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Heidi Perry

Startup Builder

Palo Alto, CA

Find what matters. Everything else will fall into place.

It was October 2008, just days after news of the impending financial crisis hit inboxes around Silicon Valley. I walked in to meet with my boss, the CEO of an early-stage startup, and was told I was being laid off. The company, though full of smart engineers, vision and the right backers, wasn’t going to make it financially and hey, VPs of Marketing are always the first to go. I was stunned.

Within days of leaving, I celebrated my 35th birthday and watched the presidential election with my husband, one-year-old and three-year-old. At a time in my life when I should have felt optimistic about the future, inside I was conflicted and confused. Everyone kept saying “You should take this opportunity to be with the kids more” or “Just take a few months off.”

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, those challenging weeks were when I decided to lean in. I made two important decisions that have shaped my outlook on career, family and personal happiness: First, I decided I would never let an employer rule my fate again. I left my fear of risk at the door and decided to start my own consulting business. Within days, I had my first two clients. Within six months, I had the pleasure of working with some of the most seasoned and innovative leadership teams in the industry, while building an important mentorship relationship in the process. Second, I formalized my skills in product management, an often more strategic role in most early-stage startups (and an uphill battle for those with an MBA who can’t code).

Since then, I have joined startups in both wonderful roles and in horrible ones, but always in the role of product manager. Every time I take on something new, I think of my kids, now five and seven. My responsibility to them is simple: If I’m not truly happy with the work I do every day, this crazy life I lead isn’t worth it. Some HR folks in large companies have told me, “You move around a lot.”  Maybe I do. But I get it done. And most importantly, I’m happy. That happiness is what propels me further to lead the Girl Scout troop, do a bit extra for the PTA, and play another game of Monopoly. My kids see this, my husband sees this, and I (finally, at age 39) see this.

I get calls almost weekly from old colleagues or mentees: “How do you manage work and kids?” “How do I know if I am making the right choice?” “How should I prepare for this big new opportunity?” My advice is the same as it’s always been: find what matters. Everything else will fall into place.