It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t tell the truth. But what I've learned over the past few years is this: I unabashedly discuss my age in an entrepreneurial world that I’m not sure accepts discussing age as "normal."
I attend lots of meet-ups and conferences where I’m DEFINITELY the oldest “female founder”/ entrepreneur in the room. (Have I mentioned that I have a strong dislike for the word “female”? I do. It reminds me of an animal but… I digress.)
I’m a 38-year old woman who decided at the age of 34 (ish) to implode my life and start over…on my own terms. Yay for me. Right?
But not always.
Starting a business at the age of 35 brought on a shit ton of challenges that I didn’t expect. And my expectations were lower than most since I never set out to start my own business or empower anyone, other than myself.
Finding community was one of the biggest challenges that I came up against as I transitioned from a corporate job into entrepreneurship in my mid-thirties.
I was too old for the millennial community who were raised in the age of risk-taking and entrepreneurship.
Their technological ability was light years ahead of where I was regardless of the fact that they were 10 years younger. Personal computers (and Facebook) didn't exist when I was growing up. We played Atari and had TI-83 calculators for math class. And if you were REALLY a badass, you had a portable CD player. Using Facebook or Instagram for business?! Wha..what?! I. Had. No. Idea. ***For the record, I learned quickly.
There were the ridiculously badass 20-somethings who were technology savvy (bless them!) or the sweet well-meaning women who say things like "I have other older friends." Yea, that. Thanks.***For the record, I'm more their older mentor and less their actual friend but again, I digress.
I was often too young and sometimes too attractive to fit in with a lot of male founders that I met.
I don’t say this out of vanity either because, quite frankly, I don’t think I’m that different than a lot of other women who experience this. I remember having a conversation with one highly regarded entrepreneur worth billions (no kidding) of dollars. You know his companies. Very well. I kid you not when I say that I’m confident he already undressed me by the time he handed me his business card (in his mind, NOT literally.)
Younger male founders wanted to take me out for a drink, not taking me seriously at all since I was new to the “tech” business and I’m sure didn’t get the language right. I recall describing The Collective in it’s early stages and one guy said this “It’s interesting because women are so sensitive about business. But I really don’t understand why they’d pay for cheerleading. You may want to reconsider this model.” Yep, he said that. He also repeatedly told me how “cute” I was. Needless to say, I didn’t take his advice.
Several older male founders didn’t take me seriously either (because “my god, you’re so smart and so…beautiful.) No shit, Sherlock. Thanks for the sincere business advice.
I had nothing to reciprocally offer the community of women business executives who I no longer had much in common with.
For all of the success I experienced in my career, I was never going to be a high-powered executive. (I was also never going to wear 4” heels to the office but that's another story for another day.) I didn’t care much about being promoted and I sure as fuck wasn’t ever going to back- stab for the sake of a promotion. YES, of course I recognize that not all women executives behave that way but I know for sure that corporate culture changes people. You do things at work as a “leader” that you would never do outside of work. It’s very easy to allow your morals to shift in the name of business if your hope is to keep climbing that corporate ladder. I KNOW this to be true. And it just wasn’t in me to want corporate success that badly.
At the age of 35, I didn’t have a community anymore. It was lonely, disconnected and it sucked. I had less and less in common with the folks I spent an entire career working with and I didn't know where to turn to find people like me;
-Uncertain but courageous enough to know that they’d figure it out.
-Women needing support but also having a shit ton of expertise to share.
-Big-hearted women who sought understandable strategy for growth but also wanted to help others thrive.
-Innovative women who had so much to learn but also who wanted to empower others.
Starting a business at any age is challenging but being a woman in your thirties and starting a business has a whole subset of challenges that we should be talking about a lot more often. (Stay tuned for more on that from me in future posts.)
The Collective (of Us) was started out of necessity. It’s an on-line small business accelerator and community for women business owners. I created this community as a platform to connect women “like me” but different; women who didn’t have a community that they related to as they transitioned from one role (corporate employee, motherhood etc.) to that of entrepreneurship.
Women who wanted to support other women while also growing their own businesses to higher heights.
Need is often the greatest innovator. In this case, I know that to be true.