Elizabeth Mercer launched Sleekform, an online seller of ergonomic office furniture, in 2018. Four years later she had her first child. Returning to work was a challenge.
“I thought I could just come back and be off to the races,” she told me. “I knew my body would take time to recover, but I did not expect the mental taxation of childbirth.”
Now the mother of a one-year-old, Mercer is an inspiration for entrepreneurs — and moms. She and I recently discussed her company, priorities, time management, and more.
The entire audio of our conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: What do you do?
Elizabeth Mercer: I own a company called Sleekform. It’s a brand of stylish ergonomic furniture for home offices. I’ve been doing Sleekform for five years now. I started in 2018. Before that, it was just a side hustle. I took it full-time when I left Jungle Scout, the Amazon seller platform I co-founded with my husband, Greg. I wanted a physical brand, something I could touch and see others benefit from. I was the kid who loved getting everything organized, which evolved into ergonomic furniture.
I used to be a digital nomad. Greg and I traveled around the world working in crappy co-working chairs for three and a half years. When we returned to the States, I wanted a home office. I already had the Sleekform brand and saw the data of what office furniture could do on Amazon, but this was when the trend was selling smaller products that could fit in a shoe box.
I decided to go against the mold and sell oversized items. There was not as much competition. It seemed like a great start, and it was. I became obsessed with learning the best possible posture so you don’t have to sit in an uncomfortable chair for work. I read many books on chairs and communicated with various chair experts.
Bandholz: You have a one-year-old. How do you balance parenting and running a business?
Mercer: When I got pregnant, I talked to a business coach about the mental load of managing a small team with a family, childbirth, recovery, and maternity leave. What systems do I have in place? It went well for us. We kept riding the wave. I could rest and recover and then come back and reevaluate how much time I could spend with the business.
I thought I could just come back and be off to the races — this was my first child. I knew my body would take time to recover, but I did not expect the mental taxation of childbirth and the postpartum effect. Plus there’s trying to return to work, splitting time, and the breastfeeding journey. In the beginning, I was like, “I’m just going to check in at various times.”
What’s worked for me is reserving the hours I could be hyper-productive. I’m most productive mentally in the mid-afternoon. So I spend time with my son in the mornings. He goes down for his first nap at around 9 a.m. That’s when I shift into work mode. By about 5 p.m. I’m shutting down and moving into evening time — cooking dinner and putting him to bed.
I don’t have time to procrastinate like I used to. My day is structured. Every hour I know how much I need to accomplish. That was a big learning curve — coming to terms with how it would differ after childbirth. It took a long time.
Bandholz: What are the expectations for business owners planning to have a child?
Mercer: Set up the business early in the pregnancy to have less time. In your first trimester, there are a lot of hormonal shifts. In the second trimester, you’re starting to adjust. By the third trimester, you’re done with it, ready for the baby.
I began planning in my second trimester. My business coach suggested it. She had me look at my tasks, what I was comfortable delegating for the long and short term — and what I never wanted to delegate. For example, I kept all the financial aspects and made the financial decisions. But for other tasks — communicating with suppliers, generating ideas, researching products — I set goals for the team.
I took two months off. When I returned, I took on the tasks I wanted in my life. My mental headspace was different.
Plus, I thought I could breastfeed and then immediately get back into work. But it breaks your mental flow. You get an endorphin rush from breastfeeding your child and enjoying that special time. So my advice is to take it slow and list what you want to do when you return. And look at goals your team can work on while you’re out.
Bandholz: It sounds like pregnancy was a reset for your business.
Mercer: It’s nice to step back and look at what has to happen in the business. Are there unnecessary projects or functions you don’t need to do, perhaps wasting time, effort, and money?
Bandholz: Where can folks reach out?