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Selina Tobaccowala

SVP, Product & Engineering

Palo Alto, CA

That email made the decision for me. There were many other offer details still to be negotiated, but now I knew that taking the time I needed to start a family wasn’t one of them.

There have been two key decisions that have greatly impacted my career: choosing to start Evite and signing on for my current position at SurveyMonkey. Both were Lean In moments, but for two very different reasons.

I was a junior in college studying abroad when a friend of mine, Al Lieb, and I came up with an idea that got us pretty excited; so excited that I decided to come home early. The idea turned into Evite and we officially incorporated in the spring of 1997. I spent my senior year at Stanford working on it and as graduation loomed, I had to make some big decisions. Recruiters were on campus actively looking for people to join some very innovative, successful companies. I had to ask myself, “Do I keep working on this startup idea, or go to a more established company?”

I talked with my dad, who I consider to be a close friend and mentor. I told him about the recruiters and the various opportunities at larger companies. He listened thoughtfully and then asked, “Are you excited about what you’re doing? Do you have any reason not to take a risk right now?” When I said no, he encouraged me to “put [your] whole heart into Evite and work on it completely and fully.”

So I went for it. What followed was two years of intense work with my co-founder. We graduated early and lived off the money we earned through random contract jobs and leftover tuition money. We had a $3.50 lunch budget, and on a good day, we’d pool our resources to share something larger. In February 1999, we received funding and Evite was on its way.

Funding made all the difference; we finally had room to breathe and to concentrate on business strategy. Co-founding Evite was a tremendous opportunity and experience. If I had taken a job as a coder/developer at one of the bigger companies, I may never have become an entrepreneur. We went on to sell Evite to Ticketmaster.

My second Lean In moment came years later when I was working in Europe. I had been managing 250 people and travelling all over the continent. However, I was ready to come back to Silicon Valley, where I’d have the opportunity to do something more entrepreneurial, scalable, and innovative.

I looked at several opportunities, but none felt like the perfect fit. Then I heard about a role at SurveyMonkey; I would be heading up product and engineering, and working with data in a way that really excited me.

Two days before the interview, I found out I was pregnant. Questions ran through my head. Should I leave my stable job in Europe, and its very liberal maternity leave, for something new and unknown? Would anyone want to hire a pregnant woman? Even though I would be four months pregnant the day I started my new job, I knew I would provide huge value to SurveyMonkey.

I went on the interview. I loved the team, and the CEO was a great leader. Everybody I met was really impressive and I absolutely loved the product. I also got the sense that the company culture supported a strong work/life balance, something that would be important now that my family was growing. I left the SurveyMonkey office certain I wanted the position, but uncertain of how I would handle my contingencies.

I emailed the CEO and told him I was interested in the job and was in the very early stages of a pregnancy. Within minutes, I received an email back with his congratulations and assurance that SurveyMonkey was a great place to work, and the perfect place to raise (and start) a family.

That email made the decision for me. There were many other offer details still to be negotiated, but now I knew that taking the time I needed to start a family wasn’t one of them.

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