From Jersey girl and former nanny to entrepreneur and CEO, Markerly’s co-founder Sarah Ware talks about life as a 26-year old technology startup executive.
In the land of IT startups, 20-something males sitting at the helm of technology companies are a dime a dozen. Open any techie magazine or read any tech-focused blog, and you’ll come across countless startup companies being led by guys under 30.
In the same land of IT startups, however, CEO seats being held by women under 30 are not as common. So when you run across an up-and-coming, 26-year old by the name of Sarah Ware, who spearheads a startup tech company named Markerly (markerly.com), you have to pause for a moment to realize just what a rare treat that is.
These days, any woman – no matter her age – who holds a senior executive position is surely surrounded by some level of conversation stemming from the recently published book, Lean In, written by Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. Ware – who is presently participating in a technology mentoring program in California – says everyone is talking about the whole “balancing a fulfilling professional career and family” subject that Sandberg’s book brings to the forefront.
“I don’t have a family yet, but I will one day,” shares Ware, who aspires to be a wife and mother in the future. “Right now, I spend my days glued to a computer. I’m extremely focused on my company’s progress, and Markerly’s product development has me too busy to think about being in a relationship. My schedule is long and hectic, so my social life is non-existent. This fast-pace style of working is an inherent part of startups, but I know it won’t always be this crazy. At some point, I do want to eventually get married and have children.”
Ware admits one of the primary reasons she chose an entrepreneurial career path over the traditional 9-5 work schedule is because she wants to create a flexible working environment for the day she does have her own family. “Early on, I used to be a nanny,” Ware fondly recounts as she speaks about the loving, Northern Virginia-based family she was paired with. “I had moved to the DC area and had signed up at Care.com. A married couple in Vienna hired me to help take care of their children, and I worked with them for about 18 months before moving on to work at Living Social. The husband and wife were in the IT field, and they had their own business. It was under their wing that I saw how owning their own company allowed them to make their own schedules. This couple inspired me to seek out my dreams. They showed me how well you can juggle career and family when you own your own business.”
At Living Social, Ware was part of the traveling sales team. “I got in early and got to do a lot of traveling. I helped to launch new initiatives and lead teams. Before long, however, the traveling position ended and, upon returning to headquarters, Ware felt the initial entrepreneurial environment – which had once been so prevalent at Living Social – had changed. “I thought about leaving. I shared my intentions with my supervisor, who was very supportive. Ultimately, I had to cut the umbilical cord. That was scary, but I did it.”
Luckily, Ware also had ample support from her previous employer: the beloved Vienna-based family. “They encouraged and supported me all the way.” Before long, Ware incorporated a company and connected with investors by way of an incubator program. “The investors assigned various milestones I had to meet,” explains Ware. “They wanted to make sure I achieved all their recommendations.”
In time, Ware was paired with two engineers. After much collaboration, time and effort, the team launched their first product which was intended to be “a Pinterest for text” (instead of images).
Not long after being incubated at 500 Startups in Silicon Valley, Ware and her engineer counterparts – who coincidentally each came from a household where at least one family member was working in the publishing industry – opted to take their product and company vision down an entirely different path.
As Ware shared with Huffington Post’s Michael B. Fishbein, the shift from “a Pinterest for text” to “a tool for publishers” business model was a total pivot for Markerly. “We met with Hiten Shah of Kissmetrics. He shed a lot of insight into the direction of our business. He proposed an idea that, at the time, seemed crazy. He said, ‘Why not just scrap what you’re doing, take it down, and become a tool for publishers?’ Of course, anytime someone tells you to scrap an idea that you are proud of and into which you’ve put your entire being, you’re a little taken aback. It was hard, real advice.” Ware and her team proceeded to heed it. “We just went for it,” says Ware. “Within a week we had a whole new product.”
Now marketed as a user management platform for publishers and brands, Markerly aims to help web publishers increase their traffic from social media sites and understand why certain pieces of content are taking off. “Markerly makes light of the dark web,” Ware told TechCrunch reporter Anthony Ha. “Articles get shared on social media, but publishers never know the driving force behind the share. Publishers also don’t know what their readers are engaging in the most – what names they are copying to paste into Google and search more of, or what companies they want to read more about.”
Markerly’s current service is free for publishers, and Ware says she plans to keep it that way while adding paid analytics services in the coming year.
Clearly, Ware has come a long way from her nanny and Living Social days. When asked what advice she’d impart to others who are thinking of launching a product of their own, Ware says without any hesitation, “Don’t be scared, and just do it. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a technical background. I didn’t have a technical background when I started, but you just pick things up naturally along the way.”
Sarah Ware can be found on Twitter at @WareSarah.