Top 5 reasons why startups are wasted on the young

Welcome to Silicon Valley (Mark Coggins photo)

Sand Hill Road (Mark Coggins photo)

Okay, I admit it.  In my entire life, nothing has made me feel older than pitching to VCs on Sand Hill Road.  Maybe because they all look like they are barely out of high school (at least the ones I was allowed to meet with initially, for the most part).

Maybe it’s because I am the only one not wearing ripped jeans when I’m waiting in the lobby to be called in.  Maybe it’s because when I look at the age of many funded CEOs, they are closer to my 11 year old son’s age than my own (undisclosed, but it doesn’t start with a “t”).

But I think my “advanced age” and experience are huge assets in my ability to grow a high-performance, high-growth company obsessed with innovation on all fronts.

Here are my top 5 reasons why start-ups are wasted on the young.

1) We are dropping out of more than just college. 

Venture capitalist Ben Horowitz has famously reasoned that he likes to fund college dropouts because it takes courage and a breakthrough idea to leave an Ivy League degree behind.  But dropping out of college is actually relatively easy – you’re not leaving any money on the table (at least I didn’t make that much working for the Department of Food Services at my alma mater).  Dropping out of a real, high-paying job, when you have two kids, an anxious husband and a huge mortgage – now THAT takes a breakthrough idea and courage.

2) We appreciate that bootstrapping is just like diaper-changing. 

kids

Photo via Mike Baird

No parent, no matter how much you love your child, loves changing a poopy diaper.  And no entrepreneur, no matter how much you love your idea, loves worrying about running out of cash.  And yet these are unpleasantries we tolerate for the greater good, for the longer term goal of growing something miraculous.  And then when your child grows up and goes to school, and your startup grows up and gets funded, all you do is sit around and miss the good old days when the cheeks were chubby and everyone got to do everything without so many meetings.

3) Companies are just like children – they need supportive environments to stretch to their full potential, which means having the room to fall and scrape your knees. 

I don’t believe in helicopter parenting or helicopter leadership (which is not to say that I don’t fall into the nervous habit from time to time).  I believe that one of the most important lessons I can role model for my children and my co-workers is the beauty of daring greatly – while accepting the inevitability of scrapes and bruises along the way.

4) I’ve been around the block enough to recognize that growth is a gift.

In my years as a strategy consultant at BCG, I saw what it was like for Fortune 100 companies who had lost this gift along the way.  At Julep, we have worked tirelessly for our upward trajectory, but I see momentum as a magical gift that you are only ready to appreciate when you’ve worked hard without it.

5) I have earned the self-confidence that I can manage pivots with grace.

park-janesquare

Jane Park

Most successful startups end up pivoting at least once or twice. And when you’re standing at the precipice of a change in strategy you have to have the courage to know that you are motivated by the right goals (opportunity, not fear), and that you can execute successfully.  The hardest and most rewarding pivot of my life has been becoming a parent.

I had to be clear with myself about what would stay the same (my passion for impact & US Weekly) and what would change (sleep & dinner parties).  Just like there is no one perfect way to parent (despite the deluge of books on this topic) there is no one perfect way to pivot a company (despite the deluge of books on this topic).

It takes vision, self-awareness, connection, communication, and a healthy dose of vulnerability, none of which I had when my age started with a “t.”

Jane Park is the CEO and founder of Julep, a leading cosmetics retailer and beauty brand backed by Andreessen Horowitz and Maveron. You can follow her on Twitter @janeparkjulep.

Previously on GeekWireCosmetics upstart Julep reels in another $5M from Maveron, Andreessen Horowitz

  • myBestHelper

    As a physician leader with over a decade of high level leadership positions and a mom of three, I decided to reorient and have been now for 18 months the co-founder of a startup. Love the journey, but your five points are right on, Jane!

  • jnbeck

    Brilliant post Jane. I love your insights on weathering pivots!

    Cheers!

  • TJ Culbertson

    You go girl! Especially on point #1 with kids, hubby and mortgage. Very impressive commitment. Let’s see how committed the youngens are when the bubble bursts and the easy seed $ stops flowing.

    Great post and keep fighting!

  • Andy Karuza

    One of the downsides of being a bit further ahead in life is the number of commitments in place that increase the risk of entrepreneurship including kids, mortgage, etc. As a young entrepreneur myself, I’ve got no strings attached and can put everything on the line, fall, and get back up again. A family for instance, if you have one, must come first but it does limit money and time to be able to do the startup. I commend people that do this in the situation I just explained, especially single parent entrepreneurs. You’re right that a lot of youngens don’t yet know the importance of comittment because they’ve grown up in a world where everybody gets what they want now and they have yet to be struck with reality. There are ups and downs to both sides of the age coin, but it all comes down to the person. One thing I don’t like is the startup world’s cliches on young people, older people, these people, those people, let’s forget what everybody else is doing and just start doing.

  • Maggie Finch

    Thanks for this, Jane. Made my day!

  • Mary Jesse

    Thanks Jane for your candor and humor. I’m sure many people appreciate the analogies between parenting and entrepreneurship. Your spirit and success is a great inspiration!

  • http://www.ColinChristianson.com Colin Christianson

    I agree that there is a majority of young people that aren’t maximizing their potential by putting themselves in experiences that help develop their skills and worldview. But I don’t think it’s fair to make a generality out of that.

    Age is a correlation to experience it’s not cause and effect. Skill and experience come from how efficient and effective we are with our time, as well as the level of self-awareness we exercise while knowing when to lead or follow in any given situation. Then self-reflection by re-running our experiences in our heads each day helps us figure out what we could have done better and also encodes our life lessons in our longer term memory.

    Take someone who goes to the gym to workout for an hour once a week compared to someone going 5 times a week. All things equal the person going 5 times a week will come out ahead. Now what if the person going 5 times a week has bad form, posture and works out inefficiently? Or what if they have a horrible diet? all of a sudden that time spent isn’t efficient on the person going once a week could get in better shape.

    Similarly, It’s the time spent gaining life skills and placing ourselves in situations that challenge us to grow that grows our potential. The people that seek out those opportunities will likely have a higher set of skills if they are efficient about how they learn from them.

    With that in mind someone who is 16-25 can have more life skills and experiences than someone who is 30-75 years old and never grabbed life by the horns to actively learn from it.

    • Andy Karuza

      Well said, Colin.

  • Marissa

    Amen! I too am a startup founder and mother of two, among many other things. I built and sold a PR agency in the 90s, but this time around there are far fewer “mature” kindred spirits. The young engineer bias is frustrating, but the economics make sense in many ways. This is the first article I’ve ever read that outlines what I’ve been thinking the last 7 months. I’d rather tuck my children into bed on a weeknight than party with a bunch of 20 year olds with too much hair gel. I just launched my site today and will be seeking funding after a month or so of building audience. Should be interesting…

  • Tina Crouse

    Experience, whoever has it, is King (Queen).