47 Is The New 27: An Entrepreneur At Any Age

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By Laura Yecies (CEO, SugarSync)

A friend sent me this Forbes article – 30 Under 30 — with the question — why the focus on youth? It is a really good question. My first thought when I read the article was where was I and what was I doing before I turned the dreaded 30, after which, implicitly in this article — one’s accomplishments become theoretically less impressive.

So let’s turn the clock back to just before 30. December 1993 — I had three children (Adam was born when I was over the hill at 31) ages eight, five and six months. I was working at Informix as a sales manager for the Central American, Caribbean and Andean regions of Latin America. Steve had just bought two Miller beverage distributorships (in Watsonville) and was finishing law school at Berkeley. We lived in a ranch house in a family-oriented neighborhood of Los Altos, CA. The kids were doing well — the boys immersed in school, sports and music and Margot was thriving and, thankfully, sleeping through the night. Life was great but “x” busy. I put an “x” because even in synonym.com I can’t find a word that adequately qualifies busy.

The physical energy and lack of sleep required to keep up with three kids and a job with intensive travel is something that could be hard for me to maintain today. However, the mental energy and stress of a startup is something that I would not want to have shared with my young children. So for me I’m glad for the order in which the different stages of my family and the different stages of my career occurred. More importantly, I always knew I wanted to have several (well actually four) children. Waiting until one’s mid 30’s (or later) post entrepreneurial success to try to have a family is playing with fire and sadly I’ve seen many of my female colleagues get burned. You can be an entrepreneur at any age. You can’t get pregnant at any age. And BTW, one can maybe be a dad at any age but is that what you want?

In my case, however, I was not deliberately working in a big company rather than being an entrepreneur. Frankly it didn’t occur to me to jump ship at that point. I was on an incredibly exciting and steep leaning curve at work. Learning sales (I had switched from marketing to carrying a quota), learning to do business internationally, learning fluency in Spanish and Portuguese (for more details on the logistics see here). As long as the learning stayed steep and the company environment positive I was happy to stay (It turns out that I am using all of those skills today, but that was a previous post). So while I am enjoying entrepreneurship more than big company life, those big company jobs were pretty exciting, I developed skills, networks and great friendships.

Our American society, not just in business, does glorify youth. I probably will not be able to change this and anyhow, I must acknowledge that it is jaw-droppingly impressive what the 30 people under 30 in the article above have accomplished in such a short amount of time. There may be some advantage to youth in their ability to imagine or identify major innovations. Perhaps because they have learned fewer limitations or perhaps there may be some innovation advantage to having lived only in the Internet-enabled world.

Nonetheless, here is what my personal value system says we should glorify for entrepreneurs. It should be simply what they have done and how they did it — not how old they were whey they accomplished it. Did they create a product or service that improved people’s lives? Did they make a great return for their investors? Did they treat their customers fairly and with respect? Did they take care of their employees and support their personal and family goals? I think the most important criteria is not how old or young you are or the color of your skin, religion or gender. Did you build something of lasting value? Were you (and your team) mensches* in doing so. That is my goal at SugarSync.

*Mensch (Yiddish: mentsh, from German: Mensch “human being”) means “a person of integrity and honor”

This post was originally posted at The Kitchen Sync.

About the guest blogger: Laura Yecies is CEO of SugarSync, makers of the award-winning SugarSync online data back-up and storage, syncing and file sharing service. She is a consumer software and Internet services industry veteran with nearly two decades of experience leading top consumer brands such as ZoneAlarm, Yahoo and Netscape. Laura blogs at The Kitchen Sync about work, family, travel and other activities converging, and the lessons learned along the way. Follow her on Twitter at @lyecies.

  • Nan

    Great post! We need to have people fuel innovation and new businesses at any age. After all, how old are we going to live and what adventures may be in that time. First of all, you hope that experience leads to better insight.

    Sometimes for women it takes a while to visualize themselves as a leader of a startup. After they sample a more traditional route, they may find it doesn’t satisfy or use their talents, or they are not getting promoted after a certain level. I observe that most women who do startups later not because of the kids so much as that they had full intent on satisfying their ambitions through an established corporation, but find they cannot. And with kids, those that delayed had to delay because of an issue around health insurance or capital, so they had to keep a regular job.

  • Deayn

    Love your blog! Thx for the support!

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  • http://www.actofcreation.com Dominique

    Great articulation of a fact lost among many other random criteria often shouted by the media…age of founder, VC money, location of company, celebrity status of investors…
    All that matters is if founders are building something a) of value, b) of sustainable value i.e., profitable and encourages repeat engagement and c) (I personally believe)that is generated by a great company & culture that great people want to come to every day.
    We all talk about metrics and the importance of measuring the right things in order to gain success…then why does the Valley and the media “measure” a company’s worth by the youth of its founders or whether it scored investment? Not the greatest metrics that correlate with long-term success…

  • http://beatnikbetty.wordpress.com Bethany Moore

    Fantastic article. I’m turning 30 this year, and just spent 3 years severely underemployed thanks to a recession-induced lay-off back in 2009. Now that I’m back on track with a great new job, I’m trying not to feel bad about myself for falling “behind schedule”.

  • http://crashopensource.blogspot.com Lukas Blakk (@lsblakk)

    Lovely article, glad you wrote this and even if pivoting the focus on youth in our culture isn’t possible in a larger way pieces like this help to encourage women and remind them that life most certainly doesn’t end at 30 :)

  • http://www.habitudes.info Jackie Pettus

    Yay! I started Habitudes.info at 64! I couldn’t have started it much sooner because I used what I learned being a stay-at-home mom to create my products, household organizing and record keeping software.

    It’s so nice to read something that acknowledges older entrepreneurs. When I go to networking events I sometimes feel like I’m invisible!

  • http://www.photohand.com Elena Alexseeva

    When you read some remarkable stories of teenagers who made millions by creating companies online and in reality, 30 sounds like an arbitrary milestone. I think after 21 we are all in the same boat.

  • http://webtotherescue.com Nillie Goldman

    Thanks for a wonderful post. I really enjoyed reading it, particularly the last paragraph. The website that founded (WebToTheRescue.com) will hopefully help those readers who would like to explore and develop their entrepreneurial potential.

  • http://www.flextimeglobal.com Emily

    Laura, love the post! Cannot even begin to say how many 40-something women I know (including myself) who are well positioned and ready to start companies or join forces with others to start companies. Hope more attention is given to the Top 40 in their 40′s, or Top 50 in their 50′s, or beyond.

  • http://facebook.com/sharemore1 Erica Etelson

    Thanks for the affirmation — I’m just starting out at age 44 after careers in law, journalism and marketing and with a 9-year old who’s getting pretty darned independent by now. (I also graduated from Boalt in ’93 so maybe I knew your husband)?

  • http://blogs.forbes.com/tarabrown/ Tara Tiger Brown

    I’m stoked that more women that are over 30 (and mothers) are talking about being entrepreneurs.

    I wrote a post last year about this because I was getting discouraged from all the focus on youth.

    Is There Proof that 30-something Mothers Will Fail Doing a Tech Startup?

    http://tarathetiger.com/2011/10/03/is-there-proof-that-30-something-mothers-will-fail-doing-a-tech-startup/

  • http://reciprocitynow.com Jen McElrath

    Right on! Define each stage of your career by what you give and receive, not by the type of institution. It’s possible to have very entrepreneurial experiences and gain relevant skills in what’s perceived as unlikely environments. Past corporate and professional services roles enable me to wear multiple hats and better serve our customers. Our startup has been able to tap into relationships developed over years.
    Being an entrepreneur is an attitude, not an age. And I continue to pull way too many all-nighters. ?