Embracing Entrepreneurship at 35

  • By Rena Thiagarajan
  • April 02, 2014

When I was 22, I was working as an entry-level engineer on offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. When Evan Spiegal was 22, he was building a company (Snapchat) that would go on to be valued at an estimated $3 billion or more.

There’s no shortage of headlines these days about millennials like Spiegal, in hoodies, making millions in Silicon Valley. Yet — fortunately for the rest of us — data also shows that there’s a strong correlation with older age and success as an entrepreneur. For example, Jan Koum was 33 and Brian Acton was 38 when they founded WhatsApp. Both men, like me, had spent most of their twenties as salaried employees of large companies before launching their own company (the hugely successful messaging app that sold to Facebook for $19 billion).

I founded my first company, Project Bly, last year at 35 — 13 years after my first engineering gig. Unlike Spiegal, I had over a decade of work and life experiences before I went out on my own. After working at as an engineer for a year, I pursued a more traditional career path and did what a lot of smart, ambitious twenty-somethings not starting companies do: I applied to law school. After graduating, I learned the ins and outs of corporate law at a big firm in Silicon Valley and eventually became general counsel at a clean technology company.

I spent almost seven years lawyering, and while I worked hard and did well, I rarely woke up excited to go to work. As I approached 35, the realization that how I spend my days is how I will spend my life hit me. I wanted to stop living in anticipation of more fulfilling, happier days, but wasn’t sure if I could step off a carefully laid career path to chase a dream. The answer I needed came during a trip to India, where I spent hours exploring the city’s chaotic and vibrant street markets.

Project Bly had been just an idea for years. The first seed was planted when I spent several months looking for a one-of-a-kind rug with history and story. It grew after a trip to Sao Paulo where my online research for the best flea markets and street art resulted in over 20 open tabs. And then it all came together on the streets of Mumbai: I wondered, why weren’t there any travel sites focused on street culture? Weeks later, I sat down and wrote a business plan for a travel and design website built on the philosophy that to really know a city, you must wander its streets.

Project Bly was built in San Francisco coffee shops, filled with other entrepreneurs huddled over their Macs — all more than a decade younger than me. Intimidating? Maybe at first, but once I actually started building my company, I realized that 35 is a great age to take the leap to entrepreneurship. Here’s why.

1 2