One female founder and CEO explains her eventful journey from employee to entrepreneur.
By Nancy MacIntyre (CEO & Founder, Fingerprint)
Which Way is Up?
Like life, our careers can take many unexpected twists and turns, ups and down. It can be a roller coaster. For those of us who’ve chosen to own that ride ourselves, we have found it yields far greater success and a much better version of “you” than allowing the ride to own you.
The roller coaster of life and career can be scary. As women, we’re prone to self-doubt, but I’ve found that taking control of my own journey and embracing risk is a very small price to pay for the sheer exhilaration of doing my own thing. Here’s my story, one that I hope inspires you to allow your real self to emerge in a spectacular way.
From Corporate to Entrepreneur
That sounds odd, doesn’t it? I spent 20 years in increasingly bigger corporate roles, overall loving it. Who wouldn’t love working with a big brand name company with a top-notch staff and all the great features that come with an executive life. By most people’s definition, I was successful and as importantly, I was happy.
Then, one day it was over. At the peak of my career, I lost my job. Holy shit. Two kids, a mortgage, and an ego. I was both terrified and thrilled at the same time. In the early weeks, I thought hard about what happened, and in a way that I believe most women tend to. Was it me? Changing Product Strategy? The Economy? Company Performance? Sexism? Politics? Some great conspiracy? I wanted to learn from the experience, but in the end, it just was one of those things that just happens in Corporate America. I decided right away to channel my energy into something bigger, something better, and something that was mine. I called it “Thinking about the Next Big Thing.”
They say necessity becomes the mother of invention and in this period of my life where I didn’t have anywhere to go at 6am, I was compelled to remake myself. My epiphany was the screeching tire at the crossroads of life and resisting the logical step of finding another corporate gig. My inside talk said, “I am going to make something amazing. This is my time and I will succeed or fail on my own, not burdened by the whims of some corporation.”
Permission to Define my Offerings to the World
Those that work with me know I can be a firecracker, with boundless ideas and energy, but focused on getting things done. It’s just how I’m piped. Some of my best thinking moments happen in my little Mini Cooper (aka My Start-up Car), top down, drying my hair in the wind, loud music, and Diet Pepsi in hand (yes, it’s my morning coffee). As I bust into San Francisco (or “The City”) from my home, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s like a mini-vacation, giving me time to think and reminding me how lucky I am to have unlimited possibilities. The future is of my own making and it will be beautiful.
So, giving myself permission to become an entrepreneur, I decided to put myself in business – my business. I know mobile. I know digital technology. I know education. I know gaming. What was the marketplace missing? What could I build?
I recollect something we all see daily – a mom who has handed her child her iPhone, or tablet, even though those curious and vibrant hands that are busy playing will leave fingerprints all over her hardware. It used to be a Nintendo DS – but that seems rarely the case anymore.
That was my ‘ah-ha’ moment and the birth of my company, Fingerprint. As you know, every fingerprint is unique, as are children through the eyes of their parents.
A Company is Born
The family market always evolves, from books and board games to smartphones and tablets, but the human experience will always remain social. Our team designed a super intuitive and easy way to transition this parent and kid engagement into the digital world. At Fingerprint, we successfully launched many of our own apps and games and now are taking our company even bigger.
In just over two years since we opened doors, we now are signing on large global partners like Samsung, Sylvan, Astro and more, whose great digital products are “Powered by Fingerprint.” We’re reaching millions of parents and kids. Rather than constructing their own kid friendly app network (not an easy task), we help large global brands break into the mobile market and get direct to the consumers who really want their products, just as we do with our own great games. Our customers are three-fold – brands, bevelopers, and ultimately consumers (real kids and their grown-ups).
Crossing the Chasm and Grabbing That Dream
Start-ups are not for the faint of heart. It’s hard. But it is an absolute blast to build something from nothing. And even more so when you build an amazing team that works with you to catch that dream because your vision is now theirs, too.
Here is a peek at the good, bad, ugly and rewarding. And, why I’d do it all over again.
High Highs, Low Lows
The highs are high and the lows bite the dust. Like being told 80+ times “no” by potential investors or having someone ask if Fingerprint is my mid-life crisis. “It’s not like I decided to open a bakery,” I told one investor. But for me, the heady combo of fear of failure plus total belief in the vision kept me going. Evangelizing the business was the greatest high ever.
Starting up and starting over was the catalyst to rebrand my life. No more set daily schedule. No more glorification of being busy. I focus only on what’s important and do just that. There is an awful lot to fit into every day and the unpredictable nature of it is exciting to me. I raised my kids without a super rigid structure and they now are great young adults with their own sense of purpose.
“Sure,” they say, “I’ll rest when I’m dead.” Beauty sleep is one thing, but rest to ensure your brain functions well is another. I am an early riser by nature so I typically get to my emails before most folks are up. That said, my phone is charged on an entire floor away from my bedroom. Gotta stop yourself somehow!
I am not talking about advisors who sign on for the prestige factor. I mean advisors who deeply believe in your mission and want you to succeed. People who lift you up, cheerlead you, coach you, and tell it to you straight. When things are tough or something is new and scares me, I realized I could keep it inside or share it with the right people for support and guidance. One of the best parts of this journey has been the select few advisors and mentors. They amaze me. I lean judiciously, but when I do, it has lifted me up so I can stay the course.
There’s always the question of whether women can “do it all.” The answer is different for every family. I lucked out and met my husband sophomore year in college and we’ve been together ever since. We’ve made a lot of decisions along the road. Big life decisions. My husband is always supportive, even with the moving target of my work. We do for each other. He is willing to carry the heavy load with the kids, and more. He has always put me first. That is amazing.
I didn’t realize the importance of fundraising in the start-up world. I also didn’t realize that investor presentations are like job interviews over and over again. It’s a cross between the movies Fifty First Dates and Ground Hog Day. Each meeting is the same, you learn something, and then do it again. Investors can judge you on a myriad of things, some of which may or may not make sense, but I knew I had to get damn comfortable with myself and my vision for my company in order for them to do the same in the form of money. It’s still challenging, but I get to evangelize and I love it.
Staying inspired when building a business takes creativity and initiative. I draw a lot of inspiration from movies. I channel the great Katharine Hepburn and her non-apologetic; never give in attitude as I head into all-too-often all-male investor meetings. A little closer to home and to my heart – my college-age daughter inspires me every day with her fearless optimism, creating a life that is uniquely her own. And, of course, on those days when inspiration wanes, a girl needs a good mantra. My mantra – “everything will be okay.” And, it really will.
This Moment in Time
Today, I find life so much more colorful and exciting by removing the corporate “shackles” to create something without a script. I have done it and will continue to do it and use my experiences to guide whatever is next. I’m not sure what that is, but it will be big!
Are you ready to make the leap?
About the guest blogger. Nancy MacIntyre is the founder and CEO of Fingerprint, a global mobile technology company that powers games and curates play-and-learn content for kids and their grown-ups by creating custom networks for industry leaders like Samsung, Sylvan, Astro and more.