Ode to 25

by Stella Fayman on January 22, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-01-22 at 10.37.07 AMEver since I was a little girl, I was obsessed with the number 5. Why? I’m not sure. It kept popping up all over the place. When I was 5, it was the best year yet in my life, I remember thinking. I was always 5th in line, channel 5 was my favorite, the number just kept having real significance.

Last year on Jan 22nd, I turned 25. That’s five squared! Not only that, but if you take 1/22 and add together 1+2+2=5. Not to mention it was 2012=2+0+1+2=5. I remember waking up with excitement and thinking: this is my year!

Today I turned a lousy 26. Who even cares? When I think back over the last year, it really was the most magical, important, amazing year in both my professional and personal life.

This time last year I was working on FeeFighters, my first startup. We had recently launched Samurai, our new online payment product. The team was hustling to raise money, built out the product, and move into our first awesome office space. Then something crazy happened: an acquisition offer. Groupon wanted to buy us! (This is back in Groupon’s hey day, on Jan 22nd last year their stock price was over $20, now it’s $4). I felt a range of mixed emotions: Excitement! Disappointment (I loved FeeFighters). Nervousness (would we take it?).

As the negotiations went on, I began to have existential angst. What would I do next if FeeFighters was acquired? I had poured my heart and soul into this startup, joining Sean and Josh fresh out of undergrad and learning so much during our growth trajectory. And would I work at Groupon if they did acquire us? One thing was for certain, I felt in my heart that I was meant to do startups.

We had our officewarming party, knowing that the acquisition was soon to be finalized. We sang karaoke, ate pizza, and talked to our friends and supporters about the exciting year ahead. Soon, the news was out.

And I was left to figure out: What’s next? I signed up for Code Academy (now Starter League) and decided to learn how to code. I scrambled to apply to business school. And then, I thought, which company will I start next?

Code Academy was great: I dove into code for a solid 9 weeks, attending class and coding long days. It helped me evade the existential angst of not knowing what to do. After my bschool application was in, I started to talk to fellow entrepreneurs who had MBAs. Was it worth it? I asked them. For the most part, most people said no. However, when I looked around at the entrepreneurs who I really admired, most of them did have an MBA. Many said it was a hedge in case the startup thing didn’t work out. Some said it was a checkmark on the life list of things to do. And a couple said it really added value for them intellectually.

At 25, an MBA from a top business school seemed like a smart idea. I was hungry for business knowledge and the depth of analysis that my coworkers with MBAs had. However, I have a fundamental ideology in life: personal life always comes first. While Stanford and Harvard seemed like the top schools where I could make new inroads and be at the forefront of startup MBA education, I knew I would not be applying there. My partner, Serge, and I had built a great life together. We supported each other through think and thin, and I could not imagine leaving him, even for two years, to pursue an MBA. While schools in Chicago were on par with other top business schools,  I didn’t want to go to Kellogg (I went to Northwestern undergrad) and the prospect of Booth scared me: I’m not naturally a numbers person.

One of my other life ideologies is this: do things you’re scared to do. So I told myself, either Booth, or no MBA. In May, I found out that I would be attending Booth next fall. I was excited: finally! Karma was definitely on my side when I learned I was the recipient of the Herman Family Fellowship, a scholarship awarded to one female entrepreneur in each class.

Around the time of the acquisition, Tim (my business partner) and I had a serious conversation about the future. We love Entrepreneurs Unpluggd, but we wanted to start another company, something focused on software or SAAS. While we would continue to grow the EU brand, we began to brainstorm ideas for the Next Big Thing.

About a month later we decided to work on matchist, a site for connecting entrepreneurs/startups to developers. Throughout our time at EU, people kept emailing us, asking for recommendations for developers and we couldn’t send them anywhere. Our new company, matchist, would be the solution. Tim started coding in May, and I started interviewing hundreds of entrepreneurs and developers for customer development.

The summer flew by. I worked on matchist, and helped companies at Excelerate Labs. I traveled to London, Italy and Israel at the end of the summer. School started and I dove in, somewhat precariously. Fairly quickly I realized that school would have to take a back seat as matchist became more of a reality and launched in October at Technori Pitch (you can see us here).

If you’re still reading, you must think that this was one hell of a year. But wait! In November, Serge whisked me away from the stress and activities of life for a weekend getaway. We walked around beautiful Lake Geneva with earmuffs, gloves and pink cheeks, admiring the natural beauty. Then, my heart stopped. Serge got down on one knee and proposed.

What followed was a whirlwind of tears, celebration, and planning. The last two months have been a matter of hustling, studying, and wedding planning.

So I greet 26 with a happy smile: I’m ready to be that much closer to 30 with my feet firmly on the ground. What I learned this year was that if you stick to your principles, work hard, and help other people along the way: life won’t do you wrong.

 

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