Watching a practised juggler is mesmerising, and the same can be said for Vanessa Hutchinson. As a founder, wife, mum, dog-owner, start-up advisor, coach and mentor, she’s constantly reacting, adjusting and re-prioritising. And the combined effect benefits from each ball intentionally added.
Vanessa Hutchinson is Founder and CEO of Fodbods, the gut-friendly snack company making life easier for the 1 in 5 people who suffer from IBS. After a diverse career in law, finance, venture capital and start-ups, her own life-transforming switch to a low-FODMAP diet inspired to her to dive into food manufacturing.
From funder to founder
Vanessa’s love for the start-up scene drew her from the finance sector into venture capital. But it wasn’t long before she took the opportunity to join a start-up herself. As Chief of Staff, then Director of Operations, Vanessa was fast acquiring the experience and insights to support her next chapter: Fodbods.
Her investor experience had taught her to take time researching the market and considering feasibility before Fodbods’ launch.
“It helped me build solid foundations to help the company scale and be aware of potential pitfalls along the way. That being said, nothing could have completely prepared me for what being a founder is really like.”
Raising a baby and a business
Her now one year-old son, Oscar, was born alongside her business. While this made “every day a juggle”, Vanessa knew entrepreneurship would provide a flexibility that suited her lifestyle. Sharing the parenting load with her husband and their nanny, she consciously created a daily rhythm that allowed her time for what matters most.
Being present with Oscar means mentally putting aside Fodbods’ needs in that moment. But she’s found the forced distance to benefit her business too, providing a clear mind that enables strategic and logical problem solving.
“Motherhood has helped me better ride the crazy highs and lows of startup life, as it puts things in perspective.”
First things first
Getting up early is an important fluster-mitigation strategy for Vanessa. By clearing her inbox and organising her day, she feels as prepared as possible for whatever the day brings. While she always has a daily plan and longer-term strategy, Vanessa knows well the range of unforeseen obstacles that can arise in work and life, so tries to stay flexible.
Her workday could then involve product development, reading legal documents, overseeing marketing activities or packing orders. Vanessa is thankful for her small expert team, saying, “they’re much better than me at what they do so I’m lucky to learn from them”.
The mental load
Living by her Google calendar, with a handwritten to-do list and journal, Vanessa does her best to keep “pretty organised”. Effective multi-tasking is also a necessity, such as phone meetings while walking with Oscar to the post office.
Vanessa says her biggest challenge is managing the mental load that comes with the founder/parent juggle.
“As a founder you must be across every part of the business. Combine that with the responsibilities of being a parent and there’s a lot to think about at any given time.
“When your brain is at capacity, it’s hard to think strategically and focus on the big challenges that start-ups face. I’ve had to be more organised, learn to delegate better and ensure that I prioritise my mental health – for the sake of my family and business.”
Valuing health and fun alongside her ambitions in family in business, Vanessa also loves running, pilates and yoga; “I don’t function well if I don’t exercise”. Setting aside strategic thinking time has also supported health and business outcomes, as she’s more likely to sleep through the night.
Advice to start-up leaders
What aspect of time management is most likely to hold back start-up leaders?
“Being too granular with goal setting and action planning can waste a lot of time and energy. Particularly at the very early stage, I think it’s better to keep things simple and be flexible with your approach.”