Ask any mother and she’ll tell you that having your first child is an overwhelming experience. Having your first child during a global pandemic while running your own company? That’s a whole different story. Siqi Mou, the co-founder and CEO of HelloAva, gave birth to her son Maxwell two weeks before lockdown started in 2020. In her new role as mom, she learned not only how to juggle it all, but a lot about herself in the process.
We caught up with the founder to hear more about how HelloAva is changing the beauty industry, how she’s sharing her love of music with Maxwell (did we mention she’s a concert pianist?), and what products earned a spot in her pregnancy and postpartum skincare routines.
First, congrats on Maxwell! When you think back to those first few months of motherhood, what was it like for you?
It was very overwhelming for sure. It wasn’t just motherhood, but it was COVID. He was born two weeks before the lockdown happened. On top of that, I was running a company.
Whenever there are changes, it’s always stressful as a founder. Once we were all working from home, it felt like the new norm and I realized it was actually great because I got to spend more time with my newborn.
What helped you get through this period?
My style is to always ask for a lot of advice whenever I make a decision. Before giving birth, I asked a lot of my mom entrepreneur friends, we call them “momtrepreneurs,” for advice on what to do and the most common advice was to get all the help you can.
When I was having Maxwell, I had my mom here from China and then I had a confinement nurse from Taiwan. People say it takes a village, and you have to leverage whatever community you have to help you. And that was life changing. I don’t know how I would’ve been able to survive without them.
Can you tell us a little bit more about what a confinement nurse does?
It’s big in East Asian cultures. She’s usually with you for a month and a half. She’s trained to take care of the newborn and also the new mom. You have this whole “confinement month,” where you’re essentially not doing anything. You’re not supposed to even wash your hair—but if you do, you’re supposed to wash with ginger. It’s all deeply rooted in Chinese medicine. She really helped me recover quickly. Within a month, I felt like I was able to get back to work again.
Speaking of work, tell us a little bit more about your company, HelloAva. How did you find yourself in the beauty-tech space?
It started because I had struggled to find skincare products that worked for me. I had to go through so much trial and error. Everyone has different skin, so when you go to friends and ask for a recommendation, you likely end up buying something that’s not right for you. When I was in business school at Stanford, I started testing out this hypothesis to see if this problem was unique to me or if it was a universal problem.
We found that 90% of women we talked to actually had a similar experience to myself, which was not knowing what products to buy when it comes down to skincare and cosmetics. A lot of people don’t even know how to describe their skin type. We learned this was a huge pain point. So I decided to build a company that uses technology to create personalized skincare routines.
You’re right, it is such a difficult space to navigate. I love that HelloAva helps create customized routines. How does it all work?
It starts with a skin questionnaire and a photo scan. The algorithm uses these results to build an initial understanding of your skin, which gets sent to a licensed esthetician. You set up a one-on-one call on Zoom so they can see your skin, and once that’s done, you get a fully customized routine that is made for your skin’s needs. The routine is being recommended by the computer and cross-checked by a human to make sure it’s really the best match for you— it’s AI combined with human intelligence. We’re essentially building Netflix for skincare products.
What changes did you make to your skincare routine during pregnancy?
I had a lot of help from everyone I work with at the company. They were already telling me ahead of time what I could and couldn’t use. I did a whole revamp of my skincare and checked everything I was using to make sure there were no harmful ingredients. It was a lot of work, but so necessary.
What Evereden products became part of your routine?
The Stretch Mark Cream, Firming Cream, and the Belly Mask. I started using the Golden Belly Serum when I was postpartum and I still use it now. I love the scent, it is really soothing and feels like I’m giving myself a nice ritual. It was good for recovery as well.
Between Evereden, the products recommended by my team, and my own wellness routine, I didn’t develop any stretch marks. There were a lot of different factors, but I think everything helped in some way.
Have you created a skincare routine for Maxwell? What Evereden products do you use with him?
I really like the Nourishing Baby Face Cream— that is also his favorite. We also use Baby Shampoo & Body Wash, Body Lotion, and Massage Oil. In the early days, I was able to give him a massage almost every other day. It was a bonding experience for us. We have almost every product at home, so he’s had this skincare regime since he was born.
Do you have any self-care rituals or routines you rely on?
I think one of the big rituals I try to stick to is taking a relaxing bath. Sometimes I mix the Golden Belly Serum with it — it feels really self-indulgent. I think being able to find ways to relax and reward yourself after a long day is very important. Exercise is another self-care ritual. It’s meditative for me and helps me get into a zone.
In what ways has motherhood changed you?
Being a mother this last year has pushed me in many ways and one of the biggest things it pushed me to do was rediscover my artistic side. I grew up playing the piano, but for the last 10 years, I wasn’t diligently practicing. This period inspired me to pick up piano again.
How does music factor into how you spend time with Maxwell?
My husband is a trumpet player, but we never really jammed together until now. We’ve been practicing duets together. Maxwell gets to see us playing together and he claps for us. I hope it will inspire a passion for music in him, too. I also like to play all the nursery songs for him on the piano. I will put his hands on the piano with mine and we will play together. We’re thinking about having another child right now, and our goal is to have a little family band.
What do you love most about being a mom to Maxwell?
Being a mother is truly the best thing that has ever happened to me. It’s much harder than running a company. With a company you can sell it, you can exit, you can leave, but your child is attached to you for the rest of your life. It’s a lot of responsibility and it’s very hard, but it brings so much joy and happiness. It’s impossible to compare it to any career accomplishment, and that, to me, is very special.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs or founders who are expecting?
If you have a co-founder, try to prepare as early as possible for that transition. Start prepping from the minute you find out you’re pregnant. And try to take two months of maternity leave. I know for entrepreneurs that can feel impossible, but it is so hard on your body to come back earlier.
What is your Eden?
Sometimes Maxwell doesn’t want to sleep in his own crib—no kid wants to sleep in their crib—so, I let him sleep in our bed and he’s in the middle. He gets to do that every once in a while and that is my Eden.