How to be a millionaire mum at 50: Forget winding down. Midlife is the most exciting time to start your own business – as these extraordinary women prove

  • When launching a company it makes all the difference if you’re experienced
  • Five women share their inspirational stories of becoming a mumpreneur
  • Julie Waddell, 41, from Totnes, created her own brand of smoked hummus which is stocked in Waitrose and has a turnover of £1 million

Louise Chunn For The Daily Mail

On a crisp Californian day five months ago, I found myself sitting in a hotel conference room in the middle of tech paradise Silicon Valley.

In my navy silk Michael Kors shirtdress and silvery blonde bob, I looked like many 50-something mothers who juggle work and family, but in this youthful, future-focused industry I felt like an alien.

In front of me was one of the most influential venture capitalists in the digital stratosphere. Wearing the ubiquitous Silicon Valley uniform of an untucked shirt, jeans and an Apple watch, he nodded sagely while I laid out my pitch for a new website. ‘Well,’ I began shakily, ‘we match you with the therapists and counsellors most suited to your needs.’

Inspiring: Susan Burton, 50, left, combines family life with running a £2 million website with business partner Clare Wright, 45. Their site Classlist allows school parents to contact each other safely and for free and is now used by 70 private and state schools around the country

Inspiring: Susan Burton, 50, left, combines family life with running a £2 million website with business partner Clare Wright, 45. Their site Classlist allows school parents to contact each other safely and for free and is now used by 70 private and state schools around the country

I braced myself for the inevitable ‘thanks, but no thanks’. After all, what did a 50-something woman know about algorithms and online marketplaces?

I was competing against people half my age, pumped with their own youthful brand of audacious confidence and risk-surfing bravado. I could even have been mistaken for one of their mums.

Finally the venture capitalist looked at me cooly and said: ‘Yeah, good idea – could be a unicorn.’

And with those words, he changed my life. A unicorn is tech slang for a business valued at more than $1 billion. Perhaps I wasn’t so washed up and worthless after all.

Only seven years earlier I could never have imagined such a scenario. In one brief, shocking meeting, I’d lost my job as editor-in-chief of a major women’s magazine. I’d found it challenging to balance being a mother with the job, but I felt bereft to have lost it.

I went from being ‘the boss’, responsible for millions of pounds of profits and a staff of 40, to wafting aimlessly around the house with only my cat for intelligent conversation.

With help from a therapist, I did pick myself up and went on to edit one more magazine. But when that came to an end, too, I was at a crossroads.

I felt nowhere near the end of my working life. My youngest daughter was only just starting secondary school, and my husband is six years younger than me.

From left: Melanie Lawson, 43, created a high-strength fish oil supplement that's stocked in Space NK, Susan Burton, 50, and Claire Wright, 45, run a website called Classlist that is a virtual school gate. Julie Waddell, 41, second from right, created a brand of smoked hummus that's stocked in Waitrose. Jane Michell, 49, far right, created a diet plan called Jane Plan

From left: Melanie Lawson, 43, created a high-strength fish oil supplement that’s stocked in Space NK, Susan Burton, 50, and Claire Wright, 45, run a website called Classlist that is a virtual school gate. Julie Waddell, 41, second from right, created a brand of smoked hummus that’s stocked in Waitrose. Jane Michell, 49, far right, created a diet plan called Jane Plan

While they enjoyed having me around more, they were not remotely ready for me to retire – gracefully or not.

And it’s the same for most other women my age. We’re having to face up to the cold, hard reality that the kind of jobs we all grew up doing – where we were taken care of year after year and paid regularly – are disappearing.

But while the conventional workplace is no longer welcoming us with open arms, starting a business has become a more attractive idea.

The average age of female entrepreneurs in Britain is 48, and the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show the ‘mum economy’ contributed £7.2 billion to the nation’s economy

And women who start businesses after they’ve become mothers are more common than you’d imagine.

The average age of female entrepreneurs in Britain is 48, and the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show the ‘mum economy’ – businesses run by women with children under the age of 19 – contributed £7.2 billion to the nation’s economy last year, supporting 204,000 jobs.

But is it really that surprising?

As the women on these pages prove, launching a company later in life, when you’ve already acquired skills, made contacts and accrued relevant experience, makes all the difference in the cut-throat world of business.

It’s been nearly three years since I started welldoing.org and while I couldn’t have predicted just how hard I would have to work, I’m now acutely aware of the pleasure of building something that works and that helps other people.

But don’t just take my word for it. Here, five other women share their inspirational stories of becoming a mumpreneur. 

MY RECIPE FOR SUCCESS? HUMMUS!

Julie Waddell, 41, lives near Totnes, Devon, with husband Phil, 42, an osteopath, and their children Anna, 11, and James, eight. She says:

Julie Waddell, 41, lives near Totnes, Devon, and created her own brand of smoked hummus after noticing that her fussy-eater son would happily eat anything that was smoked

Julie Waddell, 41, lives near Totnes, Devon, and created her own brand of smoked hummus after noticing that her fussy-eater son would happily eat anything that was smoked

Standing in my local branch of Waitrose one morning in November 2012, I could barely contain my excitement at seeing my very own brand of hummus on the shelves for the first time.

These days, Waitrose sells 6,000 pots of it a week and my turnover is £1 million, but just five years ago the picture was very different.

My husband and I were struggling to pay the mortgage and the end of the month was never comfortable.

Phil had left the Army and was training as an osteopath, while I had a job as a marketing co-ordinator, but I longed to be with my children at home.

Waitrose sells 6,000 pots of her hummus a week and her turnover is £1 million - enough for her to buy a family home in Devon with an outdoor swimming pool

Waitrose sells 6,000 pots of her hummus a week and her turnover is £1 million – enough for her to buy a family home in Devon with an outdoor swimming pool

To make some extra money, I took on freelance shifts as a researcher on the Radio 4 Food Programme. Working on a story about hummus, I realised that despite its huge popularity, it only seemed to come in one or two flavours.

It also occurred to me that my son, James, then three, was a fussy eater, but would happily tuck into anything – fish, cheese, meat – as long as it was smoked. So I had the idea of creating a recipe for smoked hummus for him.

As well as providing me with a fulfilling career, my business has given us financial security and a life that we could only dream of

Everyone loved it, and I decided to try to turn my family favourite into a business.

Every day for four months I perfected my formula, using a recipe for smoked duck, swapping the bird for chickpeas cooked in a wok on top of tea leaves, sugar and rice to give them a smokey flavour.

In July 2012, I emailed the buying department at Waitrose. They replied the next day, inviting me to go to see them, and four months later Moorish hummus hit the shelves.

Now, I run the business from home – albeit a somewhat different home from before.

Last year, we moved to an idyllic five-bedroom family home with an outdoor swimming pool in Devon. Finding a work/life balance is tough – I get up at 5am to put in an hour at my desk before the children wake up.

But as well as providing me with a fulfilling career, my business has given us financial security and a life that we could only dream of.

CASHING IN ON ANTI-AGEING OIL

Melanie Lawson, 43, lives in Brighton with her husband Clive, 44, a company managing director, and their children Grace, ten, Oscar, eight, and Stella, six. She says:

Melanie Lawson, 43, lives in Brighton, created a high-strength fish oil supplement that she took as an anti-depressant and is now stocked in Space NK

Melanie Lawson, 43, lives in Brighton, created a high-strength fish oil supplement that she took as an anti-depressant and is now stocked in Space NK

After giving up my career in advertising to have a family, I was determined to set up my own business.

I toyed with a few different ideas and finally found the right product as a result of having post-natal depression after my son was born.

Scientific studies had shown that taking a high-strength fish oil supplement could help alleviate depression. I wanted to avoid anti-depressants and was keen to try it as an alternative treatment, but I discovered that brands on sale in Britain weren’t potent enough to elicit significant benefits.

Eventually I bought a high-strength supplement online from Canada and within a few months of taking it I felt happier and – as a wonderful side-effect – my skin glowed.

Her product is stocked in Liberty and Space NK also sells nationwide - the retailer was won over by the oil's skin-hydrating properties and the fact that it encourages cellular repair, making it the perfect anti-ager

Her product is stocked in Liberty and Space NK also sells nationwide – the retailer was won over by the oil’s skin-hydrating properties and the fact that it encourages cellular repair, making it the perfect anti-ager

I decided to continue taking the oil, and when I had my third baby I was relieved not to suffer from post-natal depression .

But as I thought about the legions of other women who would be going through it, as well as the millions more who’d like to improve their health and skin, I resolved to develop my own brand of fish oil.

While Stella napped, I did my research, and when she was 18 months old I went to a trade show to meet a manufacturer whose oil I liked.

Combining business and motherhood is often overwhelming and I have had to hire a nanny, so I do get guilt pangs

The company agreed to sell me one barrel, the minimum I could buy. I flew to their factory in Norway and tinkered with the oil, adding lemon to balance the taste, then had it distilled into 1,300 bottles and shipped to my house in August 2013.

I chose Bare Biology as my brand name, launched a basic website and had beautiful packaging designed – all using our £40,000 life savings.

My breakthrough came in January 2014 when one of my favourite shops, Liberty, agreed to stock my product.

Later that year Space NK also started selling it nationwide. The retailer had been won over by the oil’s skin-hydrating properties and the fact that it encourages cellular repair, making it the perfect anti-ager.

My turnover is forecast to hit £1 million within the next 18 months, and while I’m revinvesting most of my revenue in the business, I admit it’s very freeing to be in the black.

Combining business and motherhood is often overwhelming and I have had to hire a nanny, so I do get guilt pangs.

But I’m more fulfilled than I was when I wasn’t working and believe I’m a great role model for my children, who can see that incredible things can be achieved when you set your mind to it.

MY MULTI-MILLION POUND DIET PLAN

Jane Michell, 49, lives in South-West London with her husband Andrew, who works in property, and their children William, 20, Olivia, 18, and Tom, 14. She says:

Jane Michell, 49, lives in South-West London and created a diet plan called Jane Plan which delivers meals to clients. She employs eight full-time staff and have an annual turnover of £4 million

Jane Michell, 49, lives in South-West London and created a diet plan called Jane Plan which delivers meals to clients. She employs eight full-time staff and have an annual turnover of £4 million

Listening to my friends discussing their latest diets over lunch one day in 2010, I knew there had to be an easier, healthier way to help people slim.

I’d noticed there were various diet food delivery services springing up, but I was sure I could do better. After all, I’d lost two stone on my own diet and had studied nutrition.

I was convinced there was a niche in the market for an affordable delivery service that also provided emotional support. My friend, Sarah, offered to be my guinea pig.

When Jane Plan began, Jane's children were 15, 13 and eight, and it's been empowering for them to watch how hard she's worked, initially from the kitchen table

When Jane Plan began, Jane’s children were 15, 13 and eight, and it’s been empowering for them to watch how hard she’s worked, initially from the kitchen table

I devised a healthy eating plan for her, bought and cooked the food, and delivered a seven-day supply to her every week for a month. By the end of it, Sarah was a stone lighter and I was deluged with calls from her friends wanting to hire my services.

Soon, the greatest challenge was meeting demand.

Six years on, I employ eight full-time staff and have an annual turnover of £4 million.

Last summer, we splashed out on a memorable two-week family holiday to Vietnam, where we enjoyed motorcycle tours around historical sites and took cookery lessons together, all of it facilitated by the success of my business.

When Jane Plan began, my children were 15, 13 and eight, and it’s been empowering for them to watch how hard I’ve worked, initially from the kitchen table.

They tell me they are proud of me and, more importantly, that they view women very differently now. They know we’re not just mums – we have shrewd business brains and can transform our families’ lives. They are all very studious as a result.

THE SCHOOL-GATE SUCCESS STORY

Susan Burton, 50 (left), lives in Oxfordshire with her husband Toby, 55, a company chairman, and their children Joe, 15, Felix, 13, and Eve, ten. Her business partner is Clare Wright, 45 (right), who lives nearby with her husband Ben, 43, a finance director, and their children Jamie, 13, Louisa, 11, and Sophie, eight. Susan says:

Susan Burton, 50 (left), lives in Oxfordshire, along with business partner is Clare Wright, 45, (right) and they run a website called Classlist, a school directory that acts as a virtual school gate

Susan Burton, 50 (left), lives in Oxfordshire, along with business partner is Clare Wright, 45, (right) and they run a website called Classlist, a school directory that acts as a virtual school gate

Eager to make friends when we moved to Oxfordshire in 2012, I asked my children’s new school for contact details of other parents. But they told me that data protection laws meant they couldn’t help.

That’s when I had the idea for a virtual school gate, where parents of children in the same class could contact each other about anything from lost property to car-pooling and playdates.

I met anther mum, Clare, at the actual school gates. She was feeling similarly isolated, having also just moved to the area, so we started Classlist to make parents’ lives easier – our own included.

In early 2014, we created a simple online directory and invited other parents at the school to try it. We were inundated with parents keen to join.

Classlist means I know every other parent in each of my children’s classes and can communicate with them quickly.

My children love coming to our office in London with me during school holidays as it’s in Soho, which they deem to be very hip

Our site is secure and free, and is now used by 70 private and state schools around the country. It was recently valued at £2 million.

Head office is my kitchen table, and I manage the technical and financial side while Clare is the marketing guru. My daughter critiques my presentations, pulling no punches if she thinks they lack emotion or humour.

My children love coming to our office in London with me during school holidays as it’s in Soho, which they deem to be very hip.

It exposes them to a thriving and creative business community, and they tell me that what Clare and I are doing with Classlist is very cool.

Clare says: ‘After a five-year break from my career as a management consultant, I was ready to work again. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do until I met Susan.

‘Classlist is an all-consuming job, but one that we can juggle to ensure we never miss a school concert or sports day.

‘We are working flat out to grow the business and reinvesting all the money we make.

‘But we hope that in a few years we’ll be able to enjoy some champagne moments and holidays with our families as a reward for all our efforts.’

FACT BOX TITLE

Entrants for the Daily Mail/ NatWest Everywoman Aphrodite Award for Mumpreneurs must be based, or have their chief operations, in the UK, and have set up their own business from scratch while raising a child or children aged 12 or under.

They must be able to demonstrate they are the key owner of the company and must have been in business for longer than 18 months as of the nomination deadline of July 6, 2016.

Nominations and supporting evidence must be received by the deadline of July 6, 2016.

Please ensure nominees are available on the scheduled judging day (in central London on October 5, 2016) and the daytime awards ceremony (on December 7, 2016). There will be one winner per category and one recipient of the NatWest Everywoman Award.

The judges’ decision will be final and no correspondence will be entered into before or after the judging. Winners must agree to feature in the Daily Mail on the announcement of the results. It is free to enter, and individuals can be nominated or enter themselves at: everywoman.com/mum preneur. There are also five other award categories:

ARTEMIS: Awarded to the most inspirational woman running a business trading for between 18 months and three years.

DEMETER: Awarded to the most inspirational woman running a business that has been trading for between three and five years.

ATHENA: Awarded to the most inspirational woman running a business that has been trading for between six and nine years.

HERA: Awarded to the most inspirational woman running a business that has been trading for ten years or more.

IRIS: Awarded to a woman whose business growth and success has been greatly improved through successful implementation and use of technology.

If you’ve set up your business, why not enter our Mumpreneur of the Year awards to get the recognition you deserve? To enter go to: everywoman.com/mumpreneur