CEO & Co-Founder of ellie
Mom to Oliver and Andrew
We had the opportunity to meet Hayley this past November in Brooklyn, NY during her launch party for ellie! You could see her passion behind ellie when she introduced the new app to the community of moms excited to be there - brand new moms, moms looking to restart careers after taking a break, single moms, working moms, you name it. All longing for the community that Hayley is building with ellie.
ellie is a new app where parents can create and join groups, share advice, schedule meetups and connect as individuals. When you download ellie, you automatically become part of ellie's community of parents. Ask questions, give advice, and meet fellow moms that are going through similar life changes as you.
We love the thought behind connecting people and building communities to help make women's lives easier. We sat down with Hayley to learn more about her and the inspiration behind ellie, what it was like for her going back to work, and more!
When not working on ellie, chasing around a toddler, or snuggling an infant, Hayley loves to sneak in a quick workout, enjoy a good meal with her husband or [dream about] binge watching a show.
The Returnity Project: Tell us about yourself and about your experience returning to work after having your boys. Was it a different experience each time?
Hayley Nivelle: I’m originally from Overland Park, Kansas (a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri). I moved to the east coast right after college for law school. Until a month ago, I was a corporate lawyer in NYC for 10 years. Now I’m the CEO and Co-Founder of ellie, a new app for parenting groups. I have two boys--7 months and 2.5 years old.
I was at the same company for both of my pregnancies, and was blessed with a long maternity leave (at least for U.S. standards), but the return to work was very different each time. Before my first son was born, I would regularly stay in the office until 7:30 or 8pm and check email again when I got home. While I was on maternity leave it became clear to me that it would be important to see my baby and put him to bed every night, which would mean leaving work by 6pm. I was worried about being judged at work, and about having to prove that I was still getting my work done and that I was serious about my job. I also wanted a little more time with my son during the week. My commute wasn’t bad, but it still added a good 1.5 hours to my day.
When I returned to work, I asked if I could work remotely one day a week. I figured the worst my boss would say was no. But I also didn’t want my request to make it seem like I didn't care about work--because I did care about work. I made it clear that we could try it out and revisit if it wasn’t working. I also asked for my remote day to be Wednesdays. I thought a Friday could be negatively perceived in the office--like I was taking a three day weekend, plus Wednesdays helped break up the week. He said yes, so that made me much happier about the transition back to work. I just left work at 6pm each day. I felt weird about it, but I was getting my work done so no one ever said anything. I’d log back in after I put my son to bed and finish up whatever needed to be addressed that night.
With my second, it was hard going back for other reasons. My first born was now 2 and had gotten used to me being around during maternity leave so it was like a whole new separation with him when I went back to work the second time. And with the baby, I felt like I didn’t have enough time with him. You never have the same amount of time as you did with the first because your time is so split. In the mornings, after work--you’re sharing it with two little people now. I perpetually felt guilty about how much less time the baby gets.
TRP: Up until recently, ellie was your side hustle to your demanding full-time corporate role. What was it like juggling two jobs and two kids during that time?
HN: It was very, very hard. I wasn’t sleeping much at all and I quickly realized something had to give. I had been working on ellie on the side for a while, but when my second was born the time I had with just one child felt like a luxury. And let’s also not forget my husband. He needs attention too and he got moved to the bottom of the pecking order. My passion was definitely with ellie, and my family and I knew that if I didn't go all-in on the app to try to make it the revolutionary platform I want it to be, that I’d regret it. So that’s what I did.
TRP: What gave you the courage to leave your corporate job as Chief Corporate Counsel to focus on ellie full time?
HN: A few things. I reminded myself that I’ve had a very long, successful impressive career as a corporate lawyer. If I ever need or want to be a corporate lawyer again, I truly believe that I’ll be able to. My resume isn’t going anywhere. In a weird way, my biggest roadblock was me. I’ve always followed the straight and narrow, checking boxes of accomplishments. I felt like being a lawyer gave me legitimacy. If I quit my job, what would my identity be?
I don’t think it’s cool to say “I’m an entrepreneur”. I still feel like I’m faking it sometimes although I’m not. I thought, will people think I’m crazy to quit a well paying job to work on something that won’t make any money for a while? I had to get over worrying about how others perceive me. I had attached a false sense of legitimacy being tied to my title. You know what? It turns out the people who like me, don’t like me because I was a lawyer. That’s not why they are my friend. People don’t actually care what you do. They love you because you’re you. That’s liberating.
TRP: What do you think has been one of your biggest challenges as a working mom?
HN: The biggest challenge to me as a working mom is a constant feeling of guilt. I’m working on it because I realize it doesn’t accomplish anything. I’ll wonder if I’m failing my kids because I am not home with them full time, but then I remind myself that I would go CRAZY if I were home full time and as a result, I wouldn't be as good as a mom.
Now that I’m working on ellie, my biggest challenge is turning it off. I am so incredibly passionate about the app, the brand and where we want to take it that something is always on my mind, the to-do list is always growing. It’s hard to check out for a bit and focus on husband, or uninterrupted phone free kid time. So I’m trying to get better at that. Some days are better than others.
TRP: What are you most proud of?
HN: I have a few mosts. I’m proud of my two beautiful sons and our family. They are the lights of my life, my husband too although I don’t do a good enough job of telling him that.
I’m proud of having an idea and following through with it. I didn’t just say I wanted to create a new app for parenting groups, I actually did it and I’m doing it every day.
I’m also proud of my younger self. I always strived for more, for better or worse. I’m a self starter. No one held my hand through law school applications, no one helped me with my job searches, no one paid for my law school tuition. I wasn’t intimidated by it, nor am I intimidated to take on Facebook.
I never give myself credit, or tell myself I’m proud of myself, so thanks for asking this question and forcing me to do so!
TRP: What advice would you go back and give yourself as a new working mom?
HN: This is a great question. I’m definitely my biggest critic, and for no good reason. I think we all need to be easier on ourselves and celebrate what we do, and be at peace with the decision to work. I was pumping 3x a day at work for months, hauling milk back and forth. It was a slog, but I did it. I’d get up really early 1x a week to workout before work, so I could feel semi-human. But I also loved sitting at my desk and getting a hot cup of coffee and catching up on email unbothered. Oh wait, I’m doing it again for #2. Not sure why I’m just talking in past tense. Let go of the guilt. You’re doing awesome and it’s okay to both enjoy work and miss your kids.
TRP: Anything else you'd like to share?
HN: Every mom’s back-to-work story is going to be different and that’s okay. There are logistical challenges, emotional challenges and career challenges. I remember the first couple weeks of going back after my first--I probably looked like a psycho rushing home from the subway. I couldn't walk fast enough. I HAD to see my baby. I had a guttereal need to be with him. That feeling is special and intense, but it does even out. You need to put one foot in front of the other and know that everything will be okay. Be kind to yourself and your emotions with the transition back to work. It WILL get easier.
CEO & Co-Founder, ellie
Visit their website to learn more about ellie