I’m Sandra Oh Lin, Founder of KiwiCo, and This Is How I Parent
Children are born innovators. Any parent who catches their child building pyramids from restaurant cups of cream knows this. KiwiCo helps them channel their creative abilities with the help of boxes with a monthly subscription for the event focused on STEAM. With these hands-on kits, small makers can build an arcade claw, design their own pinball game, or create a paint pendulum. The company was founded by Sandra O Lin, a California-based mother of three. We asked her how her parents were.
Name: Sandra O Lin Location: Mountain View, California. Job: Founder and CEO of KiwiCo. Family: my husband, our 11-year-old daughter, 9-year-old son and 2-year-old son.
Tell us a little about your family and your career. Was life mostly according to plan or were there any surprises?
After completing my degree in chemical engineering, my first job was product development at Procter & Gamble. When my husband completed his medical residency in the San Francisco Bay Area, I headed west to join him. I found myself working in several startups in different positions. Going from a huge company to a lot of tiny ones was a big change.
Then my husband switched to another job and decided to take up finance on the east coast. So I went along and luckily entered graduate school in the same city. At that time, we lived in six different locations in four years, including a couple of cross-country trips. I didn’t expect to learn how to move so efficiently.
After that it was my turn to decide where to go next. We decided to move back to the Bay Area where I worked at PayPal for several years and then at eBay. During this time, our first two children were born, who are now 9 and 11 years old. When they were younger, I created hands-on projects for them to unleash their creativity. It was partly an engineer in me who wanted to encourage my kids to have fun with hands-on open source projects. The other part was probably nostalgia; I had so many fond memories of working on cool projects with my mom, who was a master herself. (One of my favorite things to do was making a handbag out of a Styrofoam tote – it was the 80s, after all!)
This led to the founding of KiwiCo. A couple of years ago our third child was born. My husband is now the co-founder and CEO of a biotech startup. So we are a family with two startups. Life can be a little hectic between that and three very active kids, but we accept that.
Tell us about your morning routine. What are your best tricks to get out the door?
Our two year old child is our concern. We get up with him. He receives warm milk and a book before slipping out of the sleeping bag and throwing himself to the ground. We will then focus on having breakfast and lunch for the two older children together. What I want to say is that the dinners are fully prepared the night before. While we have big intentions, it doesn’t always happen.
Another thing that helped us get out the door was the expectation that our two-year-old would accompany our two older children to school. Now he knows that he needs to go out the door to walk with them. This will ensure that my husband and I are out by then, if not sooner.
How much outside help do you get as a parent? Who or what cannot you live without?
I am very lucky to have been helped a lot. We have a fantastic nanny who takes time for the youngest. My parents also live nearby and come to the rescue almost every day, including taking the older children to classes.
What gadgets, apps, charts, or tools do you rely on?
In addition to the calendar, text and basic applications, I often use TeamSnap . This app includes all the information about my kids sports teams. It sounds so difficult, but we have a giant calendar at home where we mark the kids’ activities with different colors for each child. On busy days, we detail the schedule on a chalkboard on the pantry door. It keeps us informed and ensures we get out the door on time (ish).
Has the way you work changed the way you become a parent?
The work I am currently doing is completely inspired by my children. It’s incredibly rewarding to work not only on products, but also on experiences that motivate kids to solve important problems and devote time to families.
In addition, I have become much more efficient in managing my time. Given the time I want to spend with my family, I know that I have certain hours a day for work, and I try to make the most of them.
What does your evening routine look like?
After dinner, it’s time to play (trains, balls, bricks) with your 2-year-old while the older two do their homework. My 2-year-old goes to bed about an hour earlier than his siblings. For him, the daily routine before bed is more complicated. Lots of books, milk, a couple of songs. My two older kids are going to sleep on their own and pretty quickly – thank God! When they were younger, bedtime was often a source of stress because it seemed like it would take them ages to get ready. When they go to bed, I’m back online for a couple of hours.
How do you unpack?
The exercise. Although now I am more of a soccer mom than a soccer player, I love to play when I can. I have been playing for many years and it is always a pleasure for me to be on the field with the ball. This is my Zen establishment.
What are you most proud of as a parent?
To see my children become confident, caring, creative individuals.
What moment are you least proud of?
The moments when I transfer my disappointments – originating from elsewhere – to children, raising my voice or, in short, I become very disappointed in myself. I try to fix it by hugging and saying, “Sorry, Mom isn’t perfect.”
What do you want your children to learn from your example?
I hope for a partnership with my husband. In addition, women and mothers can hold leadership positions.
What are your favorite funny / weird / special family rituals?
When we hear music – in a burger shop, in line for a walk in an amusement park, or wherever – we dance. We start with very small movements, such as raising an eyebrow, lightly shrugging the shoulder, or tapping a toe. Then, when another family member notices this and joins him, after about eight beats, we break him up and dance. It’s like our secret handshake and agreement to throw an impromptu dance party. It’s fun and allows us to just dance.
Also, on Thanksgiving, we have a family tradition of participating in the Turkey Games. We come up with a bunch of games and organize friendly competitions for a large family and friends of all ages. Imagine Cranberries versus the Wishbones in an intense bowling game in Turkey .
Has anyone ever given you parenting advice that you really liked?
Not really advice, but I was at an alumni meeting recently. A classmate talked about understanding the science of meaningful life. Much of this meaning can be attributed to struggles and difficult situations. Being a parent was definitely a source of joy – and meaning!
What’s the hardest part about being a parent?
There are times when I want to control my children. I wish they were less messy, more responsive, consistently positive, etc. But I can’t control them. And it makes them ferocious, independent, extraordinary personalities, which is absolutely amazing, but sometimes it drives you crazy!
What’s your favorite part of the day?
I come home from work and hear my children run to the door to say hello and hug me.
Any tips on how to get kids interested in STEM?
Encourage children to be interested in the world around them. There is so much science, engineering and mathematics in everyday life. As a parent, you don’t need to start with terminology or definitions. If you start with real-world examples and innate childhood curiosity (and their endless “why”), discovery and learning will come naturally. Give the kids permission to explore – knock on different sized pots, take out old clocks, grill marshmallows, ask questions, and observe.
The only thing I would like to say to other parents who are pursuing a career:
It’s about compromises, and you’re okay. I am aware that my priorities and limited time allow me to devote time to my immediate family and work. That’s pretty much everything, and even that seems like many, many days. As much as I want a cleaner house or more dinner parties with friends, I have come to terms with what it is.