LY Podcast: Ep 19 – Having the Runway to Fail, Tinker, & Learn to be Financially Successful with Tina Lee – Launch Yourself
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Tina Lee is the founder of MotherCoders – non-profit helping working moms grow their coding skills in the Bay Area. After having her first child, Tina had a difficult time being able to increase her coding skills while looking after her young one. An epiphany – she probably wasn’t the only mom who needed childcare assistance to find the time/space to learn.

Her organization just finished their first beta test and is in the process of raising more money for round two… and also figuring out what the next stage will look like. She shares her struggles, ideas, her measures of success, and the best advice she has for anyone starting a non-profit (or any other venture).

TOPICS DISCUSSED INCLUDE:

  • On-ramping moms into new careers in a technical economy
  • At a moment of despair, you have empathy for others who may be experiencing the same thing
  • Pilot – raised money to cover the costs of the concept, but no profits
  • Time and food was donated
  • Pricing going forward to offset costs as a non-profit
  • Figuring out what their eco-system will look like – what their sweet spot will be
  • Making their platform available to the people who need it, without the cost being a barrier
  • Keep tinkering and learning
  • Leap of faith not knowing what the payoff will be
  • Figuring out a way to make this work financially for our family
  • Having the runway to fail, learn and tinker
  • Guilt that comes with being a working mom
  • Being terrified everyday… also known as being an entrepreneur
  • Success is a moving target
  • You cannot be awesome by yourself – social capital is important

WANT TO GET IN TOUCH WITH TINA?

MORE ABOUT TINA LEE

Tina LeeTina Lee is the founder of MotherCoders, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create a more dynamic, sustainable, and inclusive economy by on-ramping moms to technical careers. She started MotherCoders in September 2013 — 4 months after her second child was born — when she wanted to get more proficient in computer programming and couldn’t find a resource that worked well for her given her work and parenting responsibilities. After surveying her options, Tina had a hunch there might be other moms like her out there, yearning for a learning experience that involved lots of social interaction and support from like-minded peers. MotherCoders just wrapped up their pilot program and are fundraising for more classes.

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Melissa Anzman (00:00): This is a launch yourself podcast with Melissa Anzman episode number 19, featuring Tina Lee.

Melissa Anzman (00:07): Hello. Hello. Hello, and welcome to the launch yourself podcast, career, business, and brand advice to help you be seen, make an impact and deliver at your maximum potential. And now here's your host, Melissa. Anzman

Melissa Anzman (00:26): Welcome to the launch yourself podcast. I'm your host, Melissa Anzman today. We will be chatting with Tina Lee. Tina is the founder of MotherCoders a nonprofit organization whose mission is to create a more dynamic, sustainable and inclusive economy by onramping moms to technical careers. She started MotherCoders in September, 2013, four months after her second child was born when she wanted to get more proficient in computer programming, and couldn't find a resource that worked well for her, given her work and parenting responsibilities after serving her options. Tina had a hunch that there may be other moms like her out there yearning for a learning experience that involved lots of social interaction and support from like minded peers MotherCoders was invented and just straps up their pilot program and our fundraising. For more classes, please welcome Tina to the show. Welcome to the podcast. So excited to have Tina Lee join us.

Melissa Anzman (01:25): Tina is from MotherCoders and she's gonna talk a lot about where she's at right now and her launch. And I'm so excited to have her on the show. Her and I actually haven't ever met, but we have been introduced by a mutual friend of ours who are both big fans, so I'm excited to have her. And I think her story is going to be very interesting for those of you out there, particularly working moms to understand how to launch and how an idea can grow really big. So with that, you know, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for having me. We're so excited. So here at launch yourself, we define a launch at as a specific point in time when you purposely decide to take action to fulfill your maximum potential in your career, business or brand. So with that, can you share with us today what launch you'd like to focus on?

Tina Lee (02:17): Okay, that's great. I'm glad you said which launch because I've tried many times to do stuff and you know, who knows this is the latest thing I'm trying to do. I started a nonprofit called mother coders and what we do is we help moms on ramp to technical careers in the new economy, the information economy, by providing them with a tech orientation program, but gets them to a place where they can figure out where their skills might come into play and what they might be interested in and doing next. So what we're really trying to do is just get moms situated and comfortable with text so that they can figure out a roadmap

Tina Lee (03:00): And take the next step towards a more technical career. And I, myself started as a management consulting, doing large systems integrations for companies. From there I did technical recruiting. I've done a bunch of stuff, worked in politics. My latest the job that I left when I started mother coders was with the state controller's office of Cal, the state of California, where I was helping the controller interface with the tech industry and helping kind of inform his office about, you know, what the policy implications might be because of the large growth and then just helping foster some dialogue between government and industry. So I've done a bunch of stuff. And the, the time that I spent in grad school, I did a program called learning design and technology was a time where I focused a lot on how technology could be used to enhance learning outcomes.

Tina Lee (04:05): And I really was focused on using technology to increase civic participation, but, you know, as life goes during that journey, I kind of got a really good look at the tech industry in general. And, you know, it's no secret that women are woefully, underrepresented minorities are underrepresented, and that's something that I've always carried with me wanting to do something about it. So this is MotherCoders is my attempt at trying to get more women who happen to be moms into the technology industry so that we could diversify and being a mom and being a woman intersects with all these different issues. So, I mean, we could talk about, you know, the economic implications of social implications, or even just from a business perspective, you know, what happens when you have a monoculture or, you know product development cycles that don't include different perspectives.

Melissa Anzman (05:15): Yes, absolutely. We will get to that. I want to focus on the launch a little bit more, cause it's super interesting of what you talked about and being that it is the launch yourself podcast. It's, it's great for us to be able to dig deep there. So talk to me a little bit about where this idea came from. It sounded like you were working in the field, you saw something. What made you sort of, what was your light bulb moment of wait? Whoa. There is an opportunity here that I want to capitalize on

Tina Lee (05:42): Came from pain. I don't know if this theme in the stories that your guests bring, but I mean, at a moment of disparity, that's when you kind of have empathy for other people who might experiencing the same thing. So what happened to me was I had my first child in 2011. At that time, I was working at a nonprofit that helps bridge the digital divide. So I was their director of learning, trying to figure out, you know, ways that we could help build capacity in nonprofits, that's who we served and helped them get up to speed on technology and how that could be used to help them achieve their missions. So I'd been working at the digital divide skills gap issue for a while now. So I had my baby in 2011 and decided, Hey, I have been trained to do, you know, HTML, CSS, very, very basic website development skills twice now, but because I never had a job or an opportunity where I got to use it like language, right.

Tina Lee (06:48): It went away. So after I had my baby, I was like, Oh, you know, I'm going to pick this up again, but I wasn't very consistent with it. And although in, especially where we on the San Francisco Bay area, there are lots of workshops and meetups and even online classes are free. It's just with a child it's not very accessible. I was working full time. First time, mom I have a husband who's, who's also working. So it was hard to carve out the time to develop these skills in a consistent manner. So now I have two kids, right. So I changed even more. Now their baby came in 2013 and now I was really, really determined. Like, you know, I wasn't happy I'm working at my role in government. It just wasn't my speed and knew that I wanted to get more technical and I would have ideas about things I wanted to build or things that would be cool if we could like test out, but I never had the technical skills or even the design skills to make it make a prototype that was compelling enough to attract co-founders or investors.

Tina Lee (08:00): Right. So in a moment of, you know, not even a moment, just it was a process of several months of just being so sad and so depressed and feeling so much pressure and having to go back to therapy again. Who was, I know I'm just a mom and I'm, you know, this person who like does things I don't have time and I was so tired and this is very typical, right? So suddenly I had this epiphany, you know. Okay, okay. I'm trying to learn these skills. I come from tech, I've been in tech. I know what I want to learn. I know where to find the information. I know where to which classes I need, but if I can't access it, I cannot imagine how hard this must be for a mom who may have stepped out of the workforce, refused for the kids, or they've been working in a role where they just haven't had a chance to skill up.

Tina Lee (08:53): Right. Where would you carve out the time? So you gave me skills that you absolutely must have. If you want to get on a career track with growth and be in a position to work and pay for childcare, that's so expensive to justify, you know, being, not being the primary caretaker for your kids. So I have this moment of, you know, insight that, Hey, maybe I'm not alone. Maybe even though there are all these free resources out there that there were other moms like me who wanted to be with peers other moms who understood where they were coming from, and then also liked to learn in a way that was more social and in person. So that's where the idea came from. And I knew that childcare was a main barrier for me, my husband pitches in absolutely. He's such a great partner, but he works full time.

Tina Lee (09:47): I'm not going to stick in with two kids all day, Saturday, every Saturday until I learn a language there, you know, I wouldn't do that. And I wouldn't want to be away from my kids for that long. So I knew that childcare was a huge barrier. So we just said, okay, what if we provided onsite childcare? So that moms who have kids can participate. And we ended up finding a coworking space that happens to have a childcare facility onsite with licensed caregivers, insurance and all of that. So we ran our pilot out of that space. It's called next space patrol Hill. And they have a new division called next kids where they're tinkering with this idea of having coworking spaces that come with childcare facilities so that parents can drop off their kids and have them be right next door.

Melissa Anzman (10:35): Fabulous. And that truly is a launch out of your own pain. So I I'm familiar with it, but I think you just alluded to what makes MotherCoders really different. And a business is that you guys are not only teaching mothers, how to code and learn and technical skills and all of that, but you're doing it while providing childcare for them. So that's a big weight lifted off of their backs.

Tina Lee (11:04): Absolutely. And the moms, several moms indicated that they would not have been able to participate, you know, but for this childcare option that they had, that's

Melissa Anzman (11:17): Fabulous. So what is sort of your model of earning and business and stuff? Are you, do you charge by classes? Do you get a cut of the daycare? Like what's your model of business? So for the pilot, it was

Tina Lee (11:33): An experiment. So we raised enough money to pay for the facility, the rental, the conference room of the childcare facility, and then the pay the caregivers, and then bring in lunch. Cause we packed in their learning time. It ran every Saturday for six Saturdays in a row from nine 30 to three. So we brought in lunch and we would bring in a guest speaker. So it was really jam packed, right. So everyone gave their time on a volunteer basis, was all donated including some of the lunches. So we raised enough money to just run the pilot. And I knew that, you know, getting moms to come in and give me all of their time and B just bring it every Saturday. Right. I wanted to experiment on them and have them have an even exchange. So I said, you know, let's not charge them anything.

Tina Lee (12:25): Let's just see if this whole thing works. Let's come, let's see fun. Let's see what they learned anything. So we really experimented on them and they knew that coming in. So I said, you know, don't pay anything for this pilot, but going forward, we are definitely going to have to figure out some sliding scale so that we can offset some costs. We're a nonprofit, but we will have our own earning earned income because in today's environment, you have to have some of that right. In order to be sustainable. So we're figuring we're going to be figuring out in the next, I don't know, maybe year or so, we get to continue what that sliding scale might look like. And we're looking at the ecosystem out there. If you look at, you know, online classes to in person classes a lot of the dev bootcamp that have sprung up around here, charge anything from you know, $11,000 to $15,000. Online courses range from, you know, $7,500. I've seen to, you know, a few hundred dollars to free. So it just, we have to figure out a sweet spot of what works for people and then find a sliding scale where we're making an accessible to women, to moms who really want the skills and can make it.

Melissa Anzman (13:53): I think that's really great. And I love that we're talking to at this point of your launch, because it's not quite figured out yet, you've done it, you've run your pilot. And it was very successful, but it's not like you have everything, you know, down in cement or down in pen, it should say, this is how it's going to be. And this is what works that you're still flexible to ensure that you're, it's working for your audience.

Tina Lee (14:19): Oh my God, Melissa, we have no idea what's going to happen. Even if we figure out something that works regionally here, because we do want to expand to other cities, we have to figure out what might work somewhere else. And it, you know, we have originally economy has looked very different. Eco tech ecosystems look different. So we're really, you know, mindful of the variability of, you know, what parts we should be paying attention to and what might may or may not work. So that's why we're really flexible in terms of like trying out different models. So for example, the last pilot was run with on a Saturday. So was accessible to moms who worked full time. We did have some stay at home moms that came on the weekend. Next time we might want to run something maybe during the week for stay at home moms who don't need to have it on Saturday, or we might run it for Saturdays. But for working moms that have kids who might be a little older and don't need onsite childcare, but maybe some type of like camp, you know, for the kids while they're learning. So who knows, we just have to keep tinkering and learning.

Melissa Anzman (15:29): Absolutely. So tell me, what do you think was your biggest challenge in starting this launch and, and really going after it?

Tina Lee (15:38): Well, on a personal level, there was extreme sleep deprivation. My baby just turned one last week. So, you know, two kids under three, right. The other one is going to be turning three soon. So it just, I was exhausted. And so that was one component, you know, working, you know, from a startup in my living room, I really had to make myself do things. It's not like I had a team where I was accountable and I'm a very social person. So I have to be very self motivated and directed and, you know, really push myself for just with a leap of faith, right. Not knowing what the payoff might be. So that's one part. Another part is, you know, my husband and I were both first in our family to go to college. We don't have a lot of money. We have a lot of student loans. We have to defer all our loans because I haven't earned a paycheck since we started this. So, you know, it's a leap of faith. It's a lot of investment because you know, my husband and I believe in this idea and we want to help other moms. So that's been really challenging too, is figuring out a way to make this work financially for our family,

Melissa Anzman (16:57): Not just, you know, a great idea, but how does it become profitable enough that you can actually sustain it and provide the service?

Tina Lee (17:07): Absolutely. And having that runway to fail, to learn, to tinker, to develop the relationships that you need to get to a place where you can be financially sustainable

Melissa Anzman (17:21): From the participants in your beta test, ha like talk to us a little bit about the results that they've had and how they've been able to apply the skills they've learned.

Tina Lee (17:32): So inspiring watching them grow. The program itself, the curriculum had three components to it. The coding skills are important, but it's the how right. And the how kind of, doesn't matter. You don't know the why and the what's right. What do you build? Why are you building it then the hell comes into play? So having come from technology having, you know, gone to grad school to learn how technology fosters learning, and having spent time at the D school at Stanford I really wanted to have a program that was really centered around the what and the why, and then the, how having come in as, as like a complimentary part of it. So the mom could have taken these classes online anywhere. And a lot of them try to, several of them came in having taken online courses on their own.

Tina Lee (18:37): So what we did was look, you know let's learn about what the major trends in tech are. Let's find women that are out doing this for their job on the field, bring them in so that you can hear and see actual women doing stuff that you might want to do. And then some of them that we brought in were moms. We brought in 12 speakers, five of them were moms. So I think all of that really informed a new perspective on what's possible for them. Two of them have decided that they want to go all in. They want to learn and become full stab web developers. Two of them want to really go deeper into web design. They fell in love with web design. One of them can't really decide which one she likes more. She wants to tinker around a little more, although she thinks she wants to be more on the user interaction side, the design side.

Tina Lee (19:36): So we have, Mmm. Two of them were scientists, so they worked in biotech. Right. So it's so great to see how they can now have a sense of why their previous, their prior experience is important. Right? What health, biotech and health tech is huge right now. There was a graphic designer who was in our class and she now understands like, okay, I can use my graphic design skills and apply them to become a web designer. Right. So she and her husband have now teamed up to become a duo and they're going after clients together to develop websites for them. That's great. So that's success. I mean, you couldn't have asked for anything and they're all wanting to learn more. Right. They, I get CC'd on stuff sometimes when they're like, Hey, I'm gonna go to this information session for this program and they want to go check it out. Or does anyone have any, has anyone seen this new article that came out on, you know, CSS best practices? It's so great. They're learning with each other. They're getting really geeky and nerdy and it's so fantastic to have them feel so hopeful and, and know that there's a community of women already out there doing tech that they could tap into.

Melissa Anzman (20:56): Yeah. Did you have any type of, you know, fear or gremlins pop up while you were in the process of launching this? Or maybe it was like halfway through this, you know, the delivery of the beta, like, did you have

Tina Lee (21:09): Handle fear it all throughout your process? God, I am terrified every day. Every day. Right? Yeah. And not just terrified. I think this might be a mom thing too. You know, I feel guilty sometimes, but I'm not making money. I feel guilty that my kids are at daycare while I'm building this thing. So I'm fearful about money. I'm fearful about not spending enough time with them, especially if this failed. Right. I'm fearful about this is great, but what if we don't get enough donors? What if we don't get funding to continue, then what happens? What before the pilot launch, like what of these moms hate each other and they hate me.

Melissa Anzman (21:55): Okay.

Tina Lee (21:57): Yeah. We don't get up. We don't get up to speed fast enough in terms of building infrastructure that all of this energy that we created kind of fizzles. Right. So I'm terrified pretty much everyday.

Melissa Anzman (22:14): That means you're an entrepreneur. In other words, at least in my experience, you are welcome to welcome to the team.

Tina Lee (22:22): I go to therapy every week constantly, constantly walking me off the ledge, you know? Yeah.

Melissa Anzman (22:35): I mean, we're laughing because it's true for just about every entrepreneur. I know. So it's funny, but it's not type of thing it's funny or we cry moments. But how, you know, you said something that was very interesting to me in that if this folds and it's not successful. So how are you defining success for this program?

Tina Lee (22:55): Aye, it's a moving target. There's a short term. What, what success looks like in the short term and then there's what success looks like in the longterm. Right. just kind of from a macro level, success would mean there's a growing population of women and moms in tech to affect change in the industry. The industry is underrepresented by women and minority. So it's very exclusive right now. And you see it kind of in the way products and services roll out, right? More apps for dating, more apps for getting a cab more apps for making a restaurant, a reservation. And that's great, right? Like I love all those things, but Hey has anyone developed an app that help a mom or parents run their lives a little bit better? Right. It was a lot of pressure. Has anyone thought about all the money that's being left on the table because you know, all these women and moms aren't at the table when products and services are being imagined or reimagined or developed.

Tina Lee (24:10): So from a macro perspective, I would love to see, you know, a flourishing growing army of these moms out there just affecting change, right. And making products and services that make our lives better. So that's kind of a macro level, but for my, from other coders, the organization I am interestingly getting requests from all these cities from around the world. Like when are you going to get here? Apparently moms everywhere run up against this childcare issue when they're trying to gain skills that would enable them to create more economic opportunities for themselves. And with tech being such a transformative force, right? That's it was spreading, you know, to every corner of the world right now, this seems to be an area of growth in terms of, you know, industry jobs and income where women feel like, Hey, I want it.

Tina Lee (25:11): So it would be wonderful to, you know, at some point be able to make this an organization that can figure out a way to let moms everywhere have access to the program. Either have some type of self organizing model where say, Hey, we have enough, you know, women in the industry and funding and moms who want to do it to have one in Dublin or whatever that happens to be one of the places that we got a request from. And, but just from the U S I've gotten requests from North Carolina, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Texas, I mean just everywhere.

Melissa Anzman (25:50): So how can we as listeners help you? What can we do to change not only, you know, help MotherCoders, but the macro piece of that, how can we make a difference?

Tina Lee (26:00): Oh my goodness. So many ways. I think for us to have another class, we need money. So we need donations to get to that. If you, your listeners don't have funds, help us get the word out, tell people about us help us figure out a way to bring this to other moms by voicing a desire for this type of program and what it might mean for their communities. If moms were able to tap into this new sector of the economy.

Melissa Anzman (26:40): Yeah. Great. I'll be sure to obviously your notes and information of how people can contact you in the show notes.

Tina Lee (26:48): We have a video there's a five minute video featuring the moms from our pilot. That really explains what we're trying to do and what it looks like and what it means to these moms. I love this video. I'm so proud of that. I would love it. If everyone would go look, look at the video, pass it along, share it on social media. That would be wonderful. And if they can't make a donation.

Melissa Anzman (27:11): Great. So real quick, before I let you go, what would you, what best advice or piece of advice would you give to someone who is looking to launch something similar to what you're doing?

Tina Lee (27:23): Gosh I feel like I'm always giving this advice, but it's just rings true through and through in order to make your dreams come true. I don't care what it is, right. It could be as simple as you know, I want a new job too. I want to launch a new company. I want to change the world, build your network of support and you cannot be awesome by yourself. It is very important to have people around you that have the resources to help you, whether that's connections, whether that's advice, whether that's financial resources social capital is really important. We talk a lot, you know, about having economic capital, owe the money to, you know, do whatever you need to do to fund yourself. We talk about having even human capital. I have the skills to do ABC and D and that's great, but without social capital, it's going to be really hard to get your idea out there, to get yourself out there. Because at the end of the day, I mean, really, really it's all about people. And if they believe in you, those are the people that are going to help spread the word and support you in your darkest, darkest hour of need and in your highest, highest, highest moments of success. Absolutely.

Melissa Anzman (28:42): So Tina, could you just remind everybody where they can find you online? Yes,

Tina Lee (28:46): We are at www.mothercoders.org.

Melissa Anzman (28:52): Fabulous. Well, it has been a pleasure learning about your organization and having you on the show. And I can't wait for everyone to hear this and see all the wonderful opportunities you're providing for mothers in the Bay area right now, but hopefully across the world soon.

Tina Lee (29:07): Yes. Thank you so much for having me.

Melissa Anzman (29:09): I hope you enjoy today's episode with Tina Lee. I love Tina's energy and passion around her mother coders project, helping women working moms in particular, get more into a male dominated field and not letting money being a barrier to that. If you'd like to learn more about MotherCoders or to get the show notes for this episode, you can go to launchyourself.co/session19. Again, that's launchyourself.co/session19. And if you enjoyed this episode, please be sure to leave us a review and on Stitcher and iTunes

Melissa Anzman (29:42): Until next time.

Melissa Anzman (29:45): Thanks for listening to the launch yourself podcast. Join the conversation at www.launchyourself.co