San Francisco, CA
Starting my first company at 33 made me feel like the Billy Madison of Silicon Valley. Wasn’t I a little old?
Growing up as the daughter of a police officer and school teacher in Oklahoma, I never imagined I would start a tech company in Silicon Valley. Our family of seven was never poor, but I was probably the only one in my fourth grade class who was “floating a check” at the local grocery store. My parents worked incredibly hard to send all of us to great schools that would enable us to build financially secure lives, so that’s exactly what I did. I turned a part-time college internship into a full-time job and then worked at the same children’s book publisher for over seven years, something unheard of among my 20-something peers. I loved working with children’s stories while surrounded by beautiful artwork and a smart, thoughtful team of women.
But eventually I realized something was missing, so I decided to go to graduate school. That may not seem like a dramatic move, but exchanging my stable and successful career for more than $100,000 in debt sure felt like a big risk, particularly because I was hoping to move into an education non-profit. I worked hard, got a good job after graduation, and it looked like I was back on track for a steady career. But I started to get that feeling again—something was missing. The iPad had just been released and suddenly there was an exciting new way for children and families to experience and share stories. I wanted in!
My first inclination was to find a job at an established children’s app company, but the lack of good companies at that time inspired me to take a bigger risk – I’d build my own. Starting my first company at 33 made me feel like the Billy Madison of Silicon Valley. Wasn’t I a little old? I didn’t even own a hoodie. What’s more, my undergraduate degree in English didn’t give me the language for the world of iOS development and web applications. I did it anyway.
As I set out, I decided my first personal metric for success was creating a product I was proud of. I jumped into learning the world of mobile apps, launched my first app in December of 2011... and it flopped. It was a great app, but only my friends, family, and friends of friends ever saw it. I was heartbroken. But the die was cast, and I was already hard at work on a second app that I was planning to release in January. That app, Goodnight Safari, has since been downloaded hundreds of thousands times—kids around the world use it every day. Along the way, I’ve brought together a team of talented writers, illustrators, animators and programmers to create stories that bring families together. And most importantly, I have built products that I truly believe in. I may have a long way to go before Polk Street Press is the hottest startup in the Valley, but I now know I can push myself to take risks, fail, succeed, but most importantly learn and keep going. Someday I may go back to pursing that slow and steady career—but right now, I’m leaning in.
After finding out she has a serious illness, one woman leans back to lean in.
Jessica Goldman Foung
Writer & Health Warrior
After almost a century of male leadership, an organization taps a woman to take her seat at the head of the table.