If you picture a typical tech entrepreneur, chances are a young, unencumbered tech nerd willing to work all the time pops to mind. He’s probably a He, a big fan of hoodies, a fluent coder, and a little jumpy from replacing sleep with caffeine.
I’m none of those things and neither are my partners, Andra and Bridie. Initially this gave us pause when we were starting QuadJobs, an online marketplace that matches college and graduate students with flexible odd jobs in the community surrounding their campus. Thankfully, we plowed through our self-doubt to bring our idea to life. Now we’ve come to believe that not fitting the “typical tech entrepreneur” mold may be the reason our business is off to a strong start.
1. We don’t work crazy hours, but we make the hours count.
I came to a tech startup with 20 years of finance experience. I’d climbed the ladder in investment banking, becoming a Managing Director at Deutsche Bank where I received thousands of applications each year from college students whose resumes looked so uniformly impressive they became almost indistinguishable (file under: QuadJobs inspiration). I led the global sales team and worked relentlessly. A few years ago, I left finance in search of something more entrepreneurial.
Unlike many startup CEOs, it’s rare that I’m not home for dinner. After long years (and long work-weeks) in banking, I’m no longer a believer that working around the clock is the best approach to getting big jobs done. Clocking out at a reasonable hour allows me to start the next day fresh.
2. We’re older and our network is powerful.
Without question, the biggest asset we’ve had in starting QuadJobs has been our network, developed over a collective 50 plus years of professional experience. Our wonderful, successful friends–many of whom we’ve helped along the way–were key in getting us out of the gates. They continue to offer support in ways big and small. And since our friends have already “made it” across a spectrum of industries, we had a huge panel of sought-after advisers in our corner from day one. It would have been infinitely harder to get this business going in our twenties, when our friends were still finding their own way and we were less comfortable straight-up asking for help…all the time. Which you kind of have to do when you’re starting anything new, let alone in a space you’ve never worked in before.
3. We’re not defined by our work.
A developer is two weeks late delivering a big project–I’m scrambling to get to the bottom of it, but I’m not letting it cost me sleep. It took me years to develop some tools to set boundaries around work and manage my own stress. I’m still working on them, but what a difference from when I used to take everything so seriously. I’m convinced that life experiences–perhaps especially the hardest of life experiences–give us greater perspective on what really matters at the end of the day. That perspective lets us approach work with a calmer mind. If I had started this business in my twenties, I would have gotten ulcers. Now it sometimes feels like a lot… but manageable.
4. We’re the target market of our own product.
Women shape the economy as the chief consumer in most households. I’m the chief consumer in mine–and not only do I buy the bulk of what we all need, but I also create schedules, find babysitters, throw birthday parties, organize tag sales, pack boxes, line up tutors, drive donated items to GoodWill, you name it. Andra and Bridie are in the same boat. A lightbulb went off that if we could easily connect to great college students in our area who needed extra income, our lives would get a heckuva lot easier. Making people’s lives easier, helping students get a break and earn money, building the relationships between campus and community–those goals are the cornerstone of what we’re doing every day. And it grew out of a need we strongly felt in our own lives.
Our team doesn’t look like Silicon Valley and we didn’t just graduate from Google, but at the end of the day, we’re very capable of getting things done. My advice: If you’ve got a killer idea and you can’t stop thinking about it, don’t hold yourself back because you don’t look like other players in the space. There’s a lot to be gained by coming to the game with your own unique experiences.
Betsy O’Reilly is the CEO and a co-founder of QuadJobs. Prior to launching QuadJobs, she was a Managing Director at Deutsche Bank, where she led the global sales team.