Let’s be clear — No one believes my headline. But it’s absolutely true.
Think of a woman in her 50s, 60’s or 70’s. What comes to mind? Someone who’s in the final chapters of her life? Tired from multiple years of motherhood and/or employment? Ready to slow down and enjoy fewer commitments, fewer responsibilities, less stress? Maybe.
But what about those of us who take up the mantle of entrepreneurship in their 50’s, 60’s, and even 70’s… who choose to start a company — in my case a technology company. I would argue that we older, wiser and experienced women are much better prepared for the life of an entrepreneur than the throngs of millennials crowding into pitch competitions.
In fact, the evidence is overwhelming. What are the conditions and character traits long touted as the KPIs for successful entrepreneurship?
I don’t have to make or plan meals for anyone anymore. I don’t have to pick anyone up, set up doctor’s appointments or keep track of toilet paper. I’m not spending my free time dating or worrying about balancing parenthood and employment. If my friends don’t hear from me for months, I won’t be reprimanded or feel “FOMO”. I can disappear for weeks at a time into my company without anyone bothering me. I can work 80 hour weeks, passionately obsessed with my product/service without anyone complaining that I don’t have life balance.
Solve Real Problems
The problem I’m solving is real because I’ve watched it go unsolved for 35+ years. It’s a problem that has only increased since mobile technology has captured our undivided attention. The pain is no point; it’s a rash. I am obsessed with solving the problem as it has the potential to add enormous value to everyone’s life. And that’s why, at 55, I am extremely passionate to solve it given that I can choose to do any number of things at this time of my life.
Grit and Passion
“Passion and persistence in spite of obstacles”. That’s grit. Let’s talk obstacles: I’m a woman. I’m over 50. I grew up in a completely analog world and had to dive into the digital world without any education. I’m treated with disrespect by practically every powerful man I’ve ever met. I stepped away from my first start-up when I was 26 to raise three children leaving behind my dream. And yet, after being told over and over that I would never be able to start a tech company, I attracted one of the best engineers in NY (http://bit.ly/1o8R6RA) to join me as my CTO.
Attract the best talent, particularly Millennials, and retain them
Forget the Lego table. I know that millennials look beyond the colors on the wall and a fun way to blow off steam when they choose to join a start-up. My children are millennials. They have millennial friends, all of whom I watched growing up. I have a millennial mastermind group. I am in millennial facebook groups. I have listened intently to their concerns. They want an easy way to let me know when there is a better way to do something — I make changes fast. They want a clear path to promotion. They want ownership and responsibility. They want clear expectations and public acknowledgement of their progress with authentic appreciation for their commitment. They want a compassionate environment that acknowledges the slings and arrows of human existence ( ie. children who get sick). They want a meritocracy. I will ensure that our company culture embraces these values and adapts as their families grow. No one knows more about what happens as the needs of families change as do I and my fellow 50+ moms.
Every investor wants a clear 3-5 year exit strategy. That’s perfectly fine with me, and would be my preference.
Do Not Pray To The God of Ego
I am way past making my company all about me. For most founders, your business is your identity, your north star, your soul. By 55, my identity is just fine thank you very much. I don’t have little voices sitting on my shoulders judging everything I do, comparing myself to everyone else. Moreover, start-ups die often because of co-founder break ups. Having run a start-up in my 20s/30s, I’m pretty sure that’s all about control. I remember needing to be right all of the time. Those days are over. Now, I am more than happy to hand over the reins to whomever is best qualified. My focus is entirely on what is best for the company.
I don’t think I need to explain this one.
Fear of Failure
By the time you’re 55, you’ve failed at so many things you’ve lost count. Add to that being a mother and having been told, in no uncertain terms often by my children, just how wrong I am.
Do we have the energy and passion? http://bit.ly/2ptWQqi Do we embrace risk? http://bit.ly/2oEksbR How is our execution? http://bit.ly/1LUq3TE Who is best at listening for problems and employee needs http://bit.ly/2oPuEAp Are these the KPIs for entrepreneurship? http://on.inc.com/2on9zcl, http://bit.ly/2onbIFh, http://bit.ly/2nVzn4g
Funding and the search for the Unicorn Investor
This post was written at the urging of one of my mentors — who happens to be male — who gave me a list of reasons why investors will be biased against me as soon as I walk into a meeting. He calls them sheep. If sheep investors move in herds like moths to a flame at the mention of the new new, which clearly doesn’t look like me, then I am looking for the Unicorn investors.
Unicorns investors march to the beat of their own drum. Unicorn investors are magical; they find great opportunities in nooks and crannies and sniff them out even if no one else has proclaimed their popularity. They know that that the highest-value patents often come from the oldest inventors — those over the age of 55. http://bit.ly/2nVzn4g. (Did I mention that my company has a patent application pending?)
We older and wiser women entrepreneurs are the misfits, the crazies, the ones who get the strange reaction when we answer “what’s new with you?” with “I’m starting a company!”.
And the investors who look beyond the stereotypes and see these truths will reap the rewards.