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How I did it: raising $25M while pregnant

Hanna Wu is CEO and co-founder of Amplify, insurtech democratizing access to life insurance policies traditionally used by the wealthy 1%. After working in financial planning, she started Amplify to give customers direct access to customized policies.

Everything about the moment felt normal, except for the giant-robot breast pumps hidden under my clothes while I crushed ice with my hands to fit into the breast-milk thermos. I was sitting across from an investor just two months after my son was born and trying my best to be back into the swing of things. After flying across the country, this investor coffee was just one stop in a long week of early-stage founder activities in NYC.

When I first got pregnant, I started looking for articles on early-stage founders as moms but couldn’t find much that felt applicable. It was alienating to begin this journey while wondering how others balanced the various startup stages while trying to start a family. That was only the beginning of my quest for community.

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Where are the founders with newborns?

Finding other women founders in fintech is almost impossible, given women founders receive only 2.4% of the total capital invested in startups and only 7% of the global fintech founder community are women. Finding other Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) or Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) women founders are even more rare. I felt there weren’t other founders living at my specific intersections, and when I decided to become a mom, I felt even more alone. Because I hadn’t seen others tell their story, I didn’t know if it was possible.

What makes early-stage startup life different for new parents?

The answer is fundraising.

Exactly 369 days ago, my husband and I found out I was pregnant. As the initial excitement wore off a bit, the reality started to kick in: how would my pregnancy be impacted as I flew around the country working 16-hour days? Will my company be ready when I give birth? Will I? Am I going to need to take time off?

My co-founder and I launched our company, Amplify, an insurtech democratizing life insurance policies typically used by the 1%, in 2019. When I got pregnant, we had raised a seed round about eight months prior and were gearing up to raise a series A. Our executive team consisted of myself, my co-founder, and our head of engineering. We had revenue, but we needed to be able to execute our product vision. We had a cash runway for about nine months, putting the end of our capital smack dab around the time I was expected to give birth. And my co-founder was preparing to go on maternity leave herself.

What I did to prepare to grow my company and give birth

From the second I got pregnant, I thought hard about the next six months and how I wanted them to go. The preparation, aligned with a birth plan or adoption plan, will support you in moving into the unknown—it can reduce anxiety and help you square away what can be squared away now.

To balance my new lifestyle, I employed a tactic many soon-to-be parents use: work backward from the day the baby arrives and build a tactical plan. I decided on the top five priorities that needed to happen with the company before my due date. I thought the same way about things at home:

  • When a nanny or live-in caregiver starts working

  • What would their hours be

  • How roles and responsibilities would be split among us as a care team

As my due date crept up, the markets were dropping lower and lower, leaving me with two choices: wait until after my delivery in late 2022 and risk a desperate raise of funds, or raise money now. Deciding upon the latter, I sparked some lower-stakes conversations to test investor sentiment, and we were incredibly fortunate to have a large reinsurer’s venture arm lead our round. I gave birth three days after we signed the term sheet.

In that nine months, we raised two rounds with over $25M in investments. We hired a full leadership team, kicked off our RIA status, signed several significant partnership contracts, and grew our revenue 4X—all of which were on my planned to-do list. Personally, I averaged three flights per month for in-person meetings and woke up at 5:00am daily to study for my series 65, the investment adviser exam. Nothing motivated me as much as an impending delivery date.

5 work strategies to prepare for parenthood

Others’ perceptions of your choices, real and imagined, surface when you’re pregnant. And you’re even more in the limelight if you’re leading a startup in fundraising mode and taking meeting after meeting. I wondered if my colleagues examined my performance more closely—if partners and investors predicted I would quit after the baby was born. I decided not to let these ideas impact me.

Focus on how you’ll set a foundation now—with the goal of not overextending yourself later. Close and meticulous planning won’t remove the magic of expanding your family. Instead, it will help you be as present as possible when they arrive.

1. Sort your parental leave plan.

Defining how you want to take leave depends on your company situation and your home situation and what support you have in both areas. I chose a shorter parental leave as we were in the thick of legal due diligence for fundraising, and I had just hired a leadership team, so the train wasn’t entirely on the tracks just yet. That said, many founder-CEOs do elect to take a more extended leave. It’s all about having the right leadership team and amount of runway. It’s harder for early-stage founders to take leave, but preparing your care plan and naming what’s important to you (i.e., spending X hours per day with your child) is key.

Photo:  Hanna Wu
Photo: Hanna Wu

2. Consider your travel schedule. 

With all the jet-setting and the rollercoaster of everyday startup life, I was always concerned about the health of my little bump. I didn’t know how much stress was too much. It’s hard not to feel pressure to be at every event and conference. Half of my team and most of our board of directors were on the east coast, so I was pretty bi-coastal before my son was born.

Prioritize travel by business needs, and don’t be afraid to break from the way it “should be” done. For example, even if you’re fundraising, can you schedule time over Zoom with targeted groups instead of flying? Can you send someone else?

I was obsessed with understanding how flying and radiation exposure would impact my pregnancy. Through research, I found that; safe levels are equivalent to one to two international flights a month—much less restrictive than I’d imagined. If pregnant, consult your OB-GYN, midwife, or birth team if you’re at higher risk for complications.

Oh, and take it from me—always get an aisle seat. If you need to splurge a little for extra legroom, it’s worth it.

3. Become an expert on roles and responsibilities at home.

You, your co-parents, and caregivers must become experts on the roles and responsibilities at home. I ensured our caregiving calendar included every shift, every day, and who owned it. Think about the members of your caregiving team and how each can step up—even if it is for a tiny piece of your care calendar.

Stay connected to the right people and in the right ways. Pumping and bonding time with my newborn needed to happen daily, so while I previously blocked 45-minutes for 1-on-1 meetings with my executive team, I now booked two-hour blocks, letting the team know they could expect a check-in call within that time frame. I also expanded the role of chief people officer to include chief of staff responsibilities. As a result, they were able to play a lead role, keeping me informed of weekly goings-on without the minutia. Think about the duties that can be reconfigured to help you be more efficient. Mark feeding, bonding, or “family time” on your calendar, and let team members know what can’t be scheduled over.

4. Plan for everything and expect failure.

Be easy on yourself when mistakes happen, or roadblocks pop up. Everyone at home is adjusting to a new lifestyle, and your founding team will also feel a shift in the first three to four months. After that, it gets better: your sleep, the baby’s schedule, and your facility to communicate around your new life. It’s doable, and you can do it.

5. You don’t have to choose.

Our baby boy just turned 100 days old. I did not take much time off; undoubtedly, some will judge me for not doing so. However, we each determine what’s important to us in our own lives. My parents immigrated from China and had to send me back to our home country to grow up with my grandparents to make a living. They made that sacrifice to build a life for us. So you shouldn’t feel bad about the short-term sacrifices you make. Or when you decide to make sacrifices for yourself.

To me, my son is the most important thing in my life. I want to be a mother he’s proud of and inspired by. He gives me new meaning and purpose as a founder, CEO, and support system to the many parents within our organization. We don’t have to choose between our careers and families. It’s not easy, it will be far from perfect, and undoubtedly you’ll need a lot of support, but you can have it all if that’s what you want.

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