Catherine M. Merritt

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I Quit My Dream Job and Couldn’t Been Happier

After years climbing the corporate ladder, I decided to leave it all behind in a leap of bravery and wanting to do something more meaningful.

(Originally published on ThriveGlobal.com)

For years I was working full time at a marketing agency (a great agency, I should add) in a demanding job. I was promoted three times within four years, ultimately elevated to Senior Vice President. In addition to the work I was doing at the agency, I had also founded and was running a startup on the side during the hours of 7pm-11:30pm most evenings. And raising two boys to be civilized members of society (and by civilized I would have settled for not peeing in public). And staying married, mostly happily, but remaining in the union with my patient and supportive husband. You know what helped? Wine. Wine helped!

It was a lot. More than I could have imagined if I’d known at the beginning what it’d take. There were good days. There were great days. But mostly there were hard and breaking days. I can say it now, though I didn’t alway feel it then, but I loved it; thrived off it. I embraced the challenges, the highs, the lows, the people I met along the way.

As I think about it, it’s not that far off from childbirth (stay with me…). The pain and anguish often disappeared when the good moments happened. As much as I loved it, I eventually realized that I had carried it as far as I could with the resources I had (I’ll write about that decision another time) and my partner and I decided it was time to move on from the startup, MUMZY. But, even when we decided to move on from it, and were able to sell it (which is another post I’ll write about some other time!), I wasn’t done with the journey. I had only just begun.

Going through the grueling path of entrepreneurship can often do one of two things to someone: Turn people off of it forever (which I get- remember, most of the days were hard and breaking). Or, people want to do it more.

I was in the later group.

Despite all the challenges, tears I cried with the frustrations I faced time after time, they paled in comparison to when the going was good. When I was able to make a breakthrough. When I was able to seal a deal I’d been working on for months. And when my startup, MUMZY was dissolved and in the hands and ownership of someone else, I immediately began looking for my “what’s next”.

Who knew that “what’s next” would have been as simple as a cardboard box.

I was introduced to Shawn Bercuson through a mutual friend and he was setting out to launch a new baby e-commerce company called Finnbin. It was a baby box, full of newborn essentials, but meant to bring about the Finnish tradition wherein newborns sleep in a cardboard box their first six months. Why? It’s an incredibly safe method that drastically reduced the cases of SIDS in Finland.

When Shawn and I spoke I knew right away I had found my “what’s next.”

I was still working full time at an agency, co-leading an entire practice and a leader in our Chicago office. I realized if Finnbin was going to be as successful as I believed it could (and should) be, I’d have to give it more time and attention than my previous startup. I began kicking around the idea of leaving my job (a very stable, successful, enjoyable job with awesome people- not something easy to walk away from) and consulting while also spending time on Finnbin. I knew I had a strong network. I knew I could hustle, but there were still a million reasons that would get in the way for me to mentally take the plunge.

It wasn’t until I had coffee with a friend and neighbor that she helped empower me and realize that consulting was a viable option to give me the additional time to work on Finnbin. I began doing some research and reaching out to a few people to learn more. Ultimately, it took a couple of months to get things in a good place to where I felt I was ready(-ish) to take the leap and give it a shot.

I should also add that there was another huge factor in all of this. My boys. I have a six year old, Teddy and a four year old, Archie. Throughout my career, I have advocated and ensured I had enough of a ballance in my life so that I was a present mother. But as my jobs got more demanding, I realized that I was missing out more and more. I’ve never had regrets about working. In fact, I’m a believer that for me, working makes me a better mom. But I began to feel that I would soon regret the things I was missing, especially since the time goes by at such a rapid pace. Being home more with my boys played a big role and it’s important to call that out.

My last day at the agency was December 6, 2016.

So- for the past six weeks, here’s what’s going on. I’ve started my consulting business, Merritt Group Consulting, LLC. I have awesome clients, I’m working with and adding more. I’m loving the opportunity to work with brands and companies that are engaging, challenging, good-minded and fun to work on and work with. I have reconnected with many of my previous clients who have been incredibly kind and supportive and connected me to new opportunities. I love consulting and only wish I’d decided to do this sooner.

Finnbin launched mid-December and we’re growing and seeing amazing success. We’re working with companies who want to provide Finnbin as a benefit for their employees who are expecting, we’re working with hospitals who want to provide Finnbin to patients and we’re working with all sorts of moms, dads, families who love what Finnbin is all about and want to bring this tradition into their own homes.

I have no idea what the next three, six, 12 months hold, but I’m okay with that. I like seeing where the journey takes me and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s to be open to new opportunities and go where the path takes you. I have no doubt it will be hard. It will be challenging. It will break me at times. But I also know that I’m doing it for myself and I finally hold the reigns to my success and opportunity in a way I never have before.

Catherine Merritt is the principal and founder of Merritt Group Consulting, LLC and co-founder of Finnbin. She’s a serial entrepreneur, marketing leader, consultant and problem solver. She lives in Evanston, Illinois with her husband, Ian, and their sons, Teddy and Archie.

 

Catherine Merritt
What startups can teach big companies

I was speaking with a startup professional a few days ago about why startups are such exciting places to work. He said, and I agree that one of the reasons people stay in the startup space, even if they know the odds are against them and their company’s success, is because of the energy and rapid pace of it. While there are traits that would be challenging to parlay into larger companies, there’s a lot they can learn from startups. I read that 40% of companies founded in the 20th Century will ultimately fail in the 21st Century. What does that tell us? The old companies that embrace their youthful startup counterparts have better odds than dinosaurs left for extinction.

1. Failure isn’t the end- it’s part of the journey

This may be a hard one to convince shareholders of, but it’s certainly a mantra that your people can and should embrace. The get the most out of people and your concept, it’s important to put things out there and roll with it when they don’t go according the plan. The learnings and experiences that come on the heels of failure are often the quickest path to a ‘what next’ that gets you closer to success. Teach your people that mistakes are part of the process- not that they should seek it out, but feel confident that when (not if) something goes wrong, they’re supported and encouraged to extract the lessons from why that happened.

2. Change is good and often necessary even if it brings discomfort

While it often creates uncertainty and discomfort, change is a necessity to keep growing and staying relevant. If a startup hasn’t gone through recent iterations of changes, that’s a very bad thing often times. For larger companies, they may not change to the degree that a startup will, but it’s important to build a foundation and culture that is malleable and adaptable. Change is our friend, say it with me.

3. Act quick, learn faster

Put something out into the world and see how it does. That may be counterintuitive to many companies who rely on revisions upon revisions, but often times if you share something with the world you’ll learn quickly on how it performs, what adaptations are necessary and how to get it to the right place. If your company moved at a turtle’s pace with evolving and innovating, your customers will often outgrow you and leave you behind.

4. Share the wealth and see the return

In a world where everyone is looking for a ‘what’s next’ the best way to keep top and rising talent is to let them have some skin in the game. When possible, give them some of the company and you’ll see the return on that is ten-fold. People want to be part of something, not just work for someone. Startups use equity as an incentive for their talent and the startups that takeoff have many founding members who have a vested interest in making sure the company succeeds.  

Catherine Merritt
How a Diaper Bag Insert Turned into a Crowdfunding Site for Moms

(originally posted on BlogHer)

About a month after having my son, Teddy, I had my first moment of (new) mom inspiration. Somehow in my sleep-depraved, poorly showered, deer-in-headlights state, I came up with a damn good idea.

You see, even though I’m a sensible Midwesterner, I have this pension for really nice handbags. When I was registering for baby stuff, I was somewhat devastated about the lack of diaper bag options almost to the point of embarrassment as I admit it.

Alright, so, going back to a month after my son was born, I was packing a diaper bag for an outing while also packing some snacks in a Hefty slider bag and I had a realization: I could use those slider bags and put the diaper bag essentials into my cute purse. And it worked. Sorta.

And then another aha moment: What if there were *something* that could turn your normal purse *into* a diaper bag! Eureka! I immediately went to see where I could buy one, and lo and behold, nothing of such existed. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and this mother had just had her very own.

Over the next few months, I researched in my (sacred and scarce) spare time to figure out how to bring this idea to life. I spent money for a provisional patent application. I hired someone to draw me a pattern for a prototype.

I did a lot of things that I thought made sense, but ultimately, after spending lots of money (that we didn’t have since I’d been on maternity leave) and (sacred and scarce) time, the idea never became a reality. It was just too damn hard.

While I didn’t bring the diaper bag insert to fruition, I talked to lots of moms and found out I wasn’t the only one coming up with these ideas. In fact, literally almost every single mom I talked to had their own innovation since becoming a mom.

But it was the lack of resources and funding that often stopped people from moving forward with their idea. And while I didn’t create those awesome diaper bag insert—thingys (which I still think is an awesome idea!), the whole experience did pave the way for me to launch something even bigger: MUMZY.

MUMZY is a crowdfunding platform built specifically with moms' needs in mind. Knowing the unique barriers, challenges and lack of time (right?!), I built MUMZY to be an all-encompassing tool, site, and resource to both help moms launch their brilliant ideas and to support their fellow moms.

Sometimes I ask myself: How could I create an entirely new crowdfunding platform, a Kickstarter for moms if you will, but I couldn’t make a simple organizer to turn my handbag into a purse? Surely a web-based site is more complex and difficult than a glorified pouch with pockets, right?

Right. It has been hard. But here’s the deal: As soon as I had the idea for MUMZY, the idea of creating something that could really, like really help moms (and not just keep using their cute handbags) gave me a renewed level of passion and dedication to take it and run with it. To help other moms see their amazing ideas into a reality that has been the driving force in bringing MUMZY to life.

I’ll be honest, I often compare this whole experience as something not dissimilar in many ways to childbirth (stay with me on this … ). Sometimes it’s good that you don’t know the pain and hardships that are involved with something or else you may not take that first brave step of the journey. That’s definitely been the case with MUMZY.

In addition to working on it over the past two years, I am also a vice president of an award-winning marketing agency, raising two boys to be civilized members of society (hell, I’d settle for them to not pee in public!) and launching a start-up.

I often feel that same sleep-deprived haze from when I had newborns, but I’ll let you in on my secret to keeping it going: I’m having so much damn fun and learning so much, I wouldn’t stop if you paid me.

Is it hard? Hell yes. Am I tired? Absolutely. Do I leave the house more often with a yogurt or oatmeal handprint on one item of clothing? Every day.

But I work at a company that has supported my passion for MUMZY since day one, I’m married to an amazing man who also took the brave step of starting his own business, and every time I talk with a mom who has an idea but doesn’t know where to go with it and I tell her about MUMZY, the beam and excitement on her face keeps me going.

Imagine all the opportunities, awesomely helpful products, and innovative inventions that could be out there in the world *really* helping moms because they were made by fellow moms who wished they existed for them? Think about what it would look like to have a more robust population of moms who take steps toward bravery.

Moms who decided they’re going to take ideas and make them really happen. The possibilities are endless and so exciting.

That’s what keeps me up late at night making tweaks to the site or emailing a mom who posted a project with some more tips to keep up the momentum of her campaign. Because I know that the power of moms with amazing ideas is not something to take lightly, and MUMZY is going to show that to the world.

Catherine Merritt
Five Entrepreneurial Lessons

Embrace Challenges
Embrace the challenges. (I know, easier said than done.) They’re not fun, they’re often uncomfortable, but they make you better. 

Network Gold
Use and build your network. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and connect with so many inspiring, helpful, successful people, many of whom I didn’t know but simply reached out to and asked to meet. Never be afraid to put out the ask and build your network and community.

Change is Good
Being able to learn, apply those learnings, and pivot is essential. But hard. Take a step back and reassess if the path you’re on is the right one. Also find people (either co-founders, board members, or advisors) who can help you see changes and offer outside perspective.

It's a Marathon
It’s not a sprint. As someone who loves to jump out of the gate and get as many things done in a day as possible, this was a hard, but very necessary, lesson. Embrace the journey, know it’s going to be longer than you thought, but that makes you better for it.

Celebrate the Wins
And move past your losses. The journey of entrepreneurship has high highs and low lows. It’s important to celebrate as many wins as possible and use that positivity to get you through the hard lows. This also goes back to using your community to help you when you need it. 

Catherine Merritt
Stop Telling Working Moms You “don’t know how we do it”—Tell Us You’re "glad we’re doing it”

I’m lucky.

I’m the daughter of a mom who showed me and my sisters that she could kick ass in her career while raising our family. Growing up, there was never a doubt that if I wanted to work and have kids, I could have both. I also worked at companies that had women at the top who would leave at 5 p.m. because they needed to pick up their kids. All of this grew my confidence and commitment that I could thrive in both professional and family universes. In fact, I found that my career started to grow much more quickly after I had my first son.

There’s something that happens when you become a mom. Before it, I was a hard worker. After joining the ranks of motherhood, I was a smart worker. Subtle, but very different.


Currently I’m senior vice president for one of the top and fastest-growing marketing firms, where I oversee two of our largest clients. I am also the founder of a startup called MUMZY, which is a crowdfunding site for moms (like Kickstarter for moms), working on it every waking hour, minute, second I can. I am also the mom of Teddy (5 years old) and Archie (almost 3) and raising two wild boys to be civilized members of society (and by “civilized” I mean I would be happy if they stopped peeing in the bushes!).

Is it easy? Hell no (especially curbing the boys from peeing in bushes...don't get me started!).

Is it worth it? For me? Absolutely! I get so much out of all these roles I have that it makes it possible for me to keep the plates spinning and achieving success along the way.

Which brings me to one of my greatest pet peeves (especially when it stems from other women and moms). I was at a conference not long ago, in a session about female leadership and female founders. The woman leading the talk was sharing relevant statistics and anecdotes about the challenges of being a female leader in the workforce. She then brought up how families are a big barrier to women reaching leadership roles. She basically said, “I can’t even imagine how moms do it. I call my employees my kids and can’t fathom doing what I’m doing if I were also raising a family.”

I gasped. Audibly.

In a room full of women, talking about how to support and raise each other up to keep doing great things, I couldn’t believe my ears that the speaker was basically reinforcing the notion that if you’re a mom, you can’t do it. Being the mild-mannered woman I am, I instantly raised my hand and told her that we need to change the conversation.

Instead of saying: “How do you do it?” we need to start saying: “I’m so glad you’re doing it.” At the end of the day, we moms are always making sacrifices, struggling to keep the balls in the air, but if we work hard at it and make a commitment to seeing it through, there are no people better equipped to do amazing things than moms. It’s why I founded MUMZY, to help moms bring their brilliant ideas to life and support fellow moms.

The next time someone says: “I don’t know how you do it,” remind them that they can do it too.

Catherine Merritt