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A billion-dollar founder on being black, female and pregnant in Silicon Valley

© David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images Julia Collins, co-founder and chief executive officer of Zume.

By Kimberly Weisul, Inc.

Julia Collins, who helped raise $423 million for robotics company Zume, says female entrepreneurs with kids should never pull back to "appease the heteronormative patriarchy."

In 2015, Julia Collins co-founded Zume Pizza, the robot-making pizza company based in Mountain View, California, and now valued at more than $2 billion. In 2017, she also became pregnant with her first child, getting an education in defining what kind of mother--and what kind of entrepreneur--she would be. Now running Planet Forward Ventures, a food company designed to reduce greenhouse gases, 40-year-old Collins opens up about owning her pregnancy with investors, finding a logistically flexible romantic partner, and the art of radical self-acceptance. --As told to Kimberly Weisul

The experience of being a black woman on the planet has taught me to walk in my own truth. There was never an idea that I was going to "fit in" in any of the circles I was working in.

I recognize that it's not easy. Being black and being a woman, some can consider those to be stigmatized identities in our industry. I understand that my choice to become a parent makes that more challenging, but so what? If you're a founder, you're a fighter, and you're uniquely positioned to take on the challenge. I'd rather focus on paving the way for other women than limiting my choices to appease the heteronormative patriarchy.

When I was raising money as the co-founder of Zume Pizza, I was unapologetic. I would say, "As you can tell, I'm pregnant." Or, "As we think about next year, we're making plans to strengthen the team around me during the time I'll be away."

Make it plain. The folks you want to work with, the people you want to invest in your company and become part of your story, they will get it and they will embrace it. If someone can't handle a person who is going to become a parent--when probably they themselves are a parent or going to become one--I just don't want to work with them.

Now, for the first time in my life, I have two male business partners. From almost the second or third meeting, we all opened up and talked about our kids, our partners, what we want, and how it's going to impact the way we build. One of my partners has two children, ages 9 and 11, and an amazing wife who wants to go back to work. The other is in his early 40s, unmarried, but very much wants to meet his love and have kids.

I'd rather focus on paving the way for other women than limiting my choices to appease the heteronormative patriarchy.

We didn't assume that my having a child would make me any less able to perform. I have a 15-month-old at home, and my partner and I are considering having another child. If I'm going to be in Korea for three weeks, I want to be with my son and I want to bring a traveling nanny. I was really open and honest around that. Obviously, it's not a business expense, but my partners have been helping me with referrals, and they're super supportive.

We don't even ask our male colleagues how they balance. I have around me the same supportive structure that many of our male colleagues have. I have a wonderful full-time nanny. A super-supportive romantic partner. And active and engaged parents who are amazing.

This is the first time I have partnered romantically with somebody who I truly believe wants me to be a rock star. Tremayne is my partner. He has a Google alert on me and tells me about stories before I've seen them. He wants to know about every meeting. If I tell him I am invited to speak somewhere, he changes his work calendar or works with my parents so he can come.

And if he needs to work from home one day because the nanny is sick and I am traveling, he can do something like that. And work with my parents to make sure he can stay productive during the day.

My partner and I chose an apartment that was walking distance from my parents. We bought our first home together five blocks away. One day a week we call "Granny Nanny Day." We set the calendar two months at a time. My father adjusted his working schedule to be on call.

I wake up at 5:15 a.m. Which means that I have a full 60 minutes to shower, check email, and meditate before my son gets up. That is so, so important, to have some quiet time in the house. I do not commute. That is really helpful.

I also always make sure to get my son packed and ready for his nanny the night before. He goes to a nanny share. There's a little assembly line of jars and food. All the clothes are organized the night before so the morning is really smooth.

There is the tactical work of doing the juggling, and the spiritual work of forgiving yourself. Of saying, "I forgive myself for everything. I forgive myself for the two nights this week I wasn't home for bedtime. I forgive myself the fact that I won't be able to spend five days at TED." It's a radical self-acceptance that creates the space to enjoy being a mom. I am always asking, "Can I actually give myself the space to love this?" Not just to get through it. Because you should get to love being a parent.

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