Hello! I’m delighted to be here to share my tale of being a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur and author. A health care lawyer by training and a partner in a global law firm, I started a company called Mindful Return 5 years ago to help new parents transition back to work after parental leave in a more calm, successful, and empowered way.
In 2014, I had welcomed into the world two wonderful redheaded boys (about 26 months apart), and in going back to work, had truly gone off the rails. I looked around for a program that could help me through the transition to working parenthood and found nothing.
Sure, there were courses out there on how to make a birth plan, pump milk, or massage your baby, but nothing to help with that massive identity and logistical shift that happens when you become a parent.
My flagship product is a 4-week, online cohort-based course that new parents take to learn how to do the back-to-work-after baby thing and to feel supported by others in the same life stage as they are. My customers are both new parents and employers who want to retain their new parent's top talent.
62 employers currently offer Mindful Return as a benefit to their new parents, and over 1,000 new parents have been through the program since the first cohort launched in January 2015. We now have separate courses for moms, dads, and parents of special needs children.
Last but not least, I wrote a book called Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave that employers often buy as a “welcome baby” gift for their employees.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
My husband jokes that if you’d told him when we got married that I was going to start my own business, he would never have believed you. I’m a risk-averse lawyer who loved (okay, still loves) order, structure, and knowing things are going to work out. Not exactly the qualities of your typical entrepreneur, right?
Stop looking around at what others are doing with the intent to compare yourself to where they are in their journey. It will only bring you anxiety and heartache. Keep your head down. Follow your own heart. Do your own thing. You do you.
What drove me to entrepreneurship was being in pain and feeling alone. Why wasn’t there a tool that could better help me learn how to be a working mom? Why did I feel like I was the only person in my office going through the baby + work struggles?
When I mentioned to my husband, an MBA, that someone really should create a program to help new moms feel more confident about their return to work after maternity leave, he quipped, “well, what are you going to do about it?” And with that and some more gentle prodding that “sales” wasn’t a dirty word, Mindful Return was born.
Being married to someone with a background in consumer branding certainly helped me learn how to validate my ideas and product in the early days. I held a focus group at my house over brunch at the beginning with a slew of working moms who were all in the throes of their own return-to-work journeys. They provided both validations that I was truly onto something and ideas on where I could take the business. Some of them went to talk to their employers about my course. And they cheered me on as the company developed.
When I launched Mindful Return, I was working full-time, as an in-house lawyer at a trade association. About 1 ½ years into my entrepreneurship journey, I transitioned back into a law firm but on a 60% schedule, so that I could work on my business in the other 40% of my professional work week. I’ve recently shifted my legal practice down to 50% to accommodate both Mindful Return and to work as the Chief Operating Officer for a program called the Women’s Leadership Forum, a leadership training program for women lawyers.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
Day 1 of Mindful Return was literally all about getting brave enough to push “Publish” on my first blog post. It was about structuring a curriculum, recruiting experts to contribute to the course I was creating, and hiring someone to help me create a logo. Oh, and it was also about waking up many times per night, pumping milk, feeding babies, and changing thousands of diapers.
My children were only 1 and 3 years old respectively when I “birthed” my business, and in some ways, it feels like my company has grown up along with them. At a time when my kids were so incredibly dependent on me and I was working full-time for someone else, there was so little margin in my day to spend on Mindful Return. I’d carve out 30 minutes here, time on an airplane during a work trip there...but I pieced together my company with the slivers of time I had.
Now that my boys are 7 and 9 (and sleep through the night), and I only work 50% of my week for my firm, I’m able to spend more time on my business. There are many more things that I’ve also automated about the business over the years.
In the beginning, I wasn’t even on Facebook. Now, I have a social media manager. In the beginning, I only had a handful of employer clients, and I had to do lots of outreach to get individuals to sign up for my course. Now, 62 employers offer it as a benefit, so I have a steady stream of participants in each session.
How did I get from there to here? Baby steps. Very strategic prioritization on the things that matter most. Getting out more and more to network and do public speaking to raise my brand awareness. And getting brave enough to publish all of my blog musings as a book.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, I’m doing so much more than I ever could have imagined 5 years ago. That first year, I think I may have cleared $3,000. I had no social media presence and no email list. Now, I have a 6-figure business, 62 employer clients, about a thousand views per day of my website, and thousands of email subscribers.
More important to me, though, is that of the 1,000+ new parents who have taken the Mindful Return course over the past 5 years, 85% are still employed by the same employer they worked for when they took the course. To me, this says the course is working. New parents are feeling more confident in their return to work. Employers are retaining their parent talent. And we’re helping curb the leaky leadership pipeline that happens around those childbearing years.
The future looks amazing. My goal is for 100 employers to offer the program as a benefit, and to be able to offer more programs for my alums of the program. I’ve already hosted retreats for them in the Washington, DC area, but I’d like to expand that to other cities where there are critical masses of alums. Training for managers of new parents is also in the works! The more parents Mindful Return can reach, the more parents will feel like they belong in their workplaces - and that inspires me to keep going.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Starting a business has been life-changing for me in many ways. For one, it gave me an outlet for creativity that I was missing in my legal career. It also pushed me into more public speaking, which I’ve grown to love. And perhaps most importantly, it gently prodded me to accept the chaos in life.
I’ve had a few regrets over the past few years. I let way too much time go by before starting to build an email list. I had a personal bias against Facebook that delayed my engagement there.
I also initially made the mistake of pricing my course differently for individuals versus employers. Though tiered pricing might sound like a logical approach, employers simply treated their employees as individuals and avoided the corporate pricing, meaning I wasn’t building relationships with the employers directly. I course-corrected early on, though, and viewed that as an important pricing learning.
One big decision-point I feel proud of is deciding not to sell Mindful Return at a particular point in time to a company where the fit and match wouldn’t have been a good one. It was agonizing to think I was leaving an opportunity on the table. But in retrospect, it would have been a partnership I regretted entering into, as our work styles, values, and general ways of being in the world were not aligned.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use Ruzuku for my course software platform, and I’ve generally been happy with them. Service is fast and respectful, and I’ve been able to create a “University” within their platform for all of the Mindful Return courses. I do wish they’d create an app that my students could use to access their courses, though!
I’m a WordPress user for my blog. Stripe has been fabulous for payment. And I use MailChimp for my e-mail list. I am, of course on all of the social media platforms, but I now hire someone to manage that for me!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Tara Mohr’s book, Playing Big is my top book pick. The book’s subtitle says it all: “Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead.” Her words are important reminders to get out of my own way and dream big.
I’m also a fan of Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering. Anyone who’s in the business of bringing people together in community can benefit from her sage advice on how to make our gatherings more intentional.
In the podcast world, I’d strongly recommend The Reboot Podcast with Jerry Colonna to any founder of a company. It’s full of both heart and practical wisdom.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Okay, so starting a new business is overwhelming. Period. There are a million things to think about, and it’s hard to know what to prioritize when. I have two top suggestions to keep your head focused and move forward little by little.
First, keep your eye on YOU. As Teddy Roosevelt said, comparison is the thief of joy. Stop looking around at what others are doing with the intent to compare yourself to where they are in their journey. It will only bring you anxiety and heartache. Keep your head down. Follow your own heart. Do your own thing. You do you.
Second, pick the next most important thing. Every. Single. Day. It’s so easy to feel like there are a trillion things you “should” be doing for your company, but you are only one person. Every morning, take a few minutes to think of your “most important thing” (and important “Pinkcast” by Daniel Pink on this subject located here sums this concept up well.) Prioritization is KEY in starting and running a business. Just pick one thing. Then do it.
Where can we go to learn more?
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help you get started.
Interested in starting your own business? Join our community of founders!
Are you ready to boost your revenue?
Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!
Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!