Last week New York Magazine published an article http://nymag.com/news/features/silicon-valley-2011-9/ the subhead is “Out in Silicon Valley, the last bastion of full employment, the Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerbergs of the future are staying up all night writing code in dorms”. The premise of the article is that entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley is the Mark Zuckerberg demographic and story. Be conceived with the Y chromosome in your DNA, go to a prestigious university, major in computer science, write a really cool viral application, have VC’s fight to invest in your new app/company, grow very quickly and become a billionaire. I don’t mean to imply that there isn’t tremendous blood sweat and tears by the entrepreneur and his team on the road to success. Nothing is really as easy as the movie or article makes it seem.
The point I want to make is that there are alternative stories here in Silicon Valley.
I’m incredibly impressed by those who know enough about business and technology at age 20 to start and build a successful company. I certainly didn’t. I also didn’t major in computer science. I did take a programming class but I found it less interesting than the Economics, French and Political Science classes I chose to focus on.
I worked for 20 years before becoming an entrepreneur. I spent most of that time in marketing but also worked as a quota-carrying sales rep. I opened offices overseas and grew businesses in the US. I ran a large engineering organization at Netscape/AOL and then returned to my focus on marketing, online sales and partnerships. I’ve worked for and learned from several C.E.O’s. In all of those experiences there were successes and failures. I think back to these experiences often when facing challenges here at SugarSync.
It was also during these experiences when I developed my passion around the type of service that SugarSync would become. I proposed an internet-based (before they were called cloud) service called “AOL Collections.” While working on ZoneAlarm I became convinced that what was important to customers was securing and maintaining access to their data, more so than their computers. I also developed my ideas about the type of company I liked to work in and therefore wanted to build. A company that builds excellent product, respects and takes care of its customers and employees and, hopefully, improves their lives through those experiences. The time and place was right at the end of 2008 and I joined SugarSync.
Well it turns out that I’m not the only first-time CEO in her 40s who wanted a few years of experience first. Some of my role models were late bloomers by Bubble Boy standards – Meg Whitman, Diane Greene. Even Donna Dubinsky had over 10 years of work experience prior to co-founding Palm. I love that Sandra Kurtzig is starting a new company. Men too can be successful CEO’s late in life 🙂 Jim Barksdale was nearly 50 when he took the helm of McCaw Cellular. I had the privilege of working for Jim while at Netscape and I know I am not alone in seeing him as a truly exceptional leader. Interestingly these executives were also not technical founders nor even (except for Diane) of technical backgrounds.
BTW I’ve also worked for and admire CEO’s who were more akin to the Bubble Boys – Gil Shwed, Roger Sippl, Jerry Yang. Clearly this model can be successful but my point is that others of us are alive, kicking, hiring and growing companies here in the valley – even though we might be female, sales and marketing types and older than 27.