To say Hitha Palepu has a lot going on is a major understatement. Not only is the self-proclaimed multihyphenate the high-powered CEO of Rhoshan Pharmaceuticals, but she’s also an author — she wrote a book on how to pack, how cool is that?! — an investor in female-founded businesses, and a mom raising two adorable little boys in the Big Apple.
Despite her busy schedule, Hitha always keeps it real on her Instagram Stories by giving her followers an inside look at her career, providing tips on how to be your most productive self at work, and why she’ll always accept her parents’ help when it comes to daily life with her sons, Rho and Rhaki.
Keep scrolling to check out this inspiring mama’s best parenting hacks, learn about her battle with postpartum depression, and find out why she started her popular #5SmartReads newsletter.
Name: Hitha Palepu, Entrepreneur, Investor, and Author
Location: New York, NY
Education: Bachelor’s Degrees in Chemistry and History from University of Washington
Children: Rho, 4, and Rhaki, 3 months
Hitha, you wear so many hats! Can you give us an overview of what you do and how you got to this point in your career?
I call myself a multihyphenate because that’s really the best way to describe it. I’m an entrepreneur, investor, and author. I went to the University of Washington in Seattle and graduated in 2006. I have degrees in chemistry and history. I thought I would go to grad school to become a doctor or a lawyer, but I didn’t end up doing either. Instead, I went right into sales at Cisco Systems out of college. I did technical sales with them for three years on the pharmaceutical sales team.
Even right out of college, I thought I would go into pharma sales but was really intrigued by what Cisco does. They provide an infrastructure that makes the internet, tech, and modern life possible. I thought it was interesting, I liked the challenge, and I liked that it was something new. It was also a great crash-course in business which I had never had. I had some sales and marketing internships in college but didn’t really understand sales forecasting or analysis. I also learned how to be an adult in a lot of ways.
At Cisco, I discovered that I didn’t really want to be supporting pharma selling IT, I wanted to be in pharma developing life-saving drugs. Leaving Cisco to work for my dad was an opportune time because his company was ready to bring someone else on. Before me, it was just him, his cofounder, and a couple of other technical people. My job was to do what needed to get done. My role required a lot of self-discipline, learning on the job, and flexibility. My educational background and time at Cisco really prepared me for that.
My current day job, CEO of Rhoshan Pharmaceuticals — the company that my father founded — is my main job and occupies 95 percent on my time. I am responsible for fundraising and overall business strategy for the company. I joined him after he had gotten things up and running at the end of 2017. In that time, I have raised our seed round, prepared to raise our series A, identified strategic opportunities for our lead product candidate, and helped keep things moving along. We have an incredibly experienced and skilled team, so my job is really to make sure they have what they need to do their jobs. Issues always arise — we’re organized, and we’re addressing them in the best interest of the company.
Growing up, how much did you know about your dad’s career in pharmaceuticals? Were you always interested in that field of work?
As a kid, I always had this inkling in the back of my head that “dad does really cool stuff for work, I want to work for him one day.” He developed life-saving medications for a number of pharmaceutical companies. When I was very young, I’d ask him what he was working on, and he would do his best to describe to me, as an 8-year-old, that he was developing a cancer drug for ovarian cancer, a diabetes medication for type 2 diabetics, or a platform that would make a lot of drugs that were difficult to formulate soluble and stabilized. I credit him for never talking down to me about his career even though I was so young.
I equally credit my mother for cultivating a really strong sense of discipline in me as a young kid. She let me go outside and play, but she also encouraged me to read a lot. She taught me how to read at age 3. I was more than content to be left alone with a pile of books. She also encouraged me to write every single day. She would say, “You can write, ‘I don’t like mommy’ on an entire page, but you will write every single day.” She exposed me to the arts at a young age. She took me to music and dance performances when I showed an interest in wanting to learn Indian classical music and Indian dance. She would find me teachers in those disciplines, no matter where we moved. She’d get me to keep practicing into my later childhood. I think where I ended up in my career, having two seemingly opposite things that I’m working on at any given time can be credited to how my parents raised me, and I’m very grateful for it.
You’re also the author of How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip — tell us about your book!
My boys are always tied to major career highlights. The day I came home from the hospital with Rho in 2015, I got an email from an editor at Penguin Random House who said, “I love your blog, have you ever thought about writing a book?” I thought a packing book would be smart and helpful to a lot of people and that it could bring a lot of scattered posts that I’ve done about packing into a beautiful system. I had to bring Rho with me to my first meeting with the editor because it was after his one-week checkup. I got an offer letter, but as an unsigned author, I’d have to pay to produce the book and to find an illustrator out of my advance. I knew that wasn’t going to be a deal that was going to work for me. I called all of my friends who had ever written a book and signed with an agent who is now a dear friend. We negotiated a contract that worked for all of us. The book came out in March 2017 when Rho turned 2. Now that I have kids, I use a similar packing method, but I’ve definitely modified it for children. I could probably write a whole separate book on packing and traveling with kids!
Tell us about your popular newsletter, #5SmartReads!
#5SmartReads started for a very selfish reason. Reading the news is a big part of my morning ritual. I like to know what’s going on in the world, but I also found myself being annoyed that random stories that I would find through the many newsletters I subscribe to weren’t getting nearly as much attention as I thought they should and I was seeing the same major headlines across the board that frankly, you see it once, you don’t need to keep seeing it again and again. I classified it as noise, not news. I wished that we were talking about other issues more, like healthcare.
Because I’ve worked in pharma for most of my professional life, I also have a view of healthcare that a lot of people don’t. I wanted people to have a better understanding of the industry, and I also wanted to amplify news and journalism that I was drawn to. For example, I would feature news stories that profile women who talk about the gender gap whether it be across pay, research, or fundraising. I like to dig deeper to find stories that explain something going on in society and those that profile women who are maybe not getting the same features that the founders of Birchbox, Rent the Runway, or Away have gotten. These companies have absolutely earned that, but there are also other stories that just don’t get as much press. #5SmartReads was my way of saying, “Let me share really cool stories, and hopefully, people will read them.” And if they do, I have people I can talk about this with!
I was happily surprised to see how well my Instagram following responded to it, how the newsletter has grown, and how the Facebook conversations have evolved. On Facebook, it’s not just the articles I’m sharing, but that the community is sharing and bringing to my attention. It’s exactly what I hoped would happen and hope continues to happen on a larger scale. This is a selfish way for me to stay connected with what’s going on in the world while amplifying really great journalism that I believe should have a wider reach.
You and your husband are investors in several female-founded companies. How did you add that to your resume?
Investing happened very serendipitously. Our first investment was M.M.LaFleur in 2014. After placing my first order and loving their dresses, I sent an email to the company saying, “I love your business, and I love your dresses. I work in pharma, but I also have a blog, and I’d love to meet you to see if there’s a way that we can work together!” I quickly built a friendship with their founding team from that one cold email. Later, I was having a catch-up coffee meeting with their CEO who mentioned that they were raising capital for the first time and wanted to see how I would approach it. When she told me that, I said, “I want to invest. I believe in this company so much. I love your clothes, I love the mission you stand for. I love how much easier you make shopping for workwear. Let me invest!”
Then, my husband jumped in and said, “OK, legally we can do this, but I have some questions.” He was very impressed with their business plan, what they had done to date, and what they plan to do going forward. It kind of snowballed from there. Some other investments that we’ve made — that came from our network in New York as well as me being a fangirl and reaching out — were Girls’ Night In, the weekly newsletter and media company, and Rebecca Allen’s footwear, an inclusive shoe company that offers a wide range of nude-colored shoes. It’s really fun for us. I additionally love advising for other companies. I get such a jolt of energy and inspiration every time I sit with one of our portfolio companies at an update meeting to help them think through problems and to put together strategies.
As if all of that isn’t enough, you’re also a mom-of-two! Tell us a little bit about your family.
I think it was Kris Jenner that said, “Going from zero to one kid is going up by just one kid, but going from one kid to two feels like you suddenly have 20 kids.” It’s so true. Rhaki looks like Rho did when he was a baby but has a completely different personality. He’s hangry in a way that Rho never was but is so chill the rest of the time. Rho was very awake as a young baby and demanded that you entertained him. He needed to be on his play mat, and you needed to be down on the ground reading to him or playing with him. It’s amazing how the combination of you and your partner’s DNA can result in two completely different humans. I’m looking forward to getting to know these boys more and more.
I savor every moment, even the hard moments, a lot more now than I did before because I know how fleeting they are. You just can’t know that as a first-time parent. You’re so busy learning how to be a parent that you don’t have time, and there’s not as much awareness to enjoy that moment. That is what’s special about being a second-time mom. I’m not just enjoying these moments with Rhaki, but I’m also enjoying Rho’s current moments because he’s only going to be 4 once. He’s only going to start karate or start tennis once. He’s only going to start playing an instrument once.
Pumping is exhausting. Our society is not set up to allow mothers to thrive or even learn nursing which is really a shame for society because you do have to have a certain amount of privilege to make it work. That doesn’t feel fair, but I’m really thankful that I’m able to experience nursing this time around, which I didn’t last time. I’m also a little more tired of it, but that’s OK! It takes a lot of help. The only reason I can live in NYC with two boys and all of these jobs is because I have a lot of help at home. I have an incredible nanny who has cared for Rho ever since he was 4 months old who’s now going to be fully focused on Rhaki. We’re lucky enough to be able to afford an afternoon sitter who is younger and can run around with Rho and engage with him and bring him around the city. We have a housekeeper who comes a couple of times a week who does everything other than wash dishes and clothes. I’m very lucky and privileged to afford her help.
Are you on maternity leave right now? How does maternity leave work with your career?
I had planned to take a more formal maternity leave. Our company is a small business, and I had to jump back in sooner than expected in an almost full-time capacity. I’m hoping with the nature of things just dying down a bit in the summer that I can take two weeks of a more formal maternity leave come August and enjoy that a little bit in exchange for having to leave maternity leave sooner than expected. I call it pseudo-maternity leave. I don’t have to be in a certain office dressed a certain way. I mostly have control over my own schedule. I’m able to work from home and still spend time with my boys, but I do have to be fully focused and engaged in my job. My matrescenced brain hasn’t really caught up with that yet, so I’m trying to get through the mental fog that is the early postpartum period while having responsibilities on my shoulders. That’s been the biggest challenge.
What do you and your husband use for childcare for your boys? How did you decide that setup was best for your family?
For me, I was always more inclined to get a nanny because I work from home and my life is inflexible. If I can have the time to spend with my kids throughout the day, even if it’s in little snippets, I wanted to be able to take advantage of that. Traditional daycare wouldn’t allow me to do that. A nanny was kind of always a given from the get-go. We found our housekeeper through Handy and then just offered her the opportunity to work with us individually. She’s literally the COO of my home, and I couldn’t do it without her. My parents are in New York a lot, and they help out often. I couldn’t do any of this without them. I consider it really fortunate that we have such a good relationship that cohabiting for part of the year works for us because it wouldn’t work for all families.
I Amazon Prime my groceries from Whole Foods, I InstaCart from Costco. New York is a very convenient city, and it allows me to have just about everything delivered. There’s also some really amazing classes and educational opportunities for Rho. Again, we’ve worked hard, and we’re very lucky to afford to put Rho in private school. We can pick a school based on what is the best environment for our kids rather than having to just take whatever is available or affordable. I recognize how privileged that sounds, but I am very aware of it, and I feel very lucky that we can offer that to our kids. Rho is in a year-round, full-time preschool program, and he loves it. We love the school and the environment. We’ve made some great friends out of the other families. We even found his new babysitter through the school too. It’s a really great community that we’re lucky to be a part of.
Can you walk us through your daily routine?
I’m up at 4:30am to pump. We’ve had a night nurse for the month of June which has been amazing. She leaves by 6am. My mom takes over and is with Rhaki from 6am onwards, and I’ll usually just stay up and drink the tea my husband makes me, read the news, and get my #5SmartReads for the day picked out. If I can post them that early, great. If not, I’ll get to it later. Eat something myself, rehydrate, have a cup of coffee.
Rho is up at 7am. When he’s up, my husband gets him ready while I take care of making his lunch, post that on IG Stories, and make him breakfast. I like to spend that time — about an hour each morning — with Rho until he’s out the door for school. My husband drives him to school at 8am, and it’s wonderful that they have that time together. After I get Rho out the door, I go up and nurse Rhaki and hang out with him until our nanny arrives at 10am.
From 10am to 3pm, I’m in work mode writing emails, on conference calls, updating decks, working on financials. I try to take Rho to one of his classes in the afternoon which is fun bonding time for both of us. If I take Rho to class, the chances of me getting back to my computer are very, very slim, so I just have to plan accordingly and make sure the classes are scattered to every other day and not back-to-back days so I have enough time to work.
I shut off the computer by 5pm these days so I can spend time with the boys. I’ll nurse Rhaki again at that time. I pump every three hours between those nursing sessions. Then I’ll make dinner for Rho, and my parents have been making dinner for me and my husband lately which I’m really grateful for. Our nanny usually gives the boys their baths which is awesome! My mom and dad also love to help out with bathtime with Rhaki. They love bathtime in a way I don’t — it’s not my favorite mom thing to do — so if they’re willing to do it, I’m happy to let them participate!
Both boys are down between 7 and 7:30pm at which time I spend time with my parents and with my husband once he gets home. I pump again. I get ready for bed around 9:30-10pm. I either fall asleep, or I’ll read until my late night pump session which is around 11pm or midnight. I’ll go to sleep and then sometimes wake up again at 2-3am to pump again and then go back to sleep.
What are the greatest rewards of being a working mom?
Motherhood has made me so laser-focused on what matters to me. If I’m going to spend time away from my children, it should be worth it. I am lucky to love both my work and my family life. I couldn’t do either of them justice if I only picked one. I’m grateful for that, but it really got me thinking, “What are the things that only I can do, and what are the things that I can allow my team or hire a new person to allow us to grow as a company?” Learning how to fire myself and get out of my own way and only do what matters for both myself and the company is something that motherhood has taught me. You have a much clearer vision of what matters versus what doesn’t.
There’s nothing like snuggling a baby to make you feel better. There’s nothing like hearing your 4-year-old retell The Three Little Pigs story with a very morbid ending. There’s nothing like seeing what your kids are interested in and maybe that’s something you really love as well. Right now, Rho is on a big Avengers kick. He knows everyone’s superhero names, their real names, their powers, who their best friends are, what their favorite colors are, and what their favorite foods are. It’s just this really funny world that he’s created from this world that exists. I really enjoy seeing what he thinks, what he likes, and what he doesn’t like. I love getting to know this incredible little human that I somehow created.
Did you and your husband always want two kids and plan how far apart in age they might be?
Yes and no. My husband was the one who really wanted to have kids. I was always the type where I’d say, “We’d have a great life with kids, and we’d have a great, different life without kids.” He really wanted kids, and I said, “Cool, we’ll have a kid.” Rho really rocked my world in a lot of amazing and challenging ways. I had severe postpartum depression after he was born, and the first year of his life I had a lot of work stress. I was learning how to be a mom. I was dealing with depression and anxiety in a way I had never dealt with before that was debilitating. Coming from the South Asian community, mental health is not talked about. It’s very much seen as, “It’s all in your head” or “You’re just emotional” or “Let your mom come in and take care of it for you.” There is no acknowledging that this is a neurochemical imbalance in your brain that you can’t control. I didn’t get on medication until Rho was 5 months old. I didn’t start seeing a therapist until he was almost a year old.
It took me until Rho was about 2 years old to feel ready for a second kid. We were lucky to get pregnant right away, and then I miscarried 10 weeks later. I had a complication from my miscarriage — I hemorrhaged, which was very painful and scary — and I just physically and emotionally needed almost a year before I was ready to start trying again. We were lucky to get pregnant right away the third time, and the pregnancy stuck. I knew that this would likely be my last pregnancy. I feel very content with two children, and we both feel like our family is complete. I savored this pregnancy more than I did with Rho. I’ve been savoring these baby cuddles and this postpartum period. I’ve been a lot kinder to myself because I know there’s a finality to it. I have context now. I know everything is a phase and that I will sleep again, I will not be pumping nine times a day again, and that this stuff will go by much faster than I ever planned or expected it to.
Savor the moment, get help where you can, and focus on what matters. For me, it’s raising two compassionate, woke, feminist boys who know how to be respectful and to care about their neighbors and the world and leaving it a better place than they found it.
You live in New York! What’s it like raising kids in a big city?
I find living in the city so much easier than living in the suburbs. I do not love driving around. I love that I have multiple modes of transport available to me at any given time. The museums here are amazing. City life has always been something I very much wanted. I grew up in the suburbs. I experienced city life on a small scale when we lived in England for a year and a half, right outside of London, and then again when I lived in Seattle for college. I felt truly myself in an urban environment in a way that I never did in the suburbs or a more rural environment.
I’m lucky that my husband individually felt the same way. There is an expense that comes with raising kids in a city that we discussed and planned for from the moment we got married and started saving for as a result of it. We knew our kids would be in private school from the get-go. We knew we would have to be able to afford childcare and a space big enough for the family size that we wanted. We were lucky that our parents offered financial help along the way, and we couldn’t be doing this without that. It was always the city life for us. Whether that city be New York or if it would have been another city, I think I would have been happy. I really love New York and feel at home here in a way that I never did in the other places that I did growing up.
You mentioned the many modes of transportation that NYC allows — how do you get around with the boys?
With Rhaki, because he’s not vaccinated yet, it’s Uber and his Doona which is a car seat and stroller in one. It’s one of my favorite baby purchases ever. Once Rho was a year-and-a-half old, he was in the Babyzen stroller which I could carry up and down the subway stairs with him in it. If we were going from the West Side to the East Side, we usually always took the bus. We’re lucky that the bus stop is really close by to us. I’m sure with Rhaki we’ll be doing the bus as well once he gets his shots. Ubers are kind of an inclimate weather thing now with the boys or if they’re sick and I’m trying to get them to the doctor as quickly as possible.
When it comes to being a mom, what are you most insecure about? What are you most confident about?
They go hand-in-hand, and it has a lot to do with the jump of going from one kid to two. I was so afraid of what people would think of me if my kid had a meltdown when it was just Rho. Now, I don’t worry about other people’s opinions about my parenting at all as long as I know I’m doing what’s best for my kids. Sometimes, that is letting Rho have a meltdown on the street because I’m not going to take him to the toy store on a random Tuesday because he wants to go — we’re going to go home and do an activity instead. If you’ve done certain chores like making your bed every day this week, putting your dishes in the sink, packing your backpack on your own then, yeah! Maybe we’ll go to the toy store on a weekend as a treat. But I’m not going to take you just because you want to. If you’re going to scream and cry in the middle of the sidewalk, that’s OK, I’m not giving in.
I didn’t feel confident about anything as a parent when it was just Rho. Postpartum depression definitely was a contributing factor. If you’ve started sharing parts of your life online, you do care what other people think of you because, in a way, you’re opening yourself to being judged on your life choices online. For me, it’s an insecurity that is self-created. After raising a kid for three years, a lot of that has melted away. You kind of identify your priorities as a parent, and you identify what matters to you and what you can let go. There’s this confidence that I have now, being a mother, that I didn’t have in my life before. I’m still insecure. I would be lying if said I didn’t watch other Instagram Stories and worry that their kid is reading already. Of course, it gets to me! You can’t help but compare milestones with other children, and I still do that sometimes. It’s to a much lesser degree now, but it’s still one of my insecure mommy moments.
If you could only pick one, what has been your favorite memory from motherhood so far?
I think one of my favorite moments in life is always going to be when Rho met Rhaki. He was so excited, delighted, and in love with his baby brother from the get-go. I posted the picture on Instagram of the first time that Rho held Rhaki, and it was one of those moments where the grandmas were like, “No, no, no, don’t let him hold the baby.” And I said, “No! I trust my son to hold his baby brother properly with my help, and I’m OK with that.” It was one of those times that I felt most confident as a mother. And then the expression on Rho’s face was something that will be engraved in my brain forever. It was so joyful, happy, and loving, and I just remember thinking that these boys are so lucky to have each other.
Can you share with us five mom hacks you rely on to make things work in your day-to-day life?
1. Outsourcing grocery shopping and all errands, courtesy of Amazon Prime Now, Instacart, Postmates, and Capsule.
2. Taking a morning walk in Central Park with Rhaki once Rho is off to school. It’s a really nice way to start the day and to get quality time with my youngest, and some exercise to boot.
3. Purchasing 5 of these dresses and wearing one every single day. It’s all I’ve been wearing this summer, and I’m totally fine with it.
4. Meditating or reading the news while pumping.
5. Working from The Wing on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and scheduling all my meetings, calls, and friend catch-ups for those days.
Hitha Palepu is The Everymom…
Favorite family tradition? None that include Rhaki, but I’m excited to create some in the coming year! My husband’s and my marriage check-in is something we do every week, without fail, and has really strengthened our relationship.
Easy go-to family meal to prepare? Enchilada quinoa!
Your dream vacation? 6 months in Australia and New Zealand. A girl can dream!
Last home item you splurged on? Our backyard renovation.
Guilty pleasure? Reading a book cover-to-cover in a single sitting.
Most embarrassing mom moment? When Rho was 18 months old, the front wheels of his stroller got stuck between the subway and the platform and ended up falling into the tracks. I had to wheel Rho home on just the back wheels, which was slightly mortifying. But it was a great arm workout!
Proudest career achievement? Surviving 2015 — I gave birth to Rho, turned in the final manuscript of my book, and launched Bridge2Act.
Favorite date night activity? Dinner and a Broadway show.
Best mom advice you’ve been given? Raise the kids you have, not the kids you want. We can fantasize about having perfectly mannered children who always eat their vegetables and quietly play independently, but the reality is less than idyllic. Taking a beat, listening to your kid, and parenting them based on THEIR personality and needs and quirks will help you be a calmer, more present parent.