Working Mum Wisdom #4: Sophie Smith, mum of 3 (under 5!), serial entrepreneur
"I truly think there’s no better time to start a business than when you have a baby."
Sophie Smith is someone who dispelled any belief I had that I have to put things on hold because I have small children.
Mum of 3 children under 5 years of age (!) and an entrepreneur, she launched her current business on the day she was due with her first child. Sophie is Founder and CEO of Nabta Health, a company whose mission is to empower women to effectively manage their own health; the brain behind the 2022 Female Angels movement, and has more projects in the pipeline.
When I was connected to Sophie, she responded warmly and immediately with an invitation to meet. Soon after, we met and talked about life, work, kids, aspirations, eclectic music and everything in between. I also met 2 of her 3 children, who were at a meeting with her before we met, which was just so wonderful to see.
Meet Sophie Smith, mum of 3 (under 5!), entrepreneur
Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Sophie Smith, I’m the Founder and CEO of Nabta Health, a hybrid healthcare company for women headquartered in the UAE.
My obsession is women’s health; my passions are horses and dancing. and my sanity is my family - my husband, Peter, and my three children: Oliver (4.5 years’ old), Eleanor (2.5 years’ old) and William (6 months’ old). Growing up, I was the oldest of eight children, and I reckon “big sister to many younger siblings” is still the identity that shapes my interactions with the world the most.
Q. You are a mum of 3 under 5 (!) founder of Nabta Health, initiator of #2022FemaleAngels movement, and I believe you have something else up your sleeve; how do you do it all!?
At the risk of sounding combative, the sooner women are no longer asked this question, the better it will be for all of us. Very rarely are men asked how they balance their personal and professional lives, and I believe it should be the same for women.
Ideally, we’ll see more shared parental leave and gender equity in general in the workforce over the next few years, which will make it easier for parents to split childcare and other caregiving obligations between them. Then having children and companies as women will become the norm, and although we’ll all continue to mentally high-five each other when we meet (acknowledging it’s a hard ol’ balancing act!), we won’t make such a big deal about it. Every woman, no matter who she is or where she’s from, should be able to decide how she wants to balance her personal and professional lives, period.
Q. What is your biggest challenge as a working mum? How are you trying to overcome it?
My biggest challenge as a working mum is finding like-minded people who have the same routine as me, so that I can go and hang out with them and our kids. I work from 8:30AM to 3PM, am with the kids 3PM to 7PM, and work again from 7PM to midnight. I would love to be able to catch up with friends during that four hour window in the middle of the day, but it’s difficult to make schedules align.
Q. How do you balance being a mum, a wife and being an entrepreneur?
I don’t think about it too much. I’m someone who likes to build things; indeed, building is something of a compulsion. One of my earliest memories is of making giant 3D castles and ships out of paper. And so I build my family, and I build my company, and I try to make time for my marriage, and some days are good and some days are terrible, but we muddle through.
That’s life, isn’t it?
Q. Where do you get your inspiration?
I am inspired by people and by nature; in different ways but in equal measure. In people, the qualities I admire the most are resilience, emotional intelligence, curiosity, and the desire and ability to do what has never been done before. I believe the technical term for that is a “growth mindset”. As to why nature inspires me, I defer here to Wendell Berry, who captures it beautifully:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of
what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free
Q. What is your best productivity hack?
In order to be productive with my sleep, I try to make an honest to-do list every night before I go to bed. That way, even if there are things I haven’t done (and there are always things I haven’t done), I know exactly where they’ll be waiting for me when I wake up. That way I can’t stumble upon them by accident, or pretend to myself that they don’t exist.
Q. What is your parenting mantra?
Walk slowly, magician.
Q. What do you do in your 'me-time' and how does it help you?
I injured my back twice when I was younger - once in a mountain boarding accident in my teens, and again in a riding accident in my twenties - so I go for massages every fortnight to keep it in check, and to help with the stress that I internalise and store almost exclusively in my neck and shoulders. I dance and ride (horses) when I can, although it’s difficult to find the time once you factor in driving. I recently took up golf and am finding that extremely cathartic. I ski (not here).
In general, anything that forces my body and brain to sync up and work together is good.
Q. Did becoming a mother change the way you think about work? How so?
Becoming a mother didn’t change the way I think about work - I have always loved and taken a lot of personal satisfaction from work - but it did change how I worked. I am a much more efficient worker bee today. Much less likely to say “yes” because I’m worried about upsetting people; much better able to prioritise. I truly think there’s no better time to start a business than when you have a baby. I gained a new appreciation for my body and my mind, and for the things they were able to accomplish together.
Q. What are your biggest learnings?
My biggest learning is that we can and will learn new things every day, for the rest of our lives, as long as we keep an open mind. And that the well articulated mind of a two-year-old is a truly terrifying thing.
Q. Tell us a bit about Nabta Health, what led to its launch, and how it's going?
Nabta Health was founded with the mission of empowering women in emerging markets to effectively manage their health. I had just moved to the UAE having set up a waste-plastics-to-roads company in Sierra Leone and went to speak at a conference in Kuwait on diabetes. There, I got chatting to the organiser not about diabetes but about the fact that I was pregnant (which seemed to surprise him).
One month later, he sent me a bunch of stats on women’s health in the MENA region and asked if I would like to do something in women’s health together. I immediately said yes - I had set up four companies in the four years previously (learning how to build companies well and badly at speed!), and I knew instinctively that this was *the* company that I wanted to run, hopefully for the rest of my life. I told him I needed a couple of months to hand over my existing business interests and have the baby, and in the end we started Nabta Health on the day my son was due - 21st March 2017.
Nabta Health was the first FemTech company in the Arab World. Today, we accelerate the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of chronic diseases in women in emerging markets using a new model of hybrid healthcare. We’ve had to work hard to build the ecosystem around us, but we’re getting there. One step at a time.
Q. What's it like being a mumpreneur?
Being a mumpreneur, which I would define as “the custodian of babies and businesses”, is an exercise in precision logistics.
There is not one spare minute in the day. Every moment ends up structured, even the unstructured ones. You have to actively work to make time for yourself, and be diligent about it.
I was trying to track down the origin of this quote and couldn’t, but it should be tattooed on the forehead of every mumpreneur so that you see it when you look in the mirror (assuming you get time to do such a thing) - “Don’t set yourself on fire so you can keep others warm”.
Q. What is your advice to mums looking to start working again, or looking to start their own business?
Take a leaf out of Nike’s book, and Just Do It. You will be amazed to discover how much more efficient and decisive you are since having children.
Q. Favourite tool that makes your life easier?
My Samsung Galaxy Note 10.
Q. Parenting book / advice that was a game changer for you?
(Credit to Dr. Christine Kritzas of The Lighthouse Arabia)
When children ask “why”, think “values”. Create a values wheel for the household. Values could be things like “Generosity”, “Honesty”, “Living a purpose-driven life”, and so on. Then, when your child asks you questions such as, “Why do you work, mummy?” say, “I work because we value generosity in this house, and I want to be generous with the time and skills I have been given. We also value curiosity, and living a purpose-driven life, and so I work because I like to learn new things every day, and because I want to have a positive impact on the lives of others.”
Q. Favourite quote
“The difficult is what takes a little time. The impossible is what takes a little longer.” - Fridtjof Nansen
Q. Best thing you have read or watched lately
It was a while ago now, but The Queen’s Gambit. Loved it. And loved the fact that someone thought to create a SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Company) with the same name.
There is so much inspiration amongst us as working mums, we really don’t need to look far.
If you have any questions or comments for Sophie, do leave a comment here or hit reply and I will make sure she gets your message.
If you enjoyed this and feel like someone else can benefit from this conversation or this community, please share!
Have a superb week x