If you do nothing else in Silicon Valley, you can keep busy every day of the week hopping from one conference, meetup, panel, or event to another. Star speakers intermix with rising stars, food and drinks are plentiful if not always ultra-healthy, and especially for those who can put on a good social face, networking opportunities abound.
If you have other things to do, as in employment, exercise, dinners and lunches, parties, cocktails and weekend trips to the great California outdoors, and on top of that, kids to pack lunches for and drive to school and afternoon activities, you need to be considerably more selective. Strategic, even.
I fall into that second bucket of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. The one with kids. My husband's work location does not permit him to get home on time for me to attend most of the events I want/need to attend. Yet I cannot, will not, be stuck inside isolated from the vibrant community I live in. So what's a woman to do?
She takes her little one along.
My four-year-old has been to the Churchill Club, Stanford Entrepreneurs events, Lean In events, tech meetups, and numerous other private and public events around town. And yes, even a few business meetings. Give her a pad of paper and color pencils—and/or Monument Valley on a mobile device—and she’s good. No tantrums, no inappropriate bodily-function noises.
But, like mama, she’s no wallflower.
Her first event was the International Day of the Girl, organized through a local LeanIn circle. It was there that her trademark laughter, an irresistible peal of joy, made its first public appearance. Heads turned and eyes popped open when the attendees realized just how young this girl was.
During a Churchill Club panel discussion on content creation, her laughter—in reaction to a joke one of the panelists made—turned the heads of the entire ballroom at the Santa Clara Marriott. My instinctive reaction was to look for the nearest exit, but there was no need. The collective head-turn resulted in a wave of smiles and one of the panelists declaring, “She wants one!” in reference to the high tech device they were just discussing. More laughter.
She’s the youngest attendee ever of a weekly conversation series held here locally, where she insisted she be able to participate. And did, endeavoring to express herself with the same seriousness as the adults.
At a Stanford mediaX event on algorithms for personal relevance, she took her first conference notes, scribbles on a notepad that tried hard to look like mommy’s. (Given the mind-bending topic of the sessions, I think I should have copied hers.)
At a panel with Dave McClure (500 Startups) and Kevin Laws (Angel List) on angel investment, she insisted, fervently, on sitting in the front row. With some trepidation, I said ok. Sure enough, she made her mark: she expressed her displeasure at the “bad words” the gentlemen used on occasion, and her audible, well-timed astonishment at various points they made about angel investing. Dave and Kevin, I must say, were great, Dave apologizing to the room about his “language” and Kevin throwing bemused smiles her way.
This is not to say it’s all always peaches at these events. She does get tired, especially if the events run long, and then I whisk her off to a luscious snack of fruit and nut bars, even if it means missing the rest of an event or the next one scheduled right afterwards.
She also gets decidedly disappointed when the events don’t have the proper refreshments. She doesn’t think twice about leaving the room to go on the hunt for candies or mints. At a recent meetup at Hacker Dojo with Mario Herger on gamification, she got bored after Mario’s presentation because “they don’t have any sweets!” She never was into pizza.
Mario later emailed me to say he wished he’d watched his language a little better. No worries, Mario. Dave’s got your back.
And forget about it if I don’t get up and speak. “It’s your turn, mama,” she whispers to me during Stanford's recent StartX pitch night. “Your turn to speak!” I explain we’re attending the event, that I’m not speaking or pitching at this one. She looks at me. “Okay, so after him you go, okay?”
To the great credit of all the event organizers I’ve ever asked permission from, not one has ever denied my little girl entry. On the contrary—she has been welcomed each and every time with open arms.
I’ve been told in numerous ways that I’m “brave” for bringing her, but I think it’s a matter of habit and familiarity. As with anything children learn and become familiar with, a professional event is just another environment with its own set of behaviors and dynamics.
But this isn't about me. I could call a babysitter if I wanted to come solo. For me, this is about my daughter, about showing her my world. I figure now is as good a time as any to introduce her to the lives and ways of entrepreneurs, to nurture that natural proclivity for imagination and uninhibited interaction with people regardless of their status or fame that I strongly believe all children have. And to instill in her the idea that it’s perfectly natural for girls to go to business events.
The sooner the better.