I had the pleasure of interviewing Yasmin Mattox, Founder and CEO of Arkatecht, a technology company that creates apps to reduce working mothers’ mental load, so they can more efficiently accomplish their career and family building goals. Raised in NYC, she’s been a proud Rochesterian since graduating college (Alfred University) in 2007. She is married to her college sweetheart, a Rochester police officer, with whom she is raising three young daughters: Emma Grace, Lillia Rose, and Nina Avery.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I grew up a very precocious and eclectic kid. I’ve always had a progressive streak that has, at times, put me at odds with authority and certainly the status quo. You could probably dig up some photos of me at concerts at Wetlands or CBGB in NYC rockin’ out to politically charged and informed music about issues that deeply moved me.
I’ve always been excited about change, even though it’s also always unsettled me in some ways, constantly thinking about “the what ifs.” I think my precocious and eclectic nature in many ways is related to the fact that I was raised in New York City, which I think encourages, if not compels, kids to become independent quicker perhaps than in other environments. Life moves at such breakneck speed there, but in a wonderful way as it forces you to become comfortable with constant change and always being on your toes — an amazing environment and opportunity, especially if you ever find yourself becoming an entrepreneur.
Though I certainly had my struggles growing up, particularly as an adolescent, I had a wonderful upbringing which can be greatly attributed to having strong support systems, namely those anchored by my mother, Opal. Not only has my mom been a source of strength for me for as long as I can remember, but she’s also been a phenomenal teacher and role model. Her own professional background in psychology and law allowed her to impart a lot of wisdom on me for which I will always be grateful.
Many of my intellectual interests and passions evolved out of the lessons I’ve learned from her lived experiences, especially those from her youth when she grew up overseas in Tehran and Baghdad, the daughter of a Foreign Service Officer (my grandfather). In large part, my interests in the world around me, including about foreign affairs, cultures, and human motivation and decision-making, came from what I learned from her and my grandfather.
My childhood instruction, if you can call it that, in how to continuously feed my intellectual curiosity, among other things, gave me the confidence to choose the so-called road less traveled. As a result, I’ve been able to pursue interdisciplinary interests, which has helped me better understand the world, from up close and afar. It’s also subsequently helped me position myself as a formidable problem solver because I had great teachers to show me how to think for myself, be open to critique and outside perspective, but also trust my intuition and ultimately hold firm to my values in order to connect the dots and do meaningful work.
Why did you found your company?
I founded Arkatecht because I wanted to solve the problem I had been painfully struggling with, which was my seeming inability to, as people say, successfully juggle my career aspirations with what I wanted to accomplish within my family as a mother and wife.
I could not figure out how to make the balancing act work until I realized that the approach of seeking balance is all wrong and out of whack. I had been so incredibly naive to think that I could just get married, and start a family, without giving any real thought as to how my husband and I would get from point a to b, and beyond, in terms of what we wanted to achieve professionally, on our own, and together, and with the family we wanted to build.
I found that there’s very little routine dialogue about what people, whether in relationships, or single, must do to be continuously informed about the often intersecting work-life environments they navigate to optimize their decisions, so they can improve their outcomes both professionally and personally.
For decades, the concepts of managing a household and managing a career have been part of common vernacular and pop culture, but these concepts have not yet been sufficiently integrated to help us optimize our decision-making, so we can spend more time building the lives we want to lead, which are often centered around work and family, rather than stumbling through our lives as passengers rather than pilots.
After my own significant struggles transitioning into working parenthood, and specifically motherhood, including being overwhelmed with so much information to figure out how to do this and that, and trying to manage it all separately, I realized that what I needed to figure out was how I could integrate both my family and career considerations and realities to plan more strategically and proactively to accomplish my goals. How there absolutely could be a framework and aids to more efficiently and prudently direct one’s energy toward better work-life integration and navigation, in order to yield greater successes in both areas, and with fewer regrets.
While there’s a wealth of offerings for mothers to personally connect with each other, find suitable childcare and the like, there’s virtually nothing that focuses on the career-oriented identity of so many moms. There’s virtually nothing which marries both the identities of women as career-driven and oriented and family-driven and oriented, so that they converge rather than diverge. God knows I love my family, but before I fell in love and had children, I fell in love with the prospect of a long, rewarding career that I have never desired to give up, but rather share with my family. And while people may and certainly do change their minds about whether they temporarily or permanently leave the workforce, Arkatecht was founded because I realized that we, as a society, including in industry, could do better to support working mothers, in particular.
I founded Arkatecht to create products that further assist women in realizing their fullest potential, as they see fit, in accordance with their family and career goals, because while there are always trade-offs in life, one’s ability to at least more efficiently and preparedly endeavor to achieve their professional and family goals needn’t be one of them.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
I strongly believe that our use of technology to address a significant problem is disruptive. The fact that we are using technology as a means of crisis prevention rather than crisis management for women as they navigate the intricacies of working motherhood is novel. T
he fact that we are using technology to dramatically streamline the daily information collection and analysis that working mothers do, in the office and in the home, to help them more efficiently accomplish their family and career objectives is disruptive.
It’s progressive, and it’s a way for tech to be used as means to an end — a better and brighter present and future — than an end itself. Lastly, we’re creating streamlined yet meaningful products that build on each other to reduce working mothers’ mental load which, for so many, is incredibly heavy and unrelenting. I hate half-baked and piecemeal solutions, and so Arkatecht doesn’t create them.
I think that holistic approach to social problem solving, by using technology, is disruptive and what’s needed to create solutions to problems with an utmost sense of urgency.
The discussion around how to better navigate both career advancement and family creation and building needs to include how technology can help, and we’re here to help lead that discussion.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
Geez, who hasn’t? I have been immeasurably blessed to have wonderfully talented and warm people who have been so generous with their time and talents and just gracious to me. I hit the lottery multiple times over in my life. That said, I don’t care how cliche it sounds, but my greatest mentor has been my mom.
Without a doubt, I’d also have to include my mother’s best girlfriends, my aunts, Barbara, Marlene, Maudette, and Pat. All of them live wonderfully accomplished and full lives full of learning, reflection, and good deeds. They’ve all mentored me in how to live life better, more fully, and yes, more strategically so I use my time and energy wisely.
Professionally, I’ve been beyond fortunate to be surrounded by people who are intentional about the counsel they give and the hand up rather than handout that they offer. From my earliest days at Hunter College Elementary School, to my undergraduate days at Alfred University and St. John Fisher College, to my experiences within Rochester’s entrepreneurial and philanthropic communities, I’ve been surrounded by tons of people who have mentored me in some way.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the counsel I’ve been fortunate to receive while working at RIT’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship, from Ebony Miller-Wesley, Director and a great friend and dynamo, which has been pivotal to both my professional and personal growth.
How are you going to shake things up next?
Great question. I’m so fortunate to have a strong and incredibly helpful advisory board and champions, both personally and professionally. One of Arkatecht’s advisors, Steve Nicosia, of LaunchNY, had been impressed with the approach he saw Innovative Solutions employing in identifying and supporting promising tech startups, and so he introduced me to Bob Titus (Innovative Solutions’ Chairman), and then Bob introduced me to Justin Copie (Innovative Solutions’ Owner and CEO).
After learning about what Justin’s really been able to get off the ground in terms of supporting tech startups so they are continuously educated and supported, and can grow, and also be further incentivized to stay in the area, I knew I wanted to be a part of it all. NYC will always be my beloved hometown, but there’s something about Rochester that I’ve always found appealing and which draws me in.
On that note, I’m happy to share that Arkatecht will be a company operating out of Innovative Solutions’ Startup Launch Pad in the near future at the Riverwood Tech Campus. I’m eager to bear witness to a great company that is continuously growing and learning and also helping other companies do the same.
So, I consider that opportunity a shakeup because I view it as acknowledgement that Arkatecht is doing noteworthy work, and will continue to do important work in collaboration with companies that also have a sense of urgency to be better and do better, and ultimately leave the world a hell of a lot better than how we all found it.
Additionally, we’re midway through our initial pilot for three interrelated apps: Affinity, Atlast, and Endeavor. We’ve wrapped up the pilot for Affinity and will be moving on to Atlast in a couple of weeks. Affinity is an intimate networking platform connecting working mothers for professional development opportunities and industry-oriented information-sharing. Atlast is a library of professional development opportunities coupled with feasibility analyses to advise mothers (and fathers) of what opportunities work for them and their families based on career goals and family circumstances.
Endeavor is a smart calendar app that helps professionals better navigate daily work life during pregnancy and the postpartum period based on their symptom presentation and schedule. We are staggering the start dates of the pilots and collecting feedback quickly to more effectively iterate to get to beta for the bundle of apps by the beginning of 2019.
By early next year, we look forward to unveiling metrics showing that you can, in fact, improve outcomes through an integrative decision optimization approach, and not just for working mothers’ (and fathers’) benefit, but for the benefit of all.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?
Three of the best words of advice I’ve gotten along my journey have been “you’ll just know.”
Perhaps saccharine, but it’s held true.
Through all of the emotional, financial, logistical rollercoaster that entrepreneurship is, I’ve found there to be incredible moments of clarity where, coupled with solid preparation, a fiercely strong and loyal support network, and some good old fashioned luck, or good timing, things fall into place and you really sense that viscerally.
Don’t necessarily whip out a tarot card, but be attuned to your surroundings, your gut, do your due diligence, but go through as many promising open doors as possible, and have faith in yourself and have faith in your crew — your people, whomever they may be. If you are, I think you’ll find that you really will just know where to go next and what path to take.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?
Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” will always have a special place in my heart. For as cerebral as the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics are, Hawking’s overview of what we know and believe to be true of our cosmological origins (and beyond) is so riveting because it lacks pretense. It’s straightforward and each chapter leaves you leaning in and wanting to read more.
Of all of the books I’ve read, it’s the main book from which I had more questions than answers by the end, and I think that’s a great analogy for a life well lived, which is what I endeavor to have: to constantly be hungry for information.
To be intellectually curious to the point that getting answers means a great deal, but also knowing how to keep asking meaningful questions to continuously learn and improve the world is what it’s all about. I read the book about 10 times during the summer going into my junior year of high school, when I was dealing with a lot of heavy stuff, and it provided me with a sense of serenity, discipline, and just the feeling of “okay, I’ve got this.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
You can’t think of phenomenal working mothers these days and not perhaps immediately, or at least very quickly, think of Serena Williams. She’s incredibly gifted, and even that’s an understatement.
Though I’m a morning person who lives for amazing breakfasts, I’d love to have a private lunch with her, hopefully after enjoying time to sleep in — whatever that means, when you have very young children!
I admire her resolve, and her candor about the fact that, as rewarding as following your professional and personal, family building dreams can be, it’s hard as hell, and that reality needs to be normalized.
We are all trying to navigate various realities and expectations, and still “do the damn thang” and persist, and I think she is wonderful role model for leading a discussion on a topic that means so much to me and has undeniably changed the trajectory of my life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Readers can find me on:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/arkatecht/ & https://www.instagram.com/yazmattox/
And, for those who want to participate in beta, can email me at [email protected].
Originally published at medium.com