Tag Archives: tech start-up

What I’ve Learned: Desiree Vargas Wrigley, CEO & Founder of GiveForward

Desiree Vargas is the Founder and CEO of GiveForward, a Chicago-based start-up that specializes in online medical fundraising.  She has an 8 year old step-daughter, 2-year old son, and is expecting another baby boy next summer.

“I was originally inspired to start my company, GiveForward, in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina back in 2006.  At that time there was no easy way to give directly to people who were trying to re-build.  There was no way to raise money online unless you were a registered non-profit.  It took me a year to build up the courage to get started with this idea.  In 2007, I celebrated my 25th birthday and in 2008 we launched.  We pivoted to specialize in medical fundraising.  I met my husband about a month before we launched and we were married in the summer of 2010.  That year we were also going through a tech incubator and I was planning a wedding – it was pretty crazy.

smartmom desiree vargasI had my son Finn in December of 2011.  My husband and I decided to try to have kids then because it was around the same time I was raising a round of funding for the company.  I didn’t have many female role models who were trying to start a company and have kids, and I was concerned that investors might look at it as a potential risk.  But I needed to prove I could do both.  So about halfway through the round my husband and I started trying.  I was intentionally positioning myself to finish raising a round and be able to relax throughout the pregnancy. We had Finn in December and went out for another round in May.

I took 8 weeks after Finn was born. Then I was part time for 4 more weeks, and back full time after 12 weeks.  I wasn’t sure how to decide how much time to take, so I looked up the industry average and went from there.  The timing of this pregnancy was more of a personal life decision.  I didn’t want the kids too far apart in age.  I knew I could make a million more excuses but by that time it might be too late.smartmom desiree vargas

My situation is a bit unique because I got to see what kind of father my husband is before I married him.  I knew I was marrying a loving, supportive, kind man who makes every effort to be there for his family.  I’ve known my stepdaughter Danielle since she was 3.  She is now 8 and she’s great with my 2-year old.  She’s a great older sister.  So I feel like I’ve been through the toddler phase already.  But having a newborn was something I couldn’t have prepared for.  Our son was colic-y and very difficult.

Having Finn was actually a pretty rough transition.  I’ve heard the same thing from other friends in high stress jobs.  In higher stress jobs there’s a huge pressure to perform.  Growing up I was always pretty good at things, school and work came easily to me.  But when you have a child, it’s the opposite.  there’s a very different level of insecurity.  Everything is so new and confusing.  During that time I thought, I have no idea what I’m doing.  I was actually looking forward to getting back to work.  And at first when I went back part time it was rejuvenating.

smartmom desiree vargas

At the 2013 Empact Showcase

I used to think that I was pretty selfless.  My company is focused on charity.  I’ve worked really hard to build this company knowing I could have made a lot more doing something else.  I thought I was doing pretty well on the overall Karma scale.  But when you have a baby you are no longer first in your world.  At the beginning, you over adjust and lose yourself.  Then you have to come back and carve out time to be alone again.

You have to forgive yourself for not being perfect.  The most important thing is always being there for your children, and always finding a way to prioritize them.Smartmom Desiree Vargas

I don’t have a ton of friends who have kids.  I have some friends from high school who I can call.  I don’t call my mom so much for the day to day advice, but I definitely draw from the way she raised me and my sister as a compass for what I want to do with my children.  My doctor’s office has a mom’s group.  I met a good friend there.  She’s a calm, vernal, all-natural mom – the opposite of me – but I look to her a lot for advice.

The role that I play now is more offering advice to other moms.  If my friends are having kids I always see if they need someone to talk to, about transitioning back to work or anything.  I find myself answering questions a lot.

smartmom desiree vargas

Desiree’s son Finn

I guess the biggest lesson I’ve learned is you need to have a willingness to be vulnerable.  I’ve learned that lesson both at home and at work.  You’re not going to get advice or help unless you ask for it.  At least, not the kind of advice that changes the way you look at your child, or at work, that deeper level of advice.  That can only come from being open and vulnerable.  I try to offer that kind of advice to my kids.

My husband and i have a few systems for organization at our house.  We finally got a calendar on the wall.  It accurately says what we have going on each night/which babysitters are coming, etc.  That really helps us out.  We also make sure to have a date night once a month.  It is so easy for our conversations to be focused on to-do lists.  You’ve got a doctor’s appt, I’ve got this work-thing, etc.  A date night allows us to have time to talk about us.  Vacation or travel plans, and other fun things.  Its great to go out, have a couple of drinks (that’s harder to do when you’re pregnant!) and recharge the relationship.  I want to treat my husband the same or better than before having kids.

smartmom desiree vargas

I bought an elliptical and that solved a huge problem.  It sounds like a small thing, but I was feeling so guilty for taking time away from my family to go to the gym.  I knew it would cost a little more money than a gym membership, but physical exercise is so important.  It makes you feel better about yourself and helps relieve stress.  We spend more money on day care and babysitters than we originally planned to, but it is really important for me to still attend work events.

Unfortunately I don’t really have time for hobbies. I do read fiction before I go to bed. That’s one of my rules, I don’t read work books before I go to bed.  I try to turn everything else off and go into a separate place.  The best book I’ve read recently is the Game of Throne series.  I also really enjoy Jane Austen.

I guess the biggest lesson I’ve learned is you need to have a willingness to be vulnerable.  I’ve learned that lesson both at home and at work.  You’re not going to get advice or help unless you ask for it.  At least, not the kind of advice that changes the way you look at your child, or at work, that deeper level of advice.  That can only come from being open and vulnerable.  I try to offer that kind of advice to my kids.”

Get more great advice and meet other moms. Download the SmartMom app today.