I’m 54 years old. And a woman. Running a tech start-up. Let me repeat that. OK, maybe not. I think you get the idea. In an industry where everyone expects someone running a tech start-up to be a) a guy b) the age Mark Zuckerburg once was when he came up with the idea for Facebook and c) living in the U.S., I am a complete anomaly. I am too old to be doing this shit.
Nevertheless, I have decided, at an age when most people would be thinking about retirement, to take the road less travelled. I have made a decision to take what little is left of my savings to create something of which I am passionate about.
The fact that it happens to rely on tech is not what drives me. What keeps me up at night is the idea that, in a short period of time, I may actually have created something that enables those with little to get out more and discover opportunities, right on their doorstep, they never knew existed.
I have waited half my life to do this. Maybe longer. I grew up pre-internet. I grew up during a time when entertainment was a black and white TV, records and my doll collection. But, even back then, I was curious. I took apart appliances to discover their inner workings. My dad, an aeronautical engineer, said I should have been a mechanical engineer. But that idea never occurred to me. Instead I channeled my inquisitive nature in other directions, including redeveloping properties and reworking square footage. I was very good at seeing the potential of unloved homes and buildings.
Maybe I could have been a property developer but it wasn’t my destiny. I enjoyed the challenge of reworking tired buildings but only for my own use. I wanted to work in tech but it wasn’t until I had the money to leave my old life behind that I was able to fully follow that dream. What I didn’t really understand until it was too late was that the industry didn’t really know how to deal with a successful, older women who wanted to work in tech.
Yesterday I decided to take the afternoon off, a rare occasion these days, to watch a film. As it so happened the film, ‘While We’re Young,’ was about an older couple (and by older I mean a couple in their early 40’s) who become enamored by a couple in their mid twenties and their lifestyle. The ‘older’ couple embarks on a journey to reconnect with their youthful self by tagging along to events meant for twenty-something people.
Although a decade older than the ‘older’ couple in the film I could relate. The youthful couple was full of enthusiasm and not shy to use their age and attractiveness to advance their careers. They manipulated the older couple and those around them, using their youthful advantage to open doors. I thought back to my own youth.
In my late twenties my girlfriends and I worked tirelessly, for two years, on a TV series. We were all working in TV and video production, albeit in fairly junior roles. Each weekend we would meet up, in my kitchen in North London, to work on the show idea. On Sundays I would often sneak into my office, a corporate production company on Dean Street, to photocopy pages from various books that would help with our research. If my boss noticed the escalating stationary bill, he never mentioned it.
After two years Channel 4 finally offered us money to produce a pilot. Shortly after that we were handed £250k, a huge sum of money in 1990 to produce a series. The money came at a price, however. We had to find an Executive Producer that would be ‘willing’ to produce the show. No Exec Producer, no commission. Despite the fact that as a team we’d all had over five years of production experiences each, the Channel was not willing to put a six-figure budget in the hands of a bunch of unknowns.
It will come as no surprise to learn that finding an Exec Producer when we already had a commission was a pretty easy task. We saw pretty much every big name production company in London, all of who were more than happy to take the 30% off the production budget for adding their name to the credits. At the end of the day we went with the guy we liked the most and although he was not the biggest name in TV, he had enough kudos to get us our commission.
The show was successful but not so much so to get us another series. We all went on to do other things.
I remember at the time at being pissed off at Channel 4, wondering why they didn’t trust three chicks with red lipstick (our words, not theirs) with the budget. In hindsight, I could see the rationale. We had no experience of handling that much money. We hadn’t ever made a TV series. They wanted to put the money in safe hands and making sure we had an Exec Producer was their insurance policy.
Which leads me to where I am now. Sure, I’ve never run a successful tech business. But I’ve run businesses. I’ve managed staff. I’ve made money and I’ve made a significant profit in every business I’ve ever run. When I look at the children being handed the keys to the castle without the equivalent of a ‘Exec Producer,’ I’m completely flummoxed. While I can understand the attraction of youth, I can also understand the benefit of experience. So while I can’t take back the years, I can hire young people. I can surround myself with people who understand tech more than I do and can take my idea and make it even better than the one in my head.
I guess what I’m getting at is that you can’t have everything. If you’re a 54-year-old women, successful businessperson, who wants to enter a new sector, you can’t expect the doors to open for you. And if you’re a super duper twenty-something (male) coder who is having millions thrown at you, then you better make damn sure you find yourself someone with some business experience otherwise it’s all likely to disappear. The fact is that age and experience and youthful enthusiasm are not mutually exclusive. We all need each other.
So, why is it when it comes to funding, there’s only one winner? And I’m guessing you know which one that is, don’t you?