In Silicon Valley, amidst a start-up scene dominated by founders in their twenties, Julie Wainwright, 57, is something of an anomaly: an Internet veteran who helped to pioneer e-commerce in the late 1990s, first as CEO of Reel.com and then as CEO of Pets.com, which became something of a poster child for the ‘dotcom’ boom and bust. But at the helm of her latest venture, the San Francisco-based luxury resale site The RealReal, Wainwright has proven that experience matters.
BoF: You founded The RealReal quite late in your career. Has that been an advantage to you?
JW: A really good businessperson is sort of like being a trained athlete. You win some, you lose some and you get back up and you do it again. The value of me doing it later in life is that I do have a very, very big playbook. I’ve got sales departments, I’ve got marketing departments, I’ve turned around companies, I started as a product manager, I ran international. Many plays I’ve seen before and I know how they’re going to work.
I see a lot of young founders make mistakes that I would never make, but that’s okay. They’re all on their own learning paths. I don’t think there’s any set path to success. But training and experience at all those different companies was right for me. I’m also the type of person who won’t stop until I’m probably in my late 70s. My father is the same way. He has his own business, he’s in his late 70s and he’s still loving it.
BoF: Silicon Valley is notoriously ageist. And the kids who are getting funding today are getting younger and younger. Has that been a challenge?
JW: It’s ageist, it’s sexist and there are very few people of colour who get funded, because people tend to fund people who look like themselves. White young men and Asian young men, if you look at the numbers, get funded at a higher rate for their first company. But I can’t change that and that doesn’t mean their businesses are going to work.
All I can do is deliver great business results consistently. At the end of the day, Valley investors, just like all other investors, want to back companies that are successful and provide good results for their shareholders. Do women have a harder time? Yes. Do older people have a harder time? Yes.
I think I was naïve when I first started. I didn’t see any discrimination until my senior year in college, when my professor accused me of cheating after I got the top score on a test. This was a long time ago, but he basically said that pretty girls can’t be that smart. He literally said that. I remember being shocked. I’m short and blonde and that can negatively impact a woman. But ultimately, it didn’t stop me.
Interview via Business of Fashion