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Founder Friday: Totum Founder, Erin Spahn Erenberg

Founder Friday: Totum Founder, Erin Spahn Erenberg

portrait of Tricia Ismail
Tricia Ismail
Senior Editor

As a #ByWomenForWomen company, we love celebrating brands that are led by fellow female founders. Our new series, Founder Friday, is a chance to get to know some of these standout women, including our very own Heidi Zak!

Erin Spahn Erenberg knows that becoming a mother is a different experience for everyone. When she had her first baby, she was shocked at how significant the transition into motherhood is – physically, mentally, and emotionally – and really explored how our culture ignores a woman post-baby. Erin started Totum because she felt first-hand there was little support for new mothers, so she created a community that’s here to support new moms. As explained below, Totum means “whole” in Latin, and that’s exactly the way Erin wants new mothers to feel.

When did you start your company?
November 2019 pre-launch, then had our 3rd baby, so launched product March 2018.

Why did you start your company?
I started Totum, which means “whole” in Latin, to help women feel whole after they’ve become mothers.  This began with personal experience. When I had our first baby, I was shocked at how massive the transition into motherhood is – physically, mentally, emotionally – and that our culture forgets a woman once she has her baby.  There’s so much for a pregnant woman, and so much for a baby, thank God for that, but the woman who’s created, grown, birthed and nourished a new life is largely left to fend for herself in our modern culture. This nagged me for five years before I had the courage to do something about it.

Tell us about yourself.
I’m a mom of three who was blown away by how much I loved motherhood after having focused on my career for so long. I grew up in a small town but traveled to 40 countries with my mom before I was 18.  This formed me immeasurably, instilling a curiosity and openness that’s shaped my identity. I’ve had so many wonderful experiences in my career — practicing Intellectual Property Law, running a non-profit, helping build two tech/social impact companies, working at a world-class talent agency.

But becoming a mom gave me a deep sense of purpose that I’ve not encountered elsewhere.  That’s shaped the decisions I’ve made around career and family ever since.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’m someone who feels things very deeply, from family and friends’ struggles to social injustice.  My deepest motivation is service, to do what I can with my time and experience to help move our culture in the direction of more kindness and fairness.

What was one challenge you overcame during the early days of your company?
Totum is very new, so I’m in the midst of it. I feel a tension between wanting to fully own this company in order to stay focused on our mission and feeling the pressure of limited money, energy and time to make the change that I can envision making with more resources.  We have a plan for that, though! Stay tuned.

Was there anyone who helped pave the way for your business or your path as an entrepreneur?
Not really, as I think the movement to support the postpartum woman is just beginning.  I admire women like Erica Chidi-Cohen (LOOM), Allison Oswald (Plumbline Studios), Stephanie Matthias (Radiant Woman), McLean McGown (Mother The Mother), Melanie Wolff (Brella), Alex Winkelman (HelloMyTribe), Jen Schwartz (Motherhood Understood), Alexis Barad-Cutler (NSFMG), Amy Schumer, Ali Wong, and Kate Middleton for their bravery in speaking out about what it’s really like for modern mothers and using their platform and talent to make change. Anyone who speaks truth into womanhood after baby and doesn’t pretend like it’s an easy road, is paving the way for all of us.

What are some of the ways entrepreneurs today can help raise and inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs?
We can start behaving like there’s more than one seat at the table, even though the current culture tells us that the odds are against us in leadership.  We have to become obsessed with our vision of a better world for women and start living that out in our behavior now. We can’t wait for someone to do it for us.  We have to keep going. And that will mean collaborating with one another even when it feels like there may not be room for all of us to “succeed.” We need to shift that paradigm for ourselves and for the next generation of female leaders.

Why is it important for entrepreneurs to put time into helping the next generation of women founders?
We are the only ones who understand why and how it’s difficult to lead as a woman.  We get what “mansplaining” means and how unfair it is that we feel the need to convince some men of our intelligence and talent.  We know how painful it can feel when we speak clearly but aren’t heard. We understand how complex it is to marry our desire to attach and attune to our children while yearning to create something outside the home.  Our path toward leadership just isn’t straightforward. So if we can use our experiences and compassion to make it easier for the next generation of women, we’re living in integrity.

Headshot of Erin Spahn Erenberg, mother and founder of Totum, at an event.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Passionate, committed, growing.

What’s something most people might not assume about you at first glance?
That I’m strong.

What quality do you love most about yourself?
That I’m always trying my best.

When do you feel most beautiful and/or confident?
When I’m goofing around and laughing with people who get me.

When and where are you happiest?
In the sunshine, near water, with good music, food, and people I love.

If you could give your younger self advice, what would you tell her?
Trust your gut more!

What’s the top song on your playlist right now?
Cake by the Ocean – my kids are re-obsessed thanks to a Netflix movie called Malibu Rescue.

What is your motto?
Be good. Do good. Have fun. (thanks, Dad)

What are the advantages or benefits of being a founder that many people may not realize or know about?
You can set the pace, the expectations and decide NEVER to fail.  Because failing is quitting, and you can always just keep going at your own pace.

Why is it important to understand both the challenges and benefits of being a founder?
It’s related to the idea above, that failing means quitting.  Once you start a business, you feel a pressure to always keep plugging along.  With a job, you can always quit and try something new. Founding is a commitment, commitment to yourself and your ideals. And it never stops.

Do you think founders should take time to reflect on the pros, even if they’re constantly putting out fires?
Absolutely.  Otherwise, it’s too stressful, no fun and not sustainable.

“I’m learning a lot about how our thoughts shape our experience, so I try and find the positive in the setback and move into a better mindset from there.”

 

What did success mean to you when you first started your company? How has your definition of success changed since then?
Selling the company to a large CPG firm.  That’s TOTALLY changed! I realized that our mission was so much bigger than consumer packaged goods and that even though we have a recipe for a cookie that tastes amazing and really helps breastfeeding moms, our mission — to help women feel whole as mothers — will require delivering in a broader way and staying the course for long-term impact.

Thinking about your time as an entrepreneur, what do you believe is one of the most challenging hurdles women entrepreneurs have to overcome?
That if you’re not making money right away, you’re better off quitting and focusing on your kids.

Can you share what happened when you finally felt like you were on the other side of the struggle?
Check back with me in 12 months.

Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I don’t think that way.  I think I’ve behaved in integrity with my values and built at the pace that serves my family and that serves me.

What does your morning routine look like?
Our oldest wakes us up at 5:45, and it’s straight into checking in with the kids and helping dress, feed and prepare them for the day ahead.  After dropping the bigger kids off at school or camp, I either work out or spend quality time with our baby. On the days when I have a sitter, I roll straight into working around 9AM until I pick up the big kids at 2.  The baby naps from 12-2, so I feel like I don’t miss that much time with him. That’s a really lovely perk of working for myself. Once we’re all at home, I focus on playing with the kids, making dinner, getting them ready for bed, and reading to them before bedtime.  Our baby goes to sleep around 6:45, and our 4 and 6 year olds go to bed at 7:15. I run a tight nighttime ship! Then I usually do at least an hour or two more of work, sitting outside most nights to make it feel more pleasant. When my husband comes home from work, we eat dinner, check-in with each other and often end up vegging out with some Netflix before bed.

What motivates you to keep going in the toughest of times?
I usually take a break when I’m having a very tough time.  I get moving – running, yoga, barre — whatever I can do to move the stale energy out.  And then I work on my mindset. I’m learning a lot about how our thoughts shape our experience, so I try and find the positive in the setback and move into a better mindset from there.  I also pray every day, with our baby at nap time and bedtime.

What are your favorite ways to practice self-care?
Being outside, eating pasta, reading a book on my Kindle, swimming/playing with the kids without distraction (no phone!), taking a shower or bath alone, having a date with a good girlfriend, and I SHOULD be going on more dates with my husband.  We’re both really bad about making that time!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Anyone can be great because anyone can serve.” – MLK

What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?
When another mom tells me that she felt alone until she heard or read a bit of truth in something I shared through Totum, which made her feel understood and stronger.

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