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.)

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.)

Post-Session Update

It’s 11:45 PM – just got back home after our latest FI session in the city. So many thoughts, ideas, and to-dos are swimming in my mind! It can be really hard to figure out where to focus my limited time when there is so much to be done. But I know my number one priority for tomorrow at least – this company needs a name! Brainstorming starts tomorrow morning. I have an idea of the direction I want to go in. Might post some options here to try to get an audience poll. Need to move fast on name selection so I can move on to logos, website, email account….etc.

Tonight I got to meet the FI mentor who I’ve been wanting to contact since the first time I reviewed the mentor list, which is very exciting. Her background is in tech for parents so I am very eager to hear more feedback from her. She doesn’t think my idea is strong as presented today, but I’m not discouraged because I have more to tell her than I could get into my one minute pitch. She says the photo book market is crowded, and she’s right, but I still feel good about there being a need for a better product. Plus she said that her original company probably wasn’t a strong idea either, but it worked.

I found out a bit more about next week’s session, which is going to be focused on the first mentor idea review. We have to prepare a three-minute presentation with slides and receive feedback and questions from mentors. If they think our idea is weak or we are not prepared there is a chance we could be asked to leave the program. I also heard that one of the mentors coming is a big investor in female-led/female-focused startups, so I feel extra anxious about being very prepared. I want to make sure I really put my best information out there so I can get quality feedback about my venture’s potential. So nervous, but also feeling excited too. There is so much potential here if I can get all my ducks in a row. Eek!

My mom’s been visiting this week which has been so helpful because babygirl is being taken good care of and receiving the loving attention I haven’t been as available with since I started FI. Plus it’s just so nice having my mom with us for a few days.

It’s Memorial Day weekend in a few days, so there will be a lot going on to take me away from work and I’m nervous about that, but I also think it could be helpful because there will be family around to help watch babygirl. I know DH (that’s Dear Husband in internet slang for you newbies) is going to want to study for the CFA exam too though, so it will be hard for us to balance us both getting our work done. I know we’ll figure it out somehow, I just need to be clear about my needs while not always expecting him to revolve around my schedule. We’ll see if I can remember that come Friday – I tend to get caught up in my stress and what I think my needs are. Last week I cried three times – let’s see if I can get it down to two this week. Baby steps.

In other news, DH & I celebrated our two year anniversary earlier this week by watching the two final episodes of Mad Men together. This is no small feat – taking two hours in one night to watch television together. So now I know Don Draper’s fate. If that is even possible. Also – DH sent me flowers. This is kind of a big deal. He does not do this often and I really love it. It’s funny how receiving flowers can make you feel loved. <3


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…

Look Mom! I have a blog! :)

Hey you! Thanks for finding my little website thingy here.

[This is my first blog. So it’s going to be pretty basic for a little while til I can get more fanci-fied. I’ll try to get some color themes or something up in here soon.]

So here’s the deal. About two months ago I got an idea for a new business. I got kind of excited about it, told some people who got excited for me, spent some time researching it, and decided to make the jump and follow the proverbial yellow brick road to see where it might take me.

I’ve been a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM for those of you not familiar with mommy acronyms) since March 2014 when Daisy was born. Worked part-time for about six months doing some consulting work, but didn’t feel really passionate about it. Waited for inspiration to strike and [cla-click] got a lightbulb above my head in late February 2015.

Joined the Founder Institute in NYC in mid-April 2015 to jumpstart the process. It’s been intense. As in, this is the most challenged I’ve been professionally and personally. Ever. Did I mention I’m (still) a SAHM? So I’m working two full-time jobs for all intents and purposes. /whine

A few days ago, one of my group members (hi Dee!) suggested the idea of creating a blog to chronicle my experience as a new mom going through the crazy startup experience. And I thought – I absolutely should do that. There is no downside, because I’ll enjoy reading this even if zero other people do, and journaling my thoughts and experiences will probably be very therapeutic. Cause there is A LOT going on in my head nowadays. Writing it down might help me straighten it out a bit. And who knows – maybe somewhere down the line someone will read this and think “I’m not crazy! This lady knows what I’m going through.” and he/she will feel validated, understood, and a bit more confident. That’s the dream anyways.

So…welcome! Let’s see where the journey takes us…


We’re not in Kansas anymore.