When I first met Aniyia Williams, she was a pre-entrepreneur with an idea. Six months later, I bumped into her again and in place of the idea was a team, a brand, and an Indiegogo for Tinsel, the women’s wearable tech company she founded. A year later, Aniyia was shipping her first consumer hardware product. Amidst the hubbub of launching the product, she also gave birth to a baby girl in the most epic way ever.
If this isn’t already self-evident, allow me to be crystal clear: most people, products, and companies do not move at the pace of Aniyia Williams.
I caught up with Aniyia recently in Austin, TX, where she was spearheading a whirlwind of South By Southwest activities, mostly in support of the second organization she recently founded (yes, a second company!), Black & Brown Founders. Like Sir Isaac Newton, who paused his physics research to work on the development of calculus to further his physics work, Aniyia experienced firsthand the need for stronger infrastructure and communities for founders of color when she, herself, went out to fundraise for Tinsel. Casting aside impossible goals of ‘having it all,’ Aniyia shares her story of the tradeoffs and triumphs of working motherhood.
First off, we’ve got to hear more about this birth story!
I delivered my daughter, Noemi, at my house, which was not planned. I went from early labor to water break and pushing contractions within minutes and, even though my father and husband tried to get me in the car to the hospital, I knew we wouldn’t make it. I hurried to my bedroom and stripped the bed -- things were about to get messy! Meanwhile, my husband ran around looking for What to Expect When You're Expecting to find the emergency birth section, only to chuck it aside moments later to catch the baby. When he came into the room, her head was already out! Moments later, the EMTs showed up and helped my husband cut the cord on the flat surface of What to Expect.
So motherhood has been pretty intense from the beginning for you….
Yes! Getting pregnant in the early days of Tinsel was a little terrifying, but I was grateful for the flexibility entrepreneurship allowed. Nonetheless, I tried to keep the pregnancy under wraps, especially when fundraising. I’m already a hardware founder and a black woman; I didn’t want to add another layer. The odds were not in my favor.
Were you afraid you wouldn’t be able to run a startup and have a baby simultaneously?
Not really, fortunately. But I did underestimate how much I’d be able to do on my own. I learned the importance of having a good team at work and at home. At home, my husband took time off when the baby was born and my mother-in-law retired immediately and ended up staying for 16 months!
I went back to work and fundraising about three weeks after Noemi was born, still wearing pads the size of a football field! Physically, I was not myself, but here were so many people invested in the effort to make Tinsel grow that I found plenty of inspiration around me.
How’d you do it all?
Ha, I didn’t! By the time we started shipping product in 2016, I was burned out and had inadvertently put a strain on my relationship with my husband. All the events, the travel, the speaking engagements took a toll on him, too. 2017 was a year for myself and my family; I needed to find a better balance.
What changes did you make to find a better balance point?
My husband and I worked hard to reconnect and better communicate our needs. I learned to say “no” to more things. Even though it’s possible I missed opportunities by doing this, it was critical to our relationship. I’m still trying to draw harder boundaries about how and when I work at home. The hardest part: being okay with not working all the time.
When I know it’s my time to be with Noemi, for example, I’m in the moment as much as possible. My calendar used to be more fluid but now it’s more segmented. I make more active choices about spending my time.
How has motherhood influenced the way that you lead?
Having a child has given me a new perspective on my career. With Tinsel, I spent so much time fundraising that I realized I needed to think outside the box to achieve both success and the family lifestyle I wanted… Believe it or not, Black & Brown Founders had success out of the gate, and has been more amenable to mom life than Tinsel where I was traveling to China every few months.
I also understand from my own journey as a leader and a mother just how insidious patriarchy is, even among mindful and intentional people. We hold women to a ridiculous standard. We all have to work to create an equitable situation for women who work, including enlightening our male counterparts.
But, goddamn, it’s hard.
What’s your advice to moms?
Don’t be a hero! Seems like the sentiment of American parents is that in order to be a good parent you have to do everything the hard way. Grow the carrots, puree them yourself and you’re somehow a bad mom if you don’t do this. The baby doesn’t care; it just wants to eat!
What lessons from your career do you hope to pass on to your daughter?
I want her to understand it’s possible to achieve her dreams in three ways: One, I’ll make sure she has a valuable skill set-- her superpower; two, I can make sure she recognizes her superpowers; and, three, I want to help her understand how to monetize her skills to be self-sufficient.
Random item in your bag?
I always have crayons. I can find the paper, but I bring the crayons!
When asked what makes her boss, Aniyia cites her ability to get sh*t done no matter what. Tenacity was a behavior she saw modeled by her grandmother, a family matriarch and entrepreneur who taught Aniyia and her cousins important business skills -- and crucial life lessons along the way. Aniyia’s determination fuels her quest to change the startup funding ecosystem, fight patriarchy, and delight in impromptu coloring sessions with her daughter. Just don’t ask her to stay within the lines.