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.
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.
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 GeekWire: Cosmetics upstart Julep reels in another $5M from Maveron, Andreessen Horowitz