Female and Forty in Silicon Valley

Maryam Mohit and Claudine Ryan

Maryam Mohit and Claudine Ryan

By Joel P. Engardio

When Maryam Mohit compared her new app to a “shared Rolodex” I knew what she was talking about because like her, I’m a member of Generation X. We were the last to become adults in a pre-Internet world when people still talked on the telephone.

Yet I must have looked at her funny, because she stopped mid-sentence to apologize.

“I know, Rolodex is a dated term,” Mohit said. “But it really resonates with our users.”

Mohit recently launched GemShare with Claudine Ryan. The women, both in their mid-40s and each with three kids, ages 7 to 14, created the app they wanted as busy moms.

“GemShare is an app for grownups, built by grownups,” Ryan said. “It’s for the stage of life that’s full of responsibilities: home, marriage, children, pets, aging parents.”

GemShare promises to help manage all the facets of life that happen in the few hours between career and sleep. The app creators say it works best when a stressful day might require finding a piano teacher, dermatologist, math tutor, dog walker -- or a couples counselor.

The basis for the idea, they say, is that people have always preferred recommendations from trusted friends. GemShare puts the top finds in one place for everyone in a close-knit group to easily access. No more searching old email threads or relying on the opinions of strangers on Yelp. And it’s unlike Facebook, which some say can be inefficient for seeking advice from far-flung friends.

“GemShare isn’t a social network,” Ryan said. “It’s a practical network for solving everyday problems with your real life friends.”

What may really stand out in the GemShare workspace is that there isn’t a millennial or hoodie in sight. Most employees are over 40 and women lead them.

Both Mohit and Ryan said they are proud to be role models in a male-dominated startup culture.

“My 10-year-old daughter recently said a boy in her class claimed there are no businesswomen,” Mohit said. “But she told him, ‘That’s not true. My mom is a businesswoman.’”

Mohit and Ryan were Internet pioneers in their 20s during the 1990s. Mohit joined Amazon in its infancy and Ryan created the first online marketing program for Intel. Then they started families.

Ryan remained a working mom. Mohit watched the world shift from desktops to phones as she stayed home until her youngest child turned 5. She used the new technology and took notes on how it could better serve her hectic grocery store to soccer field routine.

“As moms, we can empathize deeply with the user of our app,” Mohit said. “We lived and breathed the problem we’re now trying to solve.”

But can they still create and compete?

“Before coming back, I did some consulting to make sure I was up to speed. Everything felt familiar,” Mohit said. “Mobile today is like what I experienced in the early days of the web. It’s the Wild West again with no rules. There’s so much to be invented and that’s exciting.”

Ryan said being an older tech worker feels normal, especially since her husband is a 45-year-old Facebook employee.

“Age is only in the knees, not the mind,” said Ryan, who is training for her second half-Ironman triathlon. “I feel just as much pressure and excitement as anyone with a startup. I’m doing this with the same enthusiasm as I always had.”

Mohit said it is strange to hear Generation X – once glorified for its youthful angst -- referred to as old. Age has some advantages, even in a tech world populated with under-30 millennials.

“When you see your kids growing up, it makes you realize time is precious,” Mohit said. “Now I choose wisely the people I work with and the problems I solve. They have to matter. That’s what I didn’t know at 23.”

Also published in San Francisco Examiner April 13, 2014

Tech, InnovationJoel Engardio