Mollie Spilman | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Mollie Spilman


Criteo grew from a digital advertising tech startup in Paris to a global agency with 31 offices worldwide and 2,000 employees. The company tracks consumer habits online and uses that data to build predictive algorithms that optimize the impact of ad placements.

The Mistake:  

I didn't take care of myself. 

When I got pregnant, everybody told me that it was going to be hard. I was commuting into New York from Connecticut every day. I was at a startup and only the fifth employee. I ran the whole publishing side of the business. I had all these people reporting to me, and I was like, "I can do it all. Are you kidding? I am fit. I can handle all this. No problem."  

I literally got up at 5 in the morning, worked all day and took an 8 o'clock train home. This was 15 to 16 years ago, and there weren't smartphones. There wasn't Wi-Fi on trains. It was dial-up. So I would get on the train at 8 and freak out all that way thinking, "Oh my God. Oh my God. I don't know what's going on with my accounts."  

When I got home I would dial up and it took forever to connect, and literally, I should have gone to bed because I was getting up at 5, and I was pregnant. But I would wait for the dial-up even if it took me four times to connect. And if I got home and, God forbid, my husband was on the phone, I would be like, "Get off the phone!"  

I was not eating like I should because I would just grab a big salt pretzel before getting on the train and that would be my dinner. And I was like, "I am superwoman!" And, "Just watch me!" And people said, "You really need to slow down." Even my boss was like, "Maybe you should work from home one day a week." 

And the more people said that to me, I felt like it was a challenge; somehow I was being looked at as handicapped because I was pregnant. So I did the opposite. I worked harder, and I ended up in the hospital for [several] weeks before I gave birth. 

Your career does not define your life and doesn't define who you are.  

The Lesson:  

Your job is not all you are.  

To this day I look back and I am like, "Who was that person? How did that happen?" There was nothing wrong with taking care of myself ... and still doing my job. People were telling me to work a day from home or, "Don't take the 8 o'clock train. Why don't you take the 5 o'clock train?" I really took it as an insult, and that was so naïve and so stupid.  

When I was sitting in the hospital—after everything was fine—I was like, "Oh my God! I am the biggest idiot! I did this to myself. This was preventable." 

That [experience] really helped me have a better sense of balance and priority and what's really important in the world and your life. 

I came back to work after that, and people were like, "There is no way you are going to go back to work after that experience." And I was like, "No, I am. I am just going to be different about it."  

I had lost touch with my priorities and overemphasized work. These were in the days where you would see pictures of people sleeping in the office and that was perception of what it was to be a startup and be super cool. And I just, somehow, got lost in wanting to live in that false world and lost touch with reality.  

Your life isn't about your job. Your career does not define your life and doesn't define who you are. If you make your life your job, then look, you can make a big mistake like I did and totally focus on the wrong priorities in your life. I had put my career and my job ahead of my life, and it should have been the reverse.   

I share that story with people who work with me when I see them being stupid like I was. I make it clear to everybody that works for me that your personal life comes first, without a doubt. I don't care what our goals are. I don't care about anything else. You have to take care of those things first. That's what life is all about.  

Follow Mollie Spilman on Twitter at @mspilman

Photo courtesy of Mollie Spilman

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