Five years ago, in October of 2015, 34 other Googlers and I took a leap of faith into the unknown, leaving the creature comforts of the G to create something most people thought of as a long shot, at best. I can’t help but smile at the simple way it all started out.
I remember sitting on the worn out carpet of our small, unglamourous new office at 2 Bryant Street, Suite 220, waiting to meet with the guy who would set the Wifi network for yet another dubious Silicon Valley startup. I helped tape hundreds of Ingress “Agent” cards to our walls - they were, after all, our first inspiration. We bargained for the use of old Ikea office furniture, hauled in moving boxes, and took turns doing the dirty dishes.
Then, just three weeks into this risky startup, I found out I was pregnant! In between meetings and emails, I carefully managed horrible morning sickness, ate Saltines by the sleeve-load, and started to imagine what life would be like as a working mom.
Those first months were spent building out Pokémon GO, growing Ingress, and figuring out how to build a sustainable, strong, and mindful company. Suite 220 was one wide-open space, crammed with desks, and only two small conference rooms. We often took “walking meetings” to get a little space. And every Friday, we’d pack the conference room affectionately named “Jarvis” (a nod to the characters in Ingress), to talk about that week’s progress.
Through the Spring of 2016, as the launch of Pokémon GO neared, that Jarvis conference room became more and more crowded. We got into the habit of removing all of the conference room chairs ahead of company meetings in order to cram everyone in. I’ll never forget how hot that room got, and waiting for the one oscillating fan to turn my way.
I’ll also never forget the sense of family I felt standing with so many good people at the end of a long week of work. By June of 2016, most of us were spending long days in the office, going home to family in the evenings, and then hopping online again after dinner and kids' bedtimes.
I vividly remember being 38 weeks pregnant, sitting in the new rocking chair I’d already purchased for my baby, and preparing to launch Pokémon GO marketing emails. It was almost midnight, the glow of the nursery was lulling me to sleep, and I was chatting online with Kei, our VP of Product, about mail merging. As I worked into the early morning hours, I caught a glimpse of myself in the bedroom window, hugely pregnant and working away. I was overwhelmed with excitement for both my baby and the work ahead.
I didn’t have to wait long! In the span of two days, Pokémon GO launched, AND my first child was born. I sent an announcement email to niantic-all, as they feverishly worked to keep the game (mostly) online and manageable.
When I came home from the hospital, I sat on the front steps of my San Francisco house cradling my newborn baby and watching Pokémon GO trainers streaming past. Once I was able to walk around, I took stroller walks through the neighborhood and found it awash in Pokémon GO.
Over the next years, we heard from so many people - parents touting the positive impact on their kids, businesses who had used game locations to spur increased sales, and hospitals who were using the game to motivate patients.
When I came back from maternity leave, rearing to get back to work, I was surprised at what I found. A different pace for sure - but still the same genuine company looking to make a difference. And most importantly for me, I found a company that was unbelievably flexible to parental needs. I rushed home each day, milk bags in hand, to care for my baby.
One day, my team planned to do a dinner out, and when my boss at the time, CMO Mike Quigley, found out I couldn’t come because I had to watch my baby, he made extra efforts to include her in the dinner. When he saw I was tired, he rocked her to sleep right there at the dinner table.
Over the years, I’ve brought my now four year old to the office many times over. Sometimes for fun, sometimes because I don’t have help. And after becoming a single mom to a second daughter, I’ve always felt welcome with my kids at Niantic. My work and career have continued to expand, and my ability to both parent and build a career has only grown thanks to Niantic’s embracing the ideal of making work and life… work.
–Yennie Solheim, Social Impact