When Jill Koziol was expecting her first child, she didn't see motherhood depicted in a modern, authentic, and inspiring way— so she decided to rebrand what it means to be "Motherly."
Before having children I had an illustrious career in consulting advising senior government officials and impacting strategy as the highest level. I was confident in who I was and the value I brought to my profession. When I met someone new they always asked what I did as my career, and I was proud to share my work. But, that all changed when I became a mother. While I continued to work, I found that the world no longer saw me as an accomplished professional — before anything else I was a mom. Now I was asked what my husband did as his profession, not me.
I felt lost, like I was missing a core piece of my identity and had been put in a box that just didn't fit. Why was it that society saw the characteristics of motherhood as nurturing, loving, and caring, without acknowledging that women who are mothers can also be ambitious, driven, and confident? These attributes appeared to be viewed as contradictory, but that didn't align with my truth.
It took randomly crossing paths with another mom, Liz Tenety, through the Stanford Graduate School of Business community. Liz and I got to know one another as working mothers but even then our lives didn't intersect much. We were just too busy raising our young children and putting our husbands through business school to get to know each other that well.
Now I was asked what my husband did as his profession, not me.
Incidentally, Liz and I had lived parallel lives for nearly a decade— though we had never met. We both attended Georgetown (Liz as an undergrad, me for grad school), worked in DC (me in strategy management consulting for defense and intelligence agencies, Liz in journalism at the Washington Post), and married Naval Academy graduates — and lived as Navy wives while our spouses deployed abroad.
It wasn't until 2015, after Liz attended a mother's symposium on finding your authentic self, that our worlds truly connected. On a cold NYC day in March, Liz called me to chat about some ideas she had for a business to address the fact that motherhood was consistently portrayed in an outdated manner in media. She was not looking for a co-founder on that call, but what she said resonated deeply with me as both a millennial mom and a woman — a partnership was born.
The more we talked, the more Liz and I realized that the issue wasn't simply a media issue, but a systemic one that cut across content, community, and commerce. We also quickly recognized that this blank space existed not just for us but for our entire generation.
Research shows that millennial women are the first generation where women are more educated than men. They are also the first digitally-native generation to become parents. This generation of hopeful, accomplished, and discerning women was arriving to motherhood wanting to embrace this most incredible transformation of their lives but found themselves disappointed with the outdated offerings from media outlets and consumer products.
That's where Motherly came in.
From across the country, with Liz in California and me in NYC, we launched Motherly's "alpha" within six weeks of our first conversation and spent the next six months leveraging a design-thinking, user-driven approach, gathering data from thousands of women to understand what their pain points were in the micro-moments of motherhood. Through those interviews, we realized that creating a community around woman-centered, expert-driven, non–judgmental content was a way to connect with and inspire women.
Today, nearly five years since that first conversation, Motherly has emerged as the voice of the millennial mom and is a lifestyle parenting brand redefining motherhood on behalf of a new generation of mothers. We provide our 30M+ community of mamas with the encouragement, support, and inspiration to meet her real life, real mama needs by reminding her that motherhood is an opportunity to nurture — not lose — her true sense of self.
We are proud to be two female founders building a business for women, by women and creating a next-generation employer where parents can thrive. But all of this success hasn't been without its challenges. Our growth has been organic simply because we weren't able to raise the capital needed to fund marketing campaigns. Looking back, all of those "nos" from venture capitalists the first three years were a blessing. We were forced to be scrappy and it taught us grit and resilience. And our team owns our success in a profound way — we've earned our audience's loyalty, mama by mama. In business, money can hide a lot of problems and in its absence one must address each problem head on. We did all the hard things, which in the end were the right things.
In addition to the stereotypical challenges we faced from investors as female founders who also happen to be mothers, we both faced deeply personal struggles in Motherly's first years. Liz, now pregnant with her fourth child, has endured hyperemesis gravidarum, a pregnancy complication that is characterized by severe nausea, through two pregnancies. And three short months after our formal launch in December 2015, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an incurable neurological disease. Thanks to amazing doctors and cutting edge medical treatments, I'm blessed in that it's unlikely I will ever fully develop MS. And, as everyone at TeamMotherly can attest, my disease hasn't slowed me down at all.
Today, nearly five years since that first conversation, Motherly has emerged as the voice of the millennial mom and is a lifestyle parenting brand redefining motherhood on behalf of a new generation of mothers.
Though it all we've had each other's backs and we've had an amazing village in our staff, TeamMotherly. We've also had a deep passion and conviction driving our every decision that women and mothers deserve better—we exist to change the world on her behalf. And, we've got this, together.
Portions of the article are excerpts from the intro of This is Motherhood: A Motherly Collection of Reflections + Practices.
This article was originally published May 6, 2019.
WRITTEN BYJill Koziol