CEO Corner

Lockdown, a Baby, and a Unicorn (Or: My Journey Over the Past Year)

One Year Ago…

  • I returned home from my last business trip just before COVID-19 hit the world
  • I was a mother of two – Ellie, 2.5 years old, and Yanai, 8 months old
  • Papaya was post-Series A round

One Year Later…

  • I’m still grounded and learning not only to work remotely but to scale the entire organization remotely
  • I’m now a mother of three(!) – Jordan, 2 months old, joined the family
  • Papaya is announcing our series C round, reaching a valuation of over $1B

I was planning to share my personal view on our series B funding back in September, and somehow the post remained in my drafts. Sometimes, this whole year feels like a single long day.

In the last 6 months since our B round, many things have changed:

  • We tripled our revenue
  • We added 200 clients
  • We hired about 80 new people around the globe

But this post is not about Papaya. It’s about my journey during this period. It’s about things you won’t find in the press releases – the personal aspects of leading a company in hyper-growth mode during COVID-19 while giving birth to my 3rd child.

Sound complicated? It is.

Back to February 2020. It was my last business trip to NY, my last face-to-face board meeting, my ambitious plans for the coming year.

Just 2 weeks later, the whole world turned upside down. The Covid-19 era had begun.

I distinctly remember the first days of the lockdown in Israel – the sleepless nights trying to figure out how we are going to get through it as a team, how the year would look, what was going to happen.

As always, when I face uncertain situations, I try to imagine THE WORST-CASE scenario right down to the smallest detail, and when I can feel it inside me, I start to plan a way out. That lets me regain control and start moving forward without fear.

A few weeks later, the situation began to clarify in my mind. We were learning how to work remotely as a team. We also saw that most of our clients would not be deeply affected by COVID, so we could start a safe return to our previous plan for the year’s growth.

One other thing happened: I realized I was pregnant.

Even though I have given birth twice since we co-founded the company, I was worried. A new baby, a company to run, and to do it under the terms of the “new normal” we were facing was a lot.

Our Series B round ($40M led by Scale Ventures) was raised completely by remote communication. I was 5 months pregnant, and deeply conflicted about whether I should mention it within the investment, and if so, exactly when. Eventually, I decided not to. I felt it shouldn’t be relevant to the decision and felt confident that the coming birth would not affect the company’s results.

I realized that most of the investors were probably unaware that I was pregnant. We didn’t meet in person, and honestly, there is never a good time to raise the topic.

I started to see that being remote while raising a funding round and managing a company had some advantages.

First, as a mother of young children, business travel is always complicated. It takes a lot of logistical planning and comes with a measure of guilt: “was this trip so important that am leaving the kids for another week?” and “what do they take out from not being able to understand where their mom just disappeared?”

Second, during our Series B funding round, my pregnancy would not be a factor in any investor decisions related to the company. All the decisions were purely professional. That made things easier for me. If they had decided not to invest – I would be able to analyze the decision objectively and learn from it.

November 2020, One month before giving birth, I received an email from Patrick Backhouse, partner at GreenOaks Capital. At that period of time, I was receiving a few emails each day from VCs wanting to discuss Papaya. But Patrick’s email was different from the other cold outreach emails I was getting, His message, citing an in-depth market analysis about Papaya, really got my attention and made me excited about speaking with them.

“We’ve learned a lot about Papaya and the category over the last several weeks and are coming away convinced this is a fantastic product being built into a very large end market. A few of our key learnings:

    1. Every single customer said that Papaya provided a jaw-dropping customer experience. All of them were used to having to deal with numerous international PEOs, lawyers, and payment methods, which they had no interest in doing, and working with Papaya allowed them to handle international employers and contractors without any of this hassle. They loved that you made the experience so simple for them, and that they did not need to repeat the same manual process for every new person they worked with.
    2. People love that you have always offered the widest breadth of functionality when it comes to paying international workers. We had spoken with some customers who had looked at a number of competitors, and all of them spoke to how Papaya has always been the leader with regards to the deepest integrations into international PEOs and offering international employment before any other next-gen competitor did. “

We had few calls during the month. I met the investors committee just 3 hours before heading to the hospital to give birth!  Timing is everything.

Two weeks later, at the beginning of January, we resumed out conversation. Deep down, I was wondering if the time was right for me personally to invest in another funding round. We were already so busy with our internal growth, scaling the team and … I had a 2-week-old boy who needed my attention along with my two older children.

That’s when I realized that this decision was not about me and what was good for me. I’m leading a company and a team, and it’s my responsibility to make the right decisions for them.

I can now say with complete confidence – the last two months were the most intense period of my life. A week after giving birth, there was another lockdown in Israel. We were home with two kids without their normal day care, a baby, a fast-growing company, and a funding round to manage.

Being in a situation of over-fatigue, still recovering from birth, without even a single minute to myself was hard. Very hard. On the other hand, so many good things were happening at the company and I was needed there in full force.

Of course, my children also needed me. They had begun to share their bedtime stories with my conference calls with the US. Ellie even started to enjoy sitting next to me during zoom meetings and listen to them. But one day, in between calls, she asked me if I can spend the day with her without being on calls. That was the moment I realized I need to give her some solo time as well, that she needs me as much as my team needs me.

Some personal conclusions:

  • For me, Papaya is no different than having an additional kid. I need to find the right balance between all of them, but I can’t just put the company on hold.
  • Some people might be able to hand over responsibilities to others better than I can. But for me, this is something that affect me deeply. I need to be involved. I love what I do and I don’t want to feel that my kids took it away from it.
  • Support, support, support. I have the most supportive spouse anyone can ask for, and still, sometime it’s not enough. Support is important – make sure you have as much as possible.
  • Enjoy the journey and leave guilt aside. You are what you are. Don’t try to be someone else – some “role model mom” or some “superwoman who does it all by herself.”
  • Being a woman is not a disadvantage. Ever. Never let anyone make you feel that it is.

And finally – ultimately, it’s a team journey. My real superpower is to being able to choose a team that is here to stay, to face all challenges, and to enjoy the journey of building a great company. To my entire, super-fast-growing team of Papayers around the world – Thank You for being part of our Papaya’s world.