a community basically for tired moms to make friends.
Jillian Benbow: Hello.
Sarah Peck: But now we welcome all tired parents. So, tired dads, tired parents, anybody who's just exhausted and you're an entrepreneur and you're like, "Actually, where's the advice for founders who have kids because I can't hustle any harder because I hustle all the time? It's called bedtime." So yeah, people are like, "Work early in the morning," and I'm like, "I do." It's like, "Work late at night." I'm like, "I do." "Work on the weekends." "I do." So I'm here for the people who have more than a side hustle, they have like a six year old, a 10 year old, a three year old, they're pregnant, whatever it is, I help tired moms make friends. We've been building this business for five years now, although it was kind of an accident when I started because I didn't know that I was building a business, which I can get into later, but now it's a real business. It makes nice money. I get to pay myself. I work with incredible people. I think it's a real sign of success when you're inspired by your clients, so it's a cool place to be.
Jillian Benbow: Yes. Oh my gosh. I love that. Well, first of all, I'm sure you relate to this hence why Startup Parents started, but there's so much out there, it's always these single 20, 30-something year old dudes that are like, "Hustle. Crush it." Like you're saying, "Just get up early." And I remember when my daughter was very young and I was like, "Oh, I should start my own thing," and just being so annoyed with all these young gentlemen who I'm just like, "You have no freaking idea what it is like." Sure, if you're 30 and single, that's one thing, but if you're 30 and have a two year old, it's a whole different ball game. Was that kind of your experience?
Sarah Peck: Well, yes. I think hustle culture and productivity propaganda is what people call it now.
Jillian Benbow: I like it.
Sarah Peck: All of that is, I mean it's problematic for everyone no matter what and I don't want to bash too much. There's a special period of freedom that you have, depending on who you are, depending how much privilege you have, depending on where you live in the world, but there is something beautiful about the unencumbered freedom of say, like 22 to 32. And there's a time when hustling is really fun when you're able to do lots of things. It's just that that advice only applies to less than 10% of the population, right?
It doesn't apply to folks with care-taking responsibilities who are systemically discriminated against, it doesn't apply to mothers who are unpaid for their labor, which was a conscious choice if you look at the history of the creation of our economy, bunch of dudes, they were like, "Hey, how should we account for all this housework?" One of them was like, "Too hard. Let's not." This was not an accident. This is part of the foundation of our society is like, "Housework's too hard, so we're just going to call it leisure and give it to women." And it's like, "Wait a second. That's not true."
Jillian Benbow: Thanks, guys. Yeah. Looking out for us again. Awesome.
Sarah Peck: Love doing that free work.
Jillian Benbow: Perfect. I'm totally fine with this. Yeah.
Sarah Peck: So I'll bring it over. If not hustle culture, then what? Right? What exists outside of push harder, work harder, pull yourself up by your bootstraps. If you're not making the most of your day, then who are you? You're lazy. Right?
Jillian Benbow: "We all have the same 24 hours." Yeah. Do we, though?
Sarah Peck: But we don't. Yeah. By definition we do not. Some people live farther away from their jobs than others, as one tiny example. So if you can figure out what you stand against in whatever you're building, product, company, vision, community, but also what do you stand for? And for a long time, you hear people talking about the future of work. And after a while you say to yourself, "What exactly does that mean? Be more specific."
So I run a women's leadership program where we teach a whole set of skills about women's leadership that you don't hear in popular media and pop culture. I don't think you'll see this on Inc. magazine until, I really would like to write about it for Inc. and Entrepreneur, but I'm not sure it would get the most views, but our point of view is it's okay to work less. It's okay to say no. Hustle is a dial, not a way of being. So it's fine to dial it up and go to a six, but there's also different gears to live life, including parked, right? It's okay to be a parked car. It's okay to go in first gear, second gear.
Listen, I drove a manual car driving up, I know exactly how to get between all the gears, but you don't have to be burning your engine 24 hours a day. There are seasons of life to go second gear, third gear, and there are highways to go really fast, right? You have to know how to stop and how to slow down in order to really get the most out of life. So those are some of the skills that we teach and the stands that we take. And I think honestly, saying no and being really choosy is a lot harder than saying yes to everything.
Jillian Benbow: It really is. It really is. And I think that's an important topic. I mean on the show in the past, we've talked about boundaries, but I'm always game to bring it up again because it is, and it's not just in the context of being a community builder, you need to have boundaries or you'll burn out, but obviously every walk of life has some sort of boundary check. And as a parent, especially, and in many ways I think being a parent helped me at least realize, "Nah, I'm not going to do that." And kind of find that voice, also just getting older, 21 year old trying to please everyone versus now almost 41 and being like, "Fuck that. No. I'm not taking that on." Yeah. "That's great but no.
Sarah Peck: No thanks.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. It's like, "Good luck with that. No." Yeah. So there's definitely something to say about the art of saying no, the art of no. Talk to me more about that and the things you see come up within your organizations and just helping people identify like, "Hey, advocate for yourself. Say no." All the time.
Sarah Peck: I mean there's so much culturally in here and what tends to happen, since I work with new parents and new parents, they get sold a bill of lies, for lack of a better word. "You can do it all if you have the right systems. You don't have to give anything up. You can have it all. You can do it all. You can be it all. And if you can't, well, it's your fault," is the unspoken rule. And that creates an enormous amount of pressure on new mothers and new parents and it's absolutely ludicrous when you think about it. Have you ever been asked to take care of somebody's entire life that's completely helpless, and then also been told that nothing in your life will change? It's just bizarre.
So new parents come in and they're distraught and they're stressed out and they're learning all of these new skills. How do I feed this kid? How do they sleep? Nobody told me they sounded like aliens. What is going on? Babies sound like little pterodactyls and they're not quiet. It's like, "Ah." Or the moody teenagers, what do I do with this teenager? What do I do with this 10 year old? And why would they ask me these questions before I was ready for these questions?
Jillian Benbow: Oh yeah.
Sarah Peck: So we've got that, but then we've also got gendered expectations around who's allowed to say yes and no. And women are cultured, we are socialized to please other people around us, to put other people's needs and wants before our own, our own bodies are for other people's consumption before anything else. We're supposed to look good and not sweat. We're supposed to smile, but not speak. We're supposed to work hard, but don't make it look like you're working hard. Effortless beauty is the thing that women are supposed to be for other people and are also supposed to be in service of everyone else. And whew, that's a lot.
And what does that have to do with saying no? Why am I bringing up gender history on a podcast about community? Well, when women go to say no, they don't have 20 or 30 years of experience doing it because nobody's taught them how to do it. A man can walk into a room and be like, "Nope." They have a little more experience. "I don't want that. I want the cars. I want the blue one," whatever it is.
To men listening to this, people listening to this who aren't on the gender binary or have been socialized in different ways, you are also sold a bill of goods that is terrible because men aren't allowed to cry, they aren't allowed to be sad, they aren't allowed to show their love. There's so much lost for men also, so this isn't a one-sided experience, but I pointed out because when it comes to saying no, the women that I work with in our leadership program, oh boy is it hard to say no, because other people don't expect it. We don't even expect it from ourselves. We're supposed to be good little girls, please other people, and just do it and not complain.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. It's so true. Gosh. So many amens. Can I get an amen to all of that? And it's absolutely, women, we're trained to be sugar and spice and everything nice, right? And it's interesting because right now, as we're recording this, there's a lot going on with the Supreme Court that I won't even get into because that'll be a rage episode. We'll save that for the bonus reel, there'll be a lot of explicit language, but yeah, I mean things that are happening now, it's kind of a reminder in many ways. It's like, "Oh, cool. I don't have rights to my own body. Awesome." now I think progress is slow, it's changed, but not enough for my liking. Watching my daughter move through the world. I have hope, but I also get frustrated and yeah, it's a good reminder just as we're talking, I'm like, "I need to work with her more on her saying no," not to me of course, she can't say no to me, but no, I'm just kidding. But that advocacy.
Sarah Peck: This is where I think it's really, really important because when you become a parent, at some point in your life if that's something you choose to do, and again, for everyone listening, I believe that everyone should have some sort of parenting role. We are going to become mentors and aunties and uncles and advisors and camp counselors and coaches and teachers, the role of adults relates to children in a vibrant and highly functioning society. So whether or not you have your own children inside your own house doesn't matter. When we reach a stage of an adulthood when we are the parental roles for kids, one of the things that we model for them is how to say no. And if we don't know how to say no ourselves, how are they supposed to learn? Exactly to your point.
Jillian Benbow: Totally. I think too, just to add onto that, and listening to them when they say no. Respect children's boundaries, even if it is within some social construct that might be a little against how you were raised, right? Like hugging, right? Consent to hug. There's a lot of issues, especially with the boomer generation, but not even, even in ours, all generations, but I see it more than that just personal experience where it's like, "Come give grandma's friend a hug," and your small child is like, "I don't know who that is. No." But they say it, they resist and then it's like, "No, come on, do it." And it's like, "Hey, this child isn't here to perform for you. They're not comfortable making physical contact with this person. It's okay. It's okay. Honor their wish."
Sarah Peck: I think we're going through a tremendous revolution when it comes to boundaries and emotional literacy and understanding, what are feelings and where do they come from? How do I deal with them? How do I assert myself? This is not part of any of our education or upbringing until now. I feel like we're just starting to tilt into that and I love looking at historical context because it helps me understand and explain things, but women weren't allowed to have credit cards. They weren't allowed to have houses. They weren't allowed to get divorced. They weren't... Marital rape wasn't a thing until 1980 something.
Jillian Benbow: It was completely legal.
Sarah Peck: It was completely legal for you, in your body, to be completely owned by somebody else. And so that's the context within which our parents and our grandparents were raised. So if they have 80 years of indoctrination around these ideas and they struggle with them with our grandkids, I get that. I can start to have the tiniest bit of empathy and be right down there with a two year old being like, "He said no."
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Well, yeah. And it's interesting, we're kind of in that transitional generation, which I think makes it really hard and also is putting us in this position where we not only have to say no, we're advocating for someone when we might not be brave enough to do it for ourself. I know that's my experience because I'd be like, "Whatever, I'm just going to hug this person so they shut up." But if you try to make my daughter do it, you're going to catch these hands. I will go into a pretty aggressive reaction that I wouldn't do for myself.
Sarah Peck: That's right.
Jillian Benbow: But I will do it for my child or her friends, or another child. And it's funny, it's an interesting place where we are and it'll be interesting to see where then that generation goes. And of course, it's not black and white. There's different people do different things in all generations, but it is an interesting thing that in my personal experience, anyways, I've thought about a lot, just about... It's funny, and it's made me more fighty, having a child has made me more okay with disagreeing loudly and fighting, frankly, and leaning into conflict for the sake of other people, but I've definitely noticed I'm like, I never wanted to do that until it was on behalf of my child, which, I guess, yeah, it's an interesting thought.
Sarah Peck: That's interesting because I think when you care deeply for someone else who, they aren't able to stand up for themselves in the same way, children are very small, adults are very big, I think it's one of the magical parts about having children in your life and one of the things that saddens me about the way our society is set up right now is that if you don't have your own kid, if you have your own kids, you have too much of them and you're like, "Please someone take them for just two hours," right? And then, but if you don't have kids, you don't get enough of them and it's really, I'm happy, any adults want them? I will give them away for many hours. And I just came out of a pandemic where we started with a one year old and a three year old, so I'm good-
Jillian Benbow: Oh, geez. You're like, "So I'm going on a vacation, by myself."
Sarah Peck: Totally. But also it's just, I think that the point I'm really getting to is that children are magical and they have so much to teach us and they're so wise and they're unencumbered by our arbitrary rules about society. And if you can get outside of your own way, and this is one of the things I'm constantly learning, is how to stop the chatter in my brain about my expectations and my agenda and be like, "Oh, you're totally right. We should stop here and play with the mud for three hours. Scratching mud feels really strangely delightful. You might have the best idea about today." And meanwhile, I'm running to this store because we need to get a party outfit and we need a party outfit for... It's just absurd.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. And it goes back to being able to say no, but also just be that self-awareness of like, "Why am I doing this? Why are we doing this? What is the result that we're looking for and why do you want me to do this thing in this way?" Bringing it back to a work example and just being willing to, like you said, get out of your own way. And I love the idea of, as adults, leaning into that childlike wonder and curiosity to look at these things that we just assume are real in reality. Whether it be like, why do we have a meeting on Tuesdays? We don't need this. Or something to do with community building or even just like day to day, who goes to the grocery store.
Sarah Peck: Yep. Yep.
Jillian Benbow: It's so true.
Sarah Peck: Yeah. So much of this. And I find that when people, I'm using kids as an example, but insert any life transition point, right? You become an entrepreneur, you go through a major life event, whatever it is for you, it's almost like there's this ripple effect of the ways that it affects all of your relationships. So you start a business and your relationship with your spouse or your roommate might change, your relationship with your friends might change, your relationship with your parents might change, your siblings. It just cascades out.
And during that time, especially if you bring a new baby, all of a sudden your parents are grandparents. That's new. Do they accept that role and that identity? Do they want to be grandparents yet? They don't want to age? What is it? Do I not want to age? Anyways, all of that brings up a lot when it comes to boundaries, which then people are like, "Huh, I have to communicate these. I have to explain them to people. I have to understand myself and I have to set these boundaries and then uphold them." And it's hard work to do.
Jillian Benbow: It is. It really is. Ugh, man, I just want to talk about this forever, but let's bring it back to Startup Parent Tell us how it kind of came about. Was there something in your own experience? Was there something in your own personal life that was like the catalyst to this group?
Sarah Peck: The interesting thing is I've always been entrepreneurial. I've done entrepreneurship, fellowship. I've been in freelance. I've helped people build businesses. I consulted for a YCombinator company, right? This drive to build things is not new, to create things is not new. I've built communities since, I don't know, when I was first in San Francisco with my first "real" job after graduate school, I started these walk and talk series and I would invite 16 people over, I would give them assigned reading, let me just push my glasses up my nose, but I would give them assigned reading and then we would go for these philosopher walks and talk about really big, challenging ideas. But I've always geeked out about bringing people together and creating new spaces to think, and to be in the world.
Startup Parent, I was working at a YCombinator-backed company, I was the sixth employee in Downtown Manhattan. We had venture backing. It was very exciting and thrilling and I got pregnant nine months into working at the company and I looked around and all I saw were people in tech were beautiful nine months pregnant on the cover of Inc magazine, how I raise billions of dollars, how I was an overnight success, but there wasn't any detail. It was just this shiny story. And meanwhile, I'm puking my guts out, I can't hold my hips together, I have nobody in the company that knows what I'm going through, and I've never been through it either. And I'm looking around just trying to find someone like me.
I thought, and I think this is an interesting story about the business because a lot of people have “Aha!” ideas and it's like, "There's the business." That's not what happened for me. I was going to write a book about it. I was like, "Ooh, maybe this is a story about writing a book." And an agency in New York actually said, "Yeah, we'd love that." In order to write the book, I started doing interviews because I wanted to meet other people. In those interviews, I did 30 of them, recorded them, took notes, transcribed them, still have Word docs on my computer. About a few months in, I'm like, "This should be cool if I published this." So I turned it into a podcast.
Now I have a six month old and I've just left my job to write a book, I'm not making a ton of money and I live in New York City. So I turn to my husband and I'm like, "I'm not sure with a six month old, I can take on more unpaid work." So I go to get sponsors for the podcast and I start pitching people and we get $30,000 of sponsors before I launched the podcast. And I said, "Well, I'm going to have to pay some taxes on this and maybe I've accidentally started a business." So I spent-
Jillian Benbow: Whoops.
Sarah Peck: Whoops. Going to have to do some paperwork. But it was the first sign that, "Oh, there's something here." And I spent two years interviewing people and doing freelancing while also getting pregnant again, vomiting my guts out, bleeding my guts out, repairing my body, breastfeeding for way too long, hurting my hips. All of this, I never had, for four years I never had a 40 hour work week. At best I had a 22 hour work week. So I was stitching this together in between all of this different time, but I think one of the best things that happened was I spent 200 episodes interviewing my target market, my audience person.
Jillian Benbow: That's genius.
Sarah Peck: And if you do 200 interviews with someone over and over again, after the 40th one, you'll start to hear the same phrases. After the 60th one, you can start to speak like them. And then after the 100th one, you have 10 product ideas.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, I love that. And what a great, I mean that's so translatable and it doesn't have to be a podcast with 30K and sponsors out the gate. I can tell you're a driven person, if that's how your podcast started. But yeah, I mean even if you're just like, "I have this problem. I think other people might too. I want to create something around it." Interviewing people is a fantastic way to check, do a little gut check. Is this true to other people? Is there a market? So, that's amazing. And so that is how Startup Parent kind of-
Sarah Peck: That was the podcast. Then I started a blog.
Jillian Benbow: How did you go from 100 interviews and then obviously the audience that grew out of that to this actual community of parents? How did you go from audience to membership I guess?
Sarah Peck: That's such a great question. We tried a bunch of different things, like Patreon, which did fine, but it didn't provide a salary for me. And there's lots of pieces of income where you're like, "Cool. I can pay to edit this podcast." But can't pay rent.
Jillian Benbow: Well, we're not going to eat today, but the podcast is edited.
Sarah Peck: But I won't be up till 1:00 AM editing it myself, right?
Jillian Benbow: I'm calling it a win. Yeah.
Sarah Peck: On my way to winning. Yeah. No, with kids at home, you want a house. You want to have a place, it doesn't have to be a big one. We live in an apartment, but you want a place for them to be able to go to sleep as well as yourself and meals on the table. So, making money becomes also more real. I think when the stakes are higher.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. We can all just eat ramen when we're 20 and single, but once you have children, it's like, "Well, we should probably have some produce."
Sarah Peck: Peanut butter and jelly and string cheese. Good enough. But yeah, formula is not cheap, right? Breastfeeding is not cheap. The amount that I ate was unreal. My food bill just for me, but anyways, your question about how do we go from podcast to people who pay? I am a big believer in charging a lot and in starting with services before you get even into community. Because again, you're moving from where you're interviewing people to working with people one on one and you're just getting all this rich data about what people need.
I think in order to build something that really works, you need to start with maybe doing something that isn't scalable right away. So I started a mastermind program. I don't love that word. I started a group program. There's eight people in the first round. I launched it when I was six months pregnant with my second kid and my guiding question was, how do I run a group program and still take a maternity leave as an entrepreneur? How do I stand up for what I believe in? And I scheduled all these guest teachers and it went for nine months and I showed up on the calls after I gave birth with, I mean puffy face, sweaty shirt, breastfeeding my kid, trying to move the camera.
Jillian Benbow: The effortless glamor of having a baby. I feel this.
Sarah Peck: Totally. The hormone sweats, needing more water. I couldn't have thought it, I could not have led a 90-minute call, but I could log on and listen to other people and then turn my video on and off as it were. But I launched that one and people really, really liked it. So I launched another one shortly thereafter. We had 18 people join. The first one, I'm trying to think. I want to be able to give you exact numbers. I think the first one was $1,800. The next one I launched was $2,800. I launched it again at the end of the next year, it was $3,400 and we had 28 people. And then the last two years, it's been 40 people and the price has been about $5,000 per person.
Jillian Benbow: That's amazing. What a great model. And then, so the people that go through these cohorts, once they're done with the cohort, are they put into a larger group? How do they stay connected? And can they connect with other cohorts? Are you creating this giant amazing group of noble shit, say no first, pay yourself parents?
Sarah Peck: That is the next thing that I'm building. I've been building this slowly for four years. Also, let's just, I was pregnant and then I had a newborn, then I got pregnant again, then I had a newborn, then the second kid was 18 months old and the pandemic started.
Jillian Benbow: What else can we throw at Sarah?
Sarah Peck: So I would love a 16-hour work day. Let us be very clear. It would be so nice to have one uninterrupted day to work for a really long time. I almost miss the hustle culture. That's not to say I don't work 16 hours a day, I would just like to work 16 hours a day on my own stuff.
Jillian Benbow: Uninterrupted with focus. What is that?
Sarah Peck: With eight hours of sleep, right? So this business has been clawed together during the dregs of early pregnancy and children and empire building. So it always feels like it's taken forever to build, and then I have to remind myself of what the landscape has been like as I've been building it.
Jillian Benbow: Also, I don't think it has. A few years to get from interviewing people and having a sponsor, which is amazing, but from doing that to charging $5,000 a person for a cohort experience, you need to give yourself some credit. That's badass. I don't think I could do that single.
Sarah Peck: Also I'm 38, so I also led masterminds for 10 years before this, so I have some chops that I'm leaning on too where I don't feel like a newbie when I started the business.
Jillian Benbow: It makes sense. You followed the perfect realistic path because you used your own existing skill set and interests, you followed a curiosity, you made it work for you based on what was happening in your life with having and growing a family. None of us really, we all did what we could with the pandemic, but you obviously did that and it's a great time to have a digital cohort or a mastermind group, right? Because what else are we doing? So, I mean even just based on just what your organizations stand for, I would just challenge you to say like, "Yeah, I'm badass. I did this. Look at me, y'all." And I love that you're just very transparent and real. It's like, "Oh, things are coming out of all my body orifices." I'm taking it too far, but it's just like pregnancy and then the recovery, you're right, no one talks about it.
Sarah Peck: Pooping after you have a baby is a big deal.
Jillian Benbow: I will never forget. It's like the challenger moment.
Sarah Peck: It is a story to connect you. If you want to make some mom friends, wait a year, don't ask them right away-
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, not too soon, not too soon.
Sarah Peck: ... and be like, "So, I really want to know, tell me about that postpartum poo story. How was that?"
Jillian Benbow: That first shit. Yeah.
Sarah Peck: Yeah.
Jillian Benbow: Worse than childbirth? Same.
Sarah Peck: It is so terrifying for people listening, because you've just pushed with all your might, you have lost all sensation, you're in deep amounts of pain, you're icing all over your nether regions. Even if you have a C-section, you're still probably blown out your pelvic floor and then you're supposed to intricately use a fine set of muscles to do only one thing that you used to be able to do well and you might be really, really constipated, it is terrifying. I'm going to just leave it there.
Jillian Benbow: Don't get moms together if you don't want to hear some gory stories.
Sarah Peck: I mean it's the best way to make friends. It's so great.
Well, I think one of the things that's been such a sign of success for me is that not only have people gone through this program and raved about it, I have more testimonials than I've ever had in my life, but 30% of our alumni return year over year to do a second and a third year. We have people who've done this for four years.
Jillian Benbow: That's amazing.
Sarah Peck: Yeah. So, the lifetime value is beyond anything I would've ever imagined and I am really proud of myself because I think what we've built is incredible and the fact that people come back and do it again, because they need this place so much, is really cool. And I'm starting to have people tell me, they're like, "You need to take the model that you've built inside of your community and start to use it in places with other markets. You need to license this and go into big corporations." You need to go to, I don't know, struggling teens, Alcoholics Anonymous, different places. These are ideas people are giving to me, I'm not sure if I will follow up on them, but I know that the model we have is really incredible.
Jillian Benbow: Well, that's a good point because I think when you do start making momentum and you're like, "I have something here," and as we say in our community, you get your super fans, the people that are just like, "What you're doing is great. I want to help you take it to the next level. I have ideas," and it's wonderful but you also have to do that gut check again. It's back to saying no and does that align with what I want my life to look like, most importantly, right? And you've done such a good job of building your career on your own terms, now's not the time to walk away from that, right?
Sarah Peck: No. That's right.
Jillian Benbow: You have to check and say, "Does this serve my greater goals and life plan?"
Sarah Peck: I mean I'm ready now for, I think that we're ready to scale it too. So we've had 40 people year over year now and I know exactly how it works and I know how strong it is. And 40 sounds like a lot for a mastermind community, except when you're working with busy moms. I actually break them down into small groups of six and then it also allows people to have that moment in your life when you're like, "Well, four weeks just disappear. One was sick, the next was sick. Where'd I go? What happened?" And most programs are six weeks long and you sign up for them and then you get the flu and you're like, "Well, missed that." Right? And this actually lets you be here with us for a year and it's a practice space for you to practice embodying saying no.
We give you places to try boundaries. We give you places to... How do you learn to level up in making decisions? So people have said it's just as good as some of their top-notch leadership programs that they've been through. I'm so proud of it and we're ready to, I would like to, if this pandemic and my energy would go in the right direction, I'm ready to take it to about 200 people. I'd love to run five cohorts of 40. Yeah. I think it'd be really cool. I want to hire some program managers to lead each cohort. Yeah. That'd be really cool.
Jillian Benbow: That is so exciting. I'm so curious. So you mentioned this is just a hot topic in community in general, so I want to touch on this. So you bring 40 people in, but then you put them in groups of six so that there's that more intimate feel. Do you have challenges with that? I mean is everybody kind of in similar time zones and is matching the groups, are there any challenges maybe you didn't expect or had to overcome to find groups that pair and then get along and just mesh?
Sarah Peck: Part of it is the interview process. So I am in every single interview and who comes in. I found ways to scale that, so I now do group interviews and I get to know people and then we set up all the times in advance. So you know coming in that Thursdays at 1:00, those are our group calls. Wednesdays at 11:00 Eastern, so 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM for the Pacific folks, that's when we have our business breakthrough sessions. And we have drop-in coaching on Sundays and Wednesdays every third week. Fourth week is always a break. This is going to be a whole other podcast episode and I've done a deep dive with a couple people, I can send you the link, about exactly how I set up every single piece of the community puzzle because the biggest problem for a working mom, number one challenge in regards to doing a program like this is actual time on the calendar.
Jillian Benbow: Yes. Yeah.
Sarah Peck: I cannot send you more than two calendar meetings per month. If I do, you will not come. That's just hands down. It's true, right? You can't have another meeting, that will break you. So, we do a tremendous amount of our community asynchronously. We use private audio rooms for the groups of six. So these audio rooms have a guide inside of them. I prompt it with a story. So it's like you're inside of the podcast with me, some people have said, and I'll drop in and I'll say, "Okay, this month's all about boundaries and I'll tell you a story."
I might tell you the postpartum poo story, whatever it is, I tell you a story. I want it to feel fun for you to listen to, I want you to look forward to being like, "What is Sarah going to say next?" And then I ask you to share your stories and that kicks off people meeting each other. And then once a week I drop in with another leading question and people say that they are complete converts to this audio and they can do it because you go outside and take out the trash, you get to listen, right? You're out on a walk with your dog, you can listen. Can you make a meeting? No. Can you listen to a podcast? Yes. And that's why we built the program this way.
Jillian Benbow: That is so smart. I love that. Yeah. Send me all the things. Actually can you say where on the show? Because I'm sure other people are like-
Sarah Peck: Yeah. The Business of Authority.
Jillian Benbow: Sorry. Say that again.
Sarah Peck: Don't say this. The Business of Authority with Jonathan Stark. If you look up Startup Parent, I think the episode title is Startup Parent with Sarah K. Peck, and I can send you the link, but we deep dive into every single aspect of how I built this program.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, yes. We need to add that to our show notes because I know everyone listening is like, "Don't hold out. I need to know this too," because we all deal with it, time zones, conflicts, especially when you're working with people who work, right? If your community is, like ours is entrepreneurs, yours is working parents, probably entrepreneurs as well, we're busy, we're busy people. We have all the things and it doesn't matter how old your kids are, if you don't have nap time that is just sacred to be quiet or whatever, then you have track meets and other things. There's a lot of stuff going on.
Sarah Peck: I want to say three things about how I also get people to show up to the calls.
Jillian Benbow: Please.
Sarah Peck: Because I think that it's a real challenge and I've worked really hard on... This is why I think it's finally... It's so good. I'm so proud of it. Number one, it has to be fun. If it's work, people don't want to come. And I think people forget that when they design programs. They're like, "Oh, you're going to come. It's going to be another Zoom meeting." Uh-huh! We have music. We dance. I tell jokes. I put you into breakout rooms. The only thing a live Zoom call should be used for is connection. It should not be a lecture. A lecture is a recording that people can watch later. If you have to hold people accountable to watching something, you're not doing a good enough job. I raise the bar for community creators.
Zoom calls should be about connection and you should be able to go deep in conversation and ideas with other people. If it has to be a lecture, they should be few and sparingly and they should get something as a bonus for attending live that they wouldn't get from watching the recording. So it has to be fun and it has to be good enough. And if people aren't showing up, the first onus is on us to make it better. We are competing with Netflix. This is not an easy job. People are deciding between watching Netflix, watching Hulu, watching Paramount. You are competing with them for being tired, for having not enough time. So if they're not going to enjoy it and they do not feel good, they will not stay.
Number two is you have to set your expectations. So when I'm onboarding people, I say, "There are only nine calls. You do not have to make all of them, but I want you to make 75% of them and they need to go on your calendar as precious as a doctor's appointment. How can we do that for you?" That's one of our first communications. And I help them set boundaries, that's number three. So number one, fun, got to make it good. Number two, set your expectations, how often can they show up? When can they miss? What do they need to say? Another expectation on number two I tell people, you can eat on my calls, you can turn your video off on my calls, you can go for a walk on my calls, you can do squats on my calls. I do not want to waste 90 minutes of your time. You can do all the things you need to do. My only request is that you turn the video and sound off when you use the bathroom. We don't need that, right?
But the third thing, I help people set boundaries. So you mentioned work, right? A lot of people work. How can they go to this? And they have a really hard time. This is something I've noticed. People have a hard time being like, "Ugh, I want to make this call that's for my own personal development but it falls during work." So I give them scripts and I say, "I'm taking a class." This is what you tell your boss. "I'm taking a class. It's eight weeks long. There are only eight of them. It happens at this time every Thursday. I'm going to come into work an hour early on those days or I'm going to skip my lunch, but I need help protecting this time because I won't pass this class unless I go to at least 75% of the sessions."
Don't tell them it's a personal development. Don't tell them it's a singing lesson. It doesn't matter, right? Your time is your time. But you are allowed to ask your boss, ask your teammates, ask them for things. People go to therapy. You don't have to tell them what it is. I find the word class to be really useful because people understand what that means and you don't have to explain. So I give them these tools for how to talk to their teammates and their partners and their employees and their colleagues. And when they do that, they also take it more seriously.
Jillian Benbow: I love that. Class. That's genius.
Sarah Peck: That's all. Just say, "I have a class." It is a class.
Jillian Benbow: Well and anymore, I mean with the great resignation and just people being like, "No, I'm not going back into the office and no, I'll leave before I do that," I think we're we're in this time where we can actually set those boundaries and advocate for ourselves in a way that a couple years ago might have sounded really hard.
But I think we have that opportunity and I think employers are realizing our mental health, our own interests, having boundaries, having... Our company went to a four-day work week and there's data that shows productivity is so much higher if you have to do it in four days versus five. You don't procrastinate as much and you don't, it's amazing, right? So yeah, just basically back to self advocacy, setting boundaries.
Sarah Peck: It's sometimes really magical, because I remember I did this when I was an entry level person and I was friends with the CFO and he was the same age as my dad. I was 22, he was probably late 50s or early 60s and I told him once, I was like, "Oh, I'm taking this class." And he goes, "What class are you taking?" And he was a nerd just like me and I was like, "Oh, it's a women's leadership program." He's like, "That's so cool that you're..." And he was inspired by me taking a class.
And there are so many other people that also want permission to do this and so when you stand up for doing something like this, it's not about being defensive or being strict or rigid. You can get people on the same side at the table with you and say, "Hey, I really want to do this class and what can we do to make this possible? How can we design this so it can be flexible? Can I come in earlier? Can I do an extra job here? Is it okay if I just take these two hours for eight weeks? It'll be done at this point." I don't know, the people you want to be around want to learn and they want to support you and they should have your back.
Jillian Benbow: Right? And if they don't, think about that.
Sarah Peck: Then it's an exploitative job and you should look for another one.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Have options. Call me, I'll help you.
So, okay. Final question, then we'll go into the rapid fire, but where are things going with your... You mentioned you're ready to scale.
Sarah Peck: Yes.
Jillian Benbow: That's very exciting. What else are you looking forward to? What else is coming that you're thinking about?
Sarah Peck: Something you asked earlier was, where do they go after this? I mean right now they just stay in because I don't have anything else for them, but I want to create another program, it's basically the Wise Women's Council is more intense, it's high ticket, you really go in there as this learning incubator, you learn these leadership skills. I want to create, we're going to have a Slack room called Founders With Kids for we'll meet once a month on video. That's it, just once a month, so you can meet other people. And it's going to be very specific about the type of entrepreneur you are, what it looks like to be a founder, because one of the big challenges with, I think community building, is that if you mix a bunch of beginners with a bunch of experts, everyone gets bored and then people leave and there's not really good retention. So we're going to have these tiered levels of where you are in your journey and you get to unlock access to the next level as you grow, which is going to be exciting and fun.
But also I have many friends who run seven figure businesses and it's just not that helpful to be in a room with somebody who's starting out with their first 50K, which is fine, there's nothing wrong with that, but you also need a place to go when you're making 50K and when you're making 500K and when you're making seven figures and saying, "Oh my gosh, these employment laws, what do I do about them?" You need to talk to your peers and more signal, less noise as they say. But also we're doing seven profiles of entrepreneurs, because there are so many different types of entrepreneurs. There's the boot strapper, there's the solopreneur, there's the venture backed looking to scale, there's the freelancer, there's the author-speaker personality, right? And we're going to have one room for each of those that you can talk to people who are in your genre and get really solid advice and peer-to-peer connections. And to toot my own horn a little bit, my magic sauce, the thing that I'm really, really good at is, it sounds so funny to say, but is disarming people enough to actually create friendships.
Jillian Benbow: Ooh.
Sarah Peck: Yeah. That's the fun part for me.
Jillian Benbow: We're wrapping up and I'm like, "Wait a minute."
Sarah Peck: I help people make friends and I do it in, I don't want to say sneaky, my background's in psychology and storytelling and so I really like to get people in the room and I'll lead them with prompts like, "Okay, you've got three questions that you can ask and put on your LinkedIn. What's the question you can't ask publicly? Let's start there."
Jillian Benbow: Oh, what's a good example of... What's a really juicy answer?
Sarah Peck: Sex.
Jillian Benbow: LinkedIn, the perfect place-
Sarah Peck: Right? How much money do you make? Totally, right? But I prompted that in one of our groups the other day and I said, "Remember, this is a room with only six other people and we have strict code of confidence here so what can you ask that you wouldn't ask somewhere else?" And the woman was like, "I was not planning on asking this and I would really like to talk about sex as after kids." And the conversation was amazing.
Jillian Benbow: I bet. Yeah. That's a whole, it's up there with the first poop. It's a whole conversation.
Sarah Peck: If you want to talk about money, sex, and pooping, go join Founders With Kids hosted by Sarah Peck. That's my pitch.
Jillian Benbow: I can't wait. Yeah. I'm like, "I'm in." This is... Yes. Oh my gosh. Okay. What's another, just for funsies, give our audience, what's another really good disarming question?
Sarah Peck: Yeah. This is less of a question and more of a context setter, but one of the things that I'll do. So when I leave my Zoom calls, we'll start with I'll ask everyone to bounce a little bit, I'll play some fun music. We'll do some stretching and some shoulder rolls just to move you out of the stiffness of whatever boring meeting you had before. And then I like to paint a picture. So I'll say, "All right, we are in a cabin in the woods and the sun's going down and I'm starting up the fire. I'm really good at making fires. I've got it all lit. The coals are starting to burn. It's starting to get dark. We've got all of our jackets on. We're going to roast some marshmallows and we've all spent the day together. We know the highlights, but I turn to you and I really want to know this." What's the question you ask?
Jillian Benbow: Oh, boom. That's the perfect end for this episode anyways. I mean let's be real, we're going to do this again. Oh, that's good. And yeah, that whole strategy in general and it even sounds gross calling it a strategy, right? Because it's legitimate relationship building. Yes, it serves a purpose in our communities and in our businesses, but ultimately, we are connecting people that are going to benefit from being connected to each other and we're helping accelerate that. So it's a beautiful thing.
Sarah, we are going to transition into the scariest part of the interview. Just kidding. Not at all. And that is the rapid fire. And like I've mentioned, I'm going to ask you a question, just first thing that comes to mind, just a quick response, hence the rapid fire. And although I want to ask you follow-up questions, I will not because that makes it not rapid fire. I should have called it something else. Oh, well. So, first question, Sarah, when you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Sarah Peck: A book author and a Broadway performer.
Jillian Benbow: Ah. How do you define community?
Sarah Peck: People who come together to have really good conversations and connections around shared topics and interests.
Jillian Benbow: What is something on your bucket list that you have done? What's a life achievement that you have done?
Sarah Peck: I swam the Escape from Alcatraz naked.
Jillian Benbow: Damn rapid fire. Whoa, naked. All right. And what is something on your bucket list that you have not yet done?
Sarah Peck: Published a book with a traditional publisher.
Jillian Benbow: Speaking of books, what is a book you think everybody should read?
Sarah Peck: There are so many. I am not good at this question. I mean all of them, but specifically to this topic of parenting, The Price of Motherhood is a phenomenal book. It just underscores so many important things that I don't think people connect the dots on, but I'll give two examples. One is when I create a child, I'm creating a tax-paying citizen who is paying it forward in entitlements for everybody. So my gainfully employed, tax-paying entity, if we're looking through capitalist enterprise, is actually a benefit to everyone. So when we do things like support paid leave, you get more back from things like paid leave than not. And then another one is that this whole economy was made up and GDP is made up and women's work was made invisible on purpose and I never understood that until I read this book.
Jillian Benbow: That question has created such a book backlog for me, because I'm like, "Yeah, I haven't read that." I'll add that to my list. Okay. I think you said you live in New York currently.
Sarah Peck: I do.
Jillian Benbow: If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you live?
Sarah Peck: I don't know if I have a place. I always like being around mountains and water first. I grew up in California, so the beach is really lovely to me, but I sunburn like crazy. So it's kind of a catch- 22. I think just 10 minutes away from my friends.
Jillian Benbow: That's a great answer. Okay. Final question, you're doing great. Sarah, how do you want to be remembered?
Sarah Peck: I really like it when people tell me, "Oh, I never knew that." I really like explaining things to people and I like explaining things to people in their language. So if you speak engineering, I've got you. If you're a coder, I got you. If you're a psychologist, I love translating things into other people's experiences and getting them to care. And just those light bulb moments is really cool and I think that's intellectual, I think kind of from my heart center is, "I met my best friend because of Sarah."
Jillian Benbow: Oh my gosh. That is the perfect place to end this wonderful episode. But before we go, Sarah, tell the audience where they can find you on the interwebs.
Sarah Peck: Startup Parent is the business I'm building right now. I don't have time for much else, but you can sign up for my newsletter. I write something every Friday. People, I love writing and I love storytelling, so try it out even if you're not a parent. I only send it once a week, sometimes less than that. And the Startup Parent podcast, those are the two places if you want to hang out further. I make jokes on Twitter, which I probably should stop doing, but you could also find me there.
Jillian Benbow: Ooh, what's your Twitter handle?
Sarah Peck: @SarahKPeck. So, Sarah with an H, K-P-E-C-K.
Jillian Benbow: Excellent. Sarah, thank you so much for being here. I just love this conversation and everything you're doing and we're going to have to have you back to talk more all the things.
Sarah Peck: Love it. Love it. Thank you. This was great. Thanks everyone.
Jillian Benbow: And that, my friends, was this episode of the Community Experience with, once again, the delightful Sarah Peck.
Geez. I mean she figured out how to build on her own terms. Depending on Sarah's current life state really determined how she went about her offerings and she made her own rules and I love that because look at what it has grown into. She was a totally exhausted new mom and needed to have live events, so she hired people to host the calls and she showed up. Yes, I love that she's incredibly protective of her members' available time. She knows her skillset, right? She can tell a good story as we all just experienced. So she made that a part of how her community can get together asynchronously, but make it compelling and interesting and not the same forum post or whatever. I love that she does group interviews to figure out the cohorts. That is very smart, especially when you're scaling. Love it.
So let's go over the three things to get people to show up because that was definitely, I mean so many takeaways, right? But that was just something we should reflect and review on all of us community builders. So number one, it has to be fun. And it's so true, right? I think depending on your community determines your brand and what makes sense. Just talking to her and how open she is and honest, yeah, starting with a dance party makes perfect sense. Right? That might not make sense to your community, but what does? What could you do? So mix it up.
Her ideas were music, dancing, telling jokes, putting people into breakout rooms. It's great. I also like that she adamantly says the only thing a Zoom should be used for is connection and deep conversation and not for teaching. If there's a deck, if you're teaching, maybe use a different platform so then when you do have a Zoom call, people know like, "All right, this is interactive. We're going to talk." All of that.
The second thing was setting your expectations. Her onboarding sounds fantastic and granted she's using a cohort model, you can keep that very neat and clean, but I love that in the beginning, it's like, "Hey, there are nine calls. How can I ensure that you will attend 75% of them? Let's put them on your calendar together. Let's overcome those obstacles together. Hey, for these calls, you don't have to be on camera. You can be muted. You can be walking. You can be on the train. It doesn't matter, just as long as we see you in the room and you're listening anyways." That's genius. I love it.
In fact, it's gotten me thinking a lot about just our membership, SPI Pro, and how we can do that. So something I'm thinking about as a totally different style community, how can I model this in a way that works for my members?
And then the final was set boundaries, and in particular being okay with, "I am participating in this thing," from a member mindset, right? Your members, giving them the permission but also the resources to be able to declaratively say, just to tell your family or your day job like, "Hey, this time of day for this long, I'm going to be at a class."
And I think the same could be held true for a more traditional membership community that isn't a limited cohort and maybe instead of it being to a boss like, "Hey, for this hour every day, I'm going to be in this community chatting with people," you could call it a networking event, or you don't even say anything. You just put it on your calendar to participate. Same kind of idea. So, if that's the mindset we want our members to have, how can we then help them get there? How do we explain to them like, "Hey, this is something you should do. Let's set this up." Whether it's a script for themselves or a hypothetical calendar block off or an actual calendar block off or whatever it is, I think there's a lot to explore there.
So, those were my takeaways. What about you? What'd you think of Sarah? Hopefully the new mom stories either you're like, "Yep, relatable," or you were like, "Dang, I need to hug a mother." Either way, let us know what you thought about the episode. What were your takeaways? You can always Tweet us @teamSPI and we will see you next Tuesday.
You can find Sarah at startupparent.com. That's all one word. You can also find her podcast at Startup Parent Podcast and the episode of The Business of Authority Podcast that Sarah is on that she referenced is episode 152.
Your lead host for the Community Experience is me, Jillian Benbow. Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our senior producer is David Grabowski. And our editor is Paul Grigoras. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. Theme music by David Grabowski. See you next Tuesday.