Founder Institute – It’s Graduation Day!

Well guys, tonight is my last session at the Founder Institute. I made it to graduation. 14 weeks of intensity, deadlines, self-doubt, stress, emotion, elation, and surprise.

When I started the semester in April, I was pretty sure I would drop out by June. But I figured, what the heck, I’ll get started, see how far I last, and if I need to drop out maybe I’ll re-enroll for the next semester. I needed to just get started if I wanted to see if my idea had any legs. I hoped it would be worth it. I had no idea what to expect except a lot of work and feeling overwhelmed.

At the very first session, I remember everyone went around the room saying their background and I was one of the VERY few people without a law or tech background. That did loads for my confidence. Umm, I’m pretty sure I don’t belong in this group, right? An admissions counselor turned SAHM? Yeah, they are going to see through me immediately.

But then I watched people drop out over the weeks because they weren’t sure about their idea, or they couldn’t get the assignments done, or they needed time to step back and think about their goals… I supported all their decisions because how could I not relate? I had all those same doubts every week. But every week I managed to get the work done (with not a few incidences of tears, and real-talk from DH) and slowly came to what the biggest journey was for me – moving into the mindset of an entrepreneur, owning my journey, my experience, and my vision for my company.

FI Ladies. (That's me on the right.)
FI Ladies. (That’s me on the right.)


Yeah, I wanted everyone to like me and my idea. But I couldn’t let that drive my decisions. I’m ultimately the decider of my company’s fate. Nothing has to happen that I don’t OK. I can listen politely to people’s ideas and suggestions, and then do what I think is right.

I’ve learned so much over these last four months, but my most important takeaway is confidence. I was always a generally confident and outgoing person, but not in this new and scary startup world. I generally feel like I have no idea what I’m doing on any given day, but I can ask questions, I can ask for help and advice, I can try things and fail and then try something else. I can go up to CEOs and investors, introduce myself, and ask for advice. They’re people just like me. What have I lost if they say no?

We made it. 14 graduates plus some of our directors/mentors.
We made it. 14 graduates plus some of our directors/mentors.

I’m leaving FI with many things – a company; connections; advisors; a plan for developing the product; amazing peers who’ll continue to provide support, guidance, and friendship; lots of resources; and a new identity too –

Hi. I’m Coralee. I’m the Founder and CEO of Shortcake.

And if you’re a mom starting a business or a new entrepreneur considering FI – give me a shout. I’d love to pay forward all the advice and support I’ve received and am happy to be uncomfortably honest with friends and complete strangers alike.  You can reach me at coralee [at] shortcakeinc [dot] com.

And now, for my FI compatriots and I, for tonight at least, a celebration is in order.

Yay us. :)

Startup Mom is written by Coralee Dixon, a NJ mom and founder of Shortcake. Is she “having it all” or losing her mind? Follow along as we find out…(I’m just as curious as you are.)


I was so DONE after our FI session this week.

I had spent so much time on Tuesday and Wednesday finishing the assignment for the week (honestly – I really half-a$$ed this one for this first time). My mind was just so burnt, I stopped caring about the quality of the work I was doing. I just wanted to turn off, take a nap, and think about nothing for a day. Thank God my mom was visiting and watching DD for me while I was working.

[Although, I wonder if sometimes that backfires because I know she’s coming to visit, so I don’t do as much work beforehand thinking I’m going to have all this time once she’s here. But then I have so much work to do when she gets here that I don’t have enough downtime and get exhausted (mentally and physically). Anyway, it wasn’t a good place to be in.]

I got dressed and dragged myself out of the house and onto the train. I had just done a hotseat pitch the week prior, so I didn’t spend any time practicing my pitch before class. Turned out that I was chosen to pitch again this week though. I don’t know how, but I’ve stopped worrying because I like pitching, I’m good at it, and the more feedback I get the better.

And I got great feedback. It was the pitch I prepared for the least to-date and I got my highest scores yet (5-5-4). But I know it’s because I spent so much time updating my PPT for last week and really I had all the talking points down so it was just a refresher before I got up there. So I left the session feeling pretty good and hoping to connect with one of the mentors for some technical advice.

I’ve also been chosen as semester president for my FI group. This is exciting and I feel honored, but it also is more work to do so can feel like an assignment. Is it because I’m a mom? They must think I’m super-organized and able to herd people. Ha. Glad to have a VP to help me schedule meetings and such.

So I got home Wednesday night around 11:30 pm and went straight to bed, having my to-do list for Thursday all mapped out so I could get to work. But then Thursday came and I just couldn’t move. Thursdays after FI always hit me so hard. I’m just so tired. Should I be exercising more? Eating more? Sleeping more? Yes. All of the above. I ended up going back to sleep after DH left for work and my mom watched DD. Then I took a nap again when DD went down in the afternoon. I feel irresponsible somehow, or like I’m not working hard enough, on days that I have to take a nap. Is this normal? Do other founders feel this way?

To be fair to myself I think I should be easier on myself with this one. Watching a toddler all day is physically exhausting. I don’t eat enough. I don’t sleep enough. I’m over 30. It catches up with me. The end.


Startup Mom is written by Coralee Dixon, a NJ mom launching an online business aimed at helping parents solve their memory-keeping needs. Is she “having it all” or losing her mind? Follow along as we find out…(I’m just as curious as you are.)

July Catch Up

Hey there. So I’ve been letting myself get taken over by other priorities while posting on the blog falls lower and lower on my to-do list. No bueno. My first lesson on the wisdom of planning/scheduling blog posts.

Let’s see if I can make this update concise yet fun.

1) First, I got that “special assignment” I mentioned while I was on vacation in Florida last month. Had to create a prototype of my concept and get 300 people to complete a survey on it all within four days. That….pretty much sucked.

My family was very supportive, but I felt awful spending all my time in the hotel room doing work when I was supposed to be having quality time in this nice resort with everyone. The not sleeping much and forgetting to eat didn’t help either.

But I got it done. It was hard to believe I’d find a way at the beginning, and I had SO many hurdles come up over those few days, plus had to spend a couple hundred bucks to get some help from a freelancer and purchase survey takers… But I got it done.

Yay me? Yeah, that’s pretty much how I felt at the end.

2) My company has a name! Yay! And I really love it. :) Say hello to Shortcake.

shortcake script - red

Still working on the website. Will link to it soon so you can check it out.

3) I’m almost done at Founder Institute! 10 more days to go. I can’t believe it. Graduation here I come. I revamped my in-person pitch deck last week and got good feedback from the mentors in the hotseat (three 4 scores. go me.). Take a gander here.

4) I think I’m getting better at the work+life balancing act this month. I actually took a whole weekend off earlier this month when we went to Baltimore to visit friends. It was funny because I brought my laptop along thinking I would find time here and there to do some work.

Then DH hit me with some truth on the drive down – we’re going to visit friends for the weekend. They’re hosting us at their house. You can’t go off and do work for a few hours when you planned a weekend to visit them. Right. Why didn’t I realize that?

It’s been so easy to get tunnel vision about how much work needs to be done for the company, every day I’m just thinking about my crazy to-do list and what “NEEDS” to get done that day. Happy to report I didn’t do any work at all while we were away and had a really nice visit. :)


Startup Mom is written by Coralee Dixon, a NJ mom launching an online business aimed at helping parents solve their memory-keeping needs. Is she “having it all” or losing her mind? Follow along as we find out…(I’m just as curious as you are.)

Mentor Progress Review – Completed!

At FI, we had our second round of mentor reviews last Wednesday. I was working all week to improve my PowerPoint and finish the week’s assignment, then spent the last day memorizing my updated pitch.

DH & DD left for Florida vacation time on Wednesday morning with my in-laws (pre-planned trip we all received as a Christmas gift), so I finished getting them ready to go on Tuesday night, knowing I would have all day Wednesday to myself to finish everything I needed to do for the session that night plus pack for myself.  (I had changed my flight to Thursday morning so as not to miss the big presentation session.) But it turned out I needed all the time I had to prep for the presentation. So I figured I would get it done and then leave right after the session to head home early for packing and prepping for my own flight on Thursday morning. I got the work done and headed in to the city for the session.

I was nervous about how my presentation would be received, but was confident that I would present the material that I had well. Our larger group was split into four smaller groups in conference rooms, with the mentors in groups of two rotating through the rooms. We each gave our pitches a total of 3 times to 6 total mentors. Some of the feedback was tough, but all of it was helpful. I was proud of myself and my groupmates – we had worked hard and came away with a lot of great insights for our businesses.

Overall, I feel good about my performance. I continue to receive good feedback about my presentation style and natural way of speaking. But my actual PowerPoint design got dinged for not being creative/compelling enough, especially for a business concept with great design as one of its key differentiating features. (They were right, and I’m working on a better design now.)

Again, the main points the mentors were driving home for me revolved around how will my business stand out from competitors. Even if I offer a slight difference or focus, what’s to stop an established competitor from seeing my success and simply adding that feature into their existing products? I don’t want to be competing with the big guys on price, because I will most certainly lose.

They encouraged me to remain focused on my initial concept – automating the process of photo book and baby album creation. Customers sign up, and then they receive the (well-designed) product in the mail with little effort. Get that right first, then think about expanding into other options. “Simple, simple, simple”, as mentor Gabe kept telling us. Automate this time-intensive process.

In the end, I scored slightly better this time than I did in the first mentor review round, so that felt good. But the session went late, so my idea of leaving early had to be scrapped. I joined my colleagues at the bar while I waited for the next train, but I was so glad I did because I ended up having really great conversations with my friends and a few mentors. They had so much great feedback and suggestions for me on how to move forward with my business. I actually ended up staying even later so that I could keep talking with everyone.

I still was able to pack for vacation and got to bed in the wee hours. Overslept a bit, but rushed around and made my flight to FL. I was so exhausted. I knew I still had the next week’s assignment to do, but I’d be able to make some to relax with the family in FL, go to the beach, the pool, out to dinner. I really felt like I had EARNED this vacation. Woo hoo. I got to FL, picked up my rental car, and couldn’t help smiling as I caught my first glimpses of the gulf. :)

Then two hours later I received an email from FI detailing my first special assignment, due in four days.

Stitch has such range.

(To be continued…)

Startup Mom is written by Coralee Dixon, a NJ mom trying to launch an online business aimed at helping parents solve their memory-keeping needs. Is she “having it all” or losing her mind? Follow along as we find out…(I’m just as curious as you are.)