Amy Nelson and Jen Pinkston discuss business, motherhood and why it’s so important for women to talk openly about money
by Margaret Williams
Photographs by Jessica Pages with assistance from Katie Leacroy
Jen Pinkston and Amy Nelson are both making quite a lot these days: making content, making families and making space for men and women to grow and succeed. From seemingly unrelated worlds — Pinkston has a background in fashion, styling and writing, while Nelson is steeped in international policy and litigation — both are entrepreneurs, mothers to young girls and on the forefront of reimagining female-led businesses.
Pinkston graduated from the University of Texas in 2006, then spent 10 years in Los Angeles, where she worked as a wardrobe stylist on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” before starting her lifestyle blog, The Effortless Chic, in 2011. Her site quickly grew into a full-time job, and she now, along with her team, creates thoughtful content related to design, parenting, foods and style for both herself and her clients. A born-and-bred Austinite, the blogger returned to Austin with her family in 2016, and during her conversation with Nelson, she made quick work of singing Austin’s praises.
Nelson, who founded the coworking startup The Riveter in 2017, turned out to be an easy sell, as the mom of four (Nelson was 7 months pregnant during their conversation) was visibly delighted to be in town for the opening of the brand’s newest (and sixth) location. The Seattle-based entrepreneur admits that The Riveter, whose motto is “Built by Women. For Everyone,” has grown at a breakneck speed over the past two years. This growth — of both the former lawyer’s business and family — constantly has her in a role she’s not quite comfortable with yet: one of asking for help. Pinkston can relate. Let’s turn it over to them.
Amy Nelson: Are you from Austin originally?
Jen Pinkston: I am! My husband’s from D.C., but we met in L.A. All my family’s in Austin. After we had our first little one [now-five-year-old Parker], we moved back. What about you?
AN: Well, so I have — this is my fourth [points to her stomach]. My oldest is 4 and a half now, and my youngest is 18 months. All girls.
JP: Wow. You are a superhero.
AN: I only make girls [laughing]. I’m very on-brand.
JP: You must love it.
AN: I do. I love being a mom. I like having this big tribe. I’m one of two, but I grew up with all my cousins. So I come from a big family — it just wasn’t my nuclear family.
JP: That was really our impetus for moving back to Austin. We came back one Fourth of July. Our daughter was 15 months old, and we were out at the lake with my aunts, uncles, cousins and sisters. My husband and I were like, “Why don’t we live here? This is amazing.” Did your mom stay at home?
AN: No, my mom was a teacher. She taught for 35 years. She went back and got her master’s after I went to college. She’s amazing. She actually stays with us about 75% of the time in Seattle now. She is a third parent to my kids.
JP: I feel like when you have that support system, you have the freedom to be able to go and do [motions all around] all this.
AN: Yes, I have an incredible nanny as well. I’m really fortunate. When you’re leaving your kids overnight for business trips, which I do a lot, it means the world that my mom is there.
JP: Was The Riveter a product of you going through this motherhood transition?
AN: That’s a big part of it. I went to law school. I graduated when I was 26, and I really thought I would be a lawyer forever, and I loved it in many ways. But after I welcomed my first daughter, I thought a lot about where I fit into the workplace. I felt like the world treated me very differently once I had a child. As a litigator I got a lot of, “Would you want to go to trial? Would you travel?” Questions I didn’t get before I was a mom. I also needed the time away from my children to be spent doing something that was making a difference.
JP: Did you go into law school thinking that litigation would be it?
AN: I went to law school after I’d worked for The Carter Center during college, fully thinking I would go right back into international politics and development. But I would like to note that I paid for law school and took out a lot of loans. And they’re hard to pay back! So there’s always that tension between wanting to make change in the world and the reality of paying back school loans.
JP: I love that Michelle Obama talked about that in her book. It’s really important for people to hear. A lot of people don’t go into, you know, more-activist positions because they can’t afford to pay the bills.
AN: We’re a private company. I want to make money. I want my team to make money. Everyone on my team is an owner. They all have equity. They’re building this with me, and they should own it. And I think it’s really important that we as women talk about making money.
JP: And why Austin?
AN: Austin is our sixth location and our first city off of the coast. It’s so exciting! It’s an incredibly welcoming community, and there are so many women building businesses, so much going on in terms of the arts and culture — and people are really engaged. What’s been your favorite part about moving back to Austin and being here?
JP: There is this sense of, like, if one of us succeeds, everyone succeeds. You even see that in the tech and the startup world, that people who have success get right back in and they start investing in these other companies. I love how you say The Riveter is built by women for everyone.
After I welcomed my first daughter, I thought a lot about where I fit into the workplace. I felt like the world treated me very differently once I had a child.”
AN: I think the world should be built by women for everyone. We want to be able to provide a space for men and women to work together. I think a lot of men love being in spaces where there’s feminine leadership. And it’s not that different. But it is. We’re really proud to stand in that place. Our membership across all of our spaces is about 30% men. It’s not token.
JP: I don’t know the exact statistic, but something like 90% of VC and investor money goes to men. How can we change that?
AN: Completely. Ninety-two percent of investment decision-makers are still men. We do weekly office hours with venture capital investors, and it’s largely male investors talking to women founders. You can really just disrupt that by putting people in a room together who aren’t normally in a room together.
JP: I’m curious: Has there been a moment [at The Riveter] where you saw someone using the space in a way, or transforming their business, like you first envisioned?
AN: A lot of times, actually. We have an amazing member company in Seattle called Armoire. It’s a curated monthly closet where you rent clothes. They came to us right after they’d graduated from the accelerator program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and they were seven people. And today there’s 25. It’s been remarkable to watch! We’ve had a lot of people who came to The Riveter that work in corporate America and were thinking of taking the next step, and looking to find people to talk to and resources to make the leap into entrepreneurship. And then we have a lot of members who still work in corporate America, and they come to us for our programming, because we have a community membership. And that’s really awesome!
JP: That is amazing that they’re not left out, because I almost feel like with a shift of people starting their own businesses, everything seems to be geared to that right now. And not toward the person who works Monday through Friday, or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or whatever.
AN: Right, that’s still a lot of people. I was that woman for a long time.
JP: In these two years, what’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome?
AN: I think one of the hardest things has been learning to find a way to parent the way I want to parent and run a company the way I want to run a company. It’s a very good problem to have, but The Riveter has grown a lot faster than I thought it would. I thought my kids would be older, but we’re all in it at once. It’s been hard to figure out how to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. I never use the word “balance.” I don’t like it. My life is not balanced in any way.
JP: It’s impossible.
AN: Something I’ve had to learn to do is ask for help all the time, from all the people. Asking my mom for help, my friends, my husband. And my team! I think fundraising to scale the company has been hard. That is a hard thing to do for anybody. We’re not fundraising right now, but I feel like as an entrepreneur, you’re always fundraising.
JP: We’re excited to have you in Austin. If you and your tribe ever want to relocate, you would be welcome here!
AN: I know. I keep telling my husband, “Austin is the best!”