#SWAAYthenarrative

My Mission To Rebrand Motherhood For A New Generation

4 Min Read
Business

When Jill Koziol was expecting her first child, she didn't see motherhood depicted in a modern, authentic, and inspiring way— so she decided to rebrand what it means to be "Motherly."

Before having children I had an illustrious career in consulting advising senior government officials and impacting strategy as the highest level. I was confident in who I was and the value I brought to my profession. When I met someone new they always asked what I did as my career, and I was proud to share my work. But, that all changed when I became a mother. While I continued to work, I found that the world no longer saw me as an accomplished professional — before anything else I was a mom. Now I was asked what my husband did as his profession, not me.

I felt lost, like I was missing a core piece of my identity and had been put in a box that just didn't fit. Why was it that society saw the characteristics of motherhood as nurturing, loving, and caring, without acknowledging that women who are mothers can also be ambitious, driven, and confident? These attributes appeared to be viewed as contradictory, but that didn't align with my truth.

It took randomly crossing paths with another mom, Liz Tenety, through the Stanford Graduate School of Business community. Liz and I got to know one another as working mothers but even then our lives didn't intersect much. We were just too busy raising our young children and putting our husbands through business school to get to know each other that well.

Now I was asked what my husband did as his profession, not me.

Incidentally, Liz and I had lived parallel lives for nearly a decade— though we had never met. We both attended Georgetown (Liz as an undergrad, me for grad school), worked in DC (me in strategy management consulting for defense and intelligence agencies, Liz in journalism at the Washington Post), and married Naval Academy graduates — and lived as Navy wives while our spouses deployed abroad.

It wasn't until 2015, after Liz attended a mother's symposium on finding your authentic self, that our worlds truly connected. On a cold NYC day in March, Liz called me to chat about some ideas she had for a business to address the fact that motherhood was consistently portrayed in an outdated manner in media. She was not looking for a co-founder on that call, but what she said resonated deeply with me as both a millennial mom and a woman — a partnership was born.

The more we talked, the more Liz and I realized that the issue wasn't simply a media issue, but a systemic one that cut across content, community, and commerce. We also quickly recognized that this blank space existed not just for us but for our entire generation.

Research shows that millennial women are the first generation where women are more educated than men. They are also the first digitally-native generation to become parents. This generation of hopeful, accomplished, and discerning women was arriving to motherhood wanting to embrace this most incredible transformation of their lives but found themselves disappointed with the outdated offerings from media outlets and consumer products.

That's where Motherly came in.

From across the country, with Liz in California and me in NYC, we launched Motherly's "alpha" within six weeks of our first conversation and spent the next six months leveraging a design-thinking, user-driven approach, gathering data from thousands of women to understand what their pain points were in the micro-moments of motherhood. Through those interviews, we realized that creating a community around woman-centered, expert-driven, non–judgmental content was a way to connect with and inspire women.

Today, nearly five years since that first conversation, Motherly has emerged as the voice of the millennial mom and is a lifestyle parenting brand redefining motherhood on behalf of a new generation of mothers. We provide our 30M+ community of mamas with the encouragement, support, and inspiration to meet her real life, real mama needs by reminding her that motherhood is an opportunity to nurture — not lose — her true sense of self.

We are proud to be two female founders building a business for women, by women and creating a next-generation employer where parents can thrive. But all of this success hasn't been without its challenges. Our growth has been organic simply because we weren't able to raise the capital needed to fund marketing campaigns. Looking back, all of those "nos" from venture capitalists the first three years were a blessing. We were forced to be scrappy and it taught us grit and resilience. And our team owns our success in a profound way — we've earned our audience's loyalty, mama by mama. In business, money can hide a lot of problems and in its absence one must address each problem head on. We did all the hard things, which in the end were the right things.

In addition to the stereotypical challenges we faced from investors as female founders who also happen to be mothers, we both faced deeply personal struggles in Motherly's first years. Liz, now pregnant with her fourth child, has endured hyperemesis gravidarum, a pregnancy complication that is characterized by severe nausea, through two pregnancies. And three short months after our formal launch in December 2015, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an incurable neurological disease. Thanks to amazing doctors and cutting edge medical treatments, I'm blessed in that it's unlikely I will ever fully develop MS. And, as everyone at TeamMotherly can attest, my disease hasn't slowed me down at all.

Today, nearly five years since that first conversation, Motherly has emerged as the voice of the millennial mom and is a lifestyle parenting brand redefining motherhood on behalf of a new generation of mothers.

Though it all we've had each other's backs and we've had an amazing village in our staff, TeamMotherly. We've also had a deep passion and conviction driving our every decision that women and mothers deserve better—we exist to change the world on her behalf. And, we've got this, together.

Portions of the article are excerpts from the intro of This is Motherhood: A Motherly Collection of Reflections + Practices.

This article was originally published May 6, 2019.

5 Min Read
Career

How Fitness Saved My Life and Became My Career

Sometimes it takes falling to rock bottom in order to be built back up again. I learned this many years ago when the life I'd carefully built for myself and my family suddenly changed. But in those times, you learn to lean on those who love you – a friend, family member or someone who can relate to what you've been through. I was lucky enough to have two incredible women help me through one of my lowest moments. They taught me to love myself and inspired me to pass on their lessons each da

If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today.

In 2010, I was a wife, a mother of three, and had filtered in and out of jobs depending on what my family needed from me. At different points in my career, I've worked in the corporate world, been a stay-at-home mom, and even started my own daycare center. Fitness has always been a part of my life, but at that point being a mom was my main priority. Then, life threw a curveball. My husband and I separated, leading to a very difficult divorce.

These were difficult times. I lost myself in the uncertainty of my future and the stress that comes with a divorce and found myself battling anorexia. Over a matter of months, I lost 40 lbs. and felt surrounded by darkness. I was no longer participating in my health and all efforts to stay active came to a halt. I didn't want to leave my home, I didn't' want to talk to people, and I really did not want to see men. Seeing my struggles, first my sister and then a friend, approached me and invited me to visit the gym.

After months of avoiding it, my sister started taking me to the gym right before closing when it wasn't too busy. We started slow, on the elliptical or the treadmill. This routine got me out of the house and slowly we worked to regain my strength and my self-esteem. When my sister moved away, my good friend and personal trainer started working out with me one-on-one early in the morning, taking time out of her busy schedule to keep me on track toward living a healthy life once again. Even when I didn't want to leave the house, she would encourage me to push myself and I knew I didn't want to let her down. She helped me every step of the way. My sister and my friend brought fitness back into my everyday routine. They saved my life.

I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again. My friend has since moved away, but, these two women made me feel loved, confident and strong with their empowerment and commitment to me. They made such an incredible impact on me; I knew I needed to pay it forward. I wanted to have the same impact on women in my community. I started by doing little things, like running with a woman who just had a baby to keep her inspired and let her know she's not alone. I made sure not to skip my regular runs, just in case there was a woman watching who needed the inspiration to keep going. These small steps of paying it forward helped me find purpose and belonging. This gave me a new mentality that put me on a path to the opportunity of a lifetime – opening a women's only kickboxing gym, 30 Minute Hit.

About four years ago, I was officially an empty nester. It was time to get myself out of the house too and find what I was truly passionate about, which is easier said than done. Sitting behind a desk, in a cubicle, simply didn't cut it. It was hard to go from an active and chaotic schedule to a very slow paced, uneventful work week. I felt sluggish. Even when I moved to another company where I got to plan events and travel, it was enjoyable, but not fulfilling. I wanted to be a source of comfort to those struggling, as my sister and dear friend had been to me. I wanted to impact others in a way that couldn't be done from behind a desk.

I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again.

When I heard about 30 Minute Hit, I was nervous to take the leap. But the more I learned about the concept, the more I knew it was the perfect fit for me. Opening my own gym where women can come to let go of their struggles, rely on one another and meet new people is the best way for me to pass on the lessons I learned during my darkest times.

Kickboxing is empowering in itself. Add to it a high energy, female-only environment, and you have yourself a powerhouse! The 30 Minute Hit concept is franchised all over North America, acting as a source of release for women who are just trying to get through their day. I see women of all ages come into my gym, kick the heck out of a punching bag and leave with a smile on their face, often times alongside a new friend. 30 Minute Hit offers a convenient schedule for all women, from busy moms to working women, to students and senior citizens. A schedule-free model allows members to come in whenever they have a free half hour to dedicate to themselves. Offering certified training in kickboxing and a safe environment to let go, 30 Minute Hit is the place for women empowerment and personal growth.

Through my journey, I have learned that everyone is going through something – everyone is on their own path. My motivating factor is knowing that I can touch people's lives everyday just by creating the space for encouragement and community. It's so easy to show people you care. That's the type of environment my team, clients and myself have worked hard to create at our 30 Minute Hit location.

Fitness saved my life. If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today. The perfect example of women empowering women – the foundation to invincibility.

This article was originally published September 12, 2019.