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Caroline Chu Headshot

On Being a Female Entrepreneur

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It's never too late to drastically change careers, especially if your happiness is at stake.

I was 40 years old when I took the leap and left behind my well-established career as a creative director at NVIDIA Corporation in Silicon Valley. At NVIDA, I felt a sense of accomplishment in having built the creative department from the ground up. But to do so I also spent years sacrificing my personal life and health. What I thought was an excess of caffeine in my body turned out to be a hyperactive thyroid due to chronic stress. This was my wake-up call. At the same time, my daughter left for college -- and so I decided it was time to make big changes.

I said goodbye to my job, put my belongings into a storage locker, and took two suitcases with me to travel. But I didn't travel for leisure -- I was going to find out what it would take to start my own skin care and cosmetics company, something I had only dreamed about as a young girl growing up in Taiwan, where makeup was absolutely prohibited at my private school.

The most common reactions I received from friends were along the lines of, "But you're too old!"; "High tech and beauty have nothing to do with each other"; and "Why don't you take a vacation instead?" One thing I learned early on in my career, though, was to never let anyone discourage you.

But just how was I going to create beauty products after only being familiar with the world of technology? With a base of skill sets, you can do anything: network, research, and perseverance.

Entering a completely different field was hard, but building a brand was even harder. But I took this as a challenge and not an obstacle. The first few years were tough -- the 20 years' worth of savings I put into starting my company ran out quicker than I had expected due to a lot of unforeseen costs and mistakes. Suddenly it was as if I were back in my pre-career early 20s: going through the motions of trial and error that comes with any new undertaking, moonlighting as a freelancer, and convincing investors and peers that I was worth believing in.

Starting my company, I was a sales and marketing person by day, a package shipper by night, and in between I was doing PR, research and development -- all of which were, honestly, totally foreign to me. Establishing a network with people in the beauty industry was also a whole new world. Many people met me with open arms and were extraordinarily helpful, but there were times I wasn't taken seriously at all.

In 2008, one year after I launched my line, the company was featured on QVC.com, followed by Zappos.com. I've been fortunate enough to get into national magazines such as Lucky and MORE and other media outlets. But in the midst of successes there are always setbacks. One of the new lines we tried to put out took longer than expected to develop and subsequently the company's funds ran on fumes. I had to make some tough decisions. After a delay of nearly a year, finally it all worked out.

Overall, being a female entrepreneur hasn't been easy. I was surprised how many times it was suggested to me by people in the industry that perhaps I should run the company with someone else (the implication that it should be a male businessman), or that I ought to even use a more American last name.

I was recently struck by Sheryl Sandberg's TEDTalk on why we have too few women leaders. As someone who used to go to predominantly male tradeshows and conferences in the high-tech industry, this is something I held close to home. When I started going to the beauty conferences, my reaction was, "So this is where all of the beautiful women are." There's a gender disparity between the tech and beauty industries, and while I am thrilled I've been able to be a part of both, I'm really hoping to see that imbalance change as more men and women branch out to do what they love.

There are still a lot of obstacles and challenges to be had on the road ahead. If there's one thing I've learned, though, is that the key to success is pursuing what makes you happy; and on not-so successful days, it's also essential to stay positive.