Fiona Hudson-Kelly tells about her career as a tech entrepreneur and investor – and what it’s like to start a company when you’re 50.
When she was approaching 50, Fiona Hudson-Kelly was earning good money at a tech company that she had founded. Her four children were teenagers or adults. She had emerged from the intense years when her children were young and work could be turbulent – but she found that she still wanted new challenges.
“For quite a long period of time, you’re striving for that ultimate goal of working less and having more time when you’re not working,” she says. “I think so many people who are getting on a little bit in life have this vision – [but] when they actually fulfil that vision, it can feel quite empty.”
Hudson-Kelly, now aged 61, thus decided to launch a new company and later became an angel investor – someone who invests in other entrepreneurs’ start-ups. She has started and run three successful businesses, and she has also written a book on how to scale and sell your own company.
Hudson-Kelly grew up in the Midlands, which was for many decades a global manufacturing hub for cars and aircraft. She joined Rolls Royce as a commercial trainee after finishing school, and retrained as a college lecturer after she had her first two children. She didn’t know anyone who had started their own business – but she was about to take a leap.
It was the late 1980s and computers were starting to become more commonplace in offices. Hudson-Kelly started a business offering computer training courses to companies. She didn’t know any entrepreneurs and there were no online resources – she mostly relied on gut instinct when making decisions. “There was no Dragon’s Den, no equity finance, no investment finance. There was no talk of it, there were no magazines for it,” she says.
Hudson-Kelly’s business was highly successful, opening offices around the country and winning awards. But when the car company Rover Group went under in 2005, the company lost its biggest client and went into administration. Hudson-Kelly had to sell her house and move into rented accommodation. Her marriage had ended and she was the main provider for her four children. She had to start a new business – fast.
“It was just horrible,” she says. “[But I learnt the importance of] having a really positive outlook and a sense of urgency…You just had to get on and get things done, because we needed to earn money very quickly.”
In 2006, she started a new software company, building on lessons from her first business. She used investors’ money to fund the start-up, not her own. The company was successful – but having investors meant that they were often “calling the shots” and she found this set-up less interesting.
Hudson-Kelly thus decided to launch her third company at the age of 50. Her new business was a platform that allowed apprenticeship providers and apprentices to complete their paperwork digitally. She enjoyed the experience of starting something new at this stage in her career.
“It was like everything that I’d done previously, all of the learning and experiences, just seemed to click into place,” she says. “I knew how to establish a culture within the business, how to headhunt the right type of people…how to market the business…how to sell the business.”
She also found that she had as much drive as ever – maybe even more. “Once you’ve got the kids through school, through university, and out the other end, you’ve [still] got so much ambition left. And you can really put the spotlight on yourself, without feeling selfish.”
Once you’ve got the kids through school, through university, and out the other end, you’ve [still] got so much ambition left.
Hudson-Kelly sold the business two years ago and now invests in other start-ups. She would love to see more diversity amongst tech entrepreneurs: more female founders, more founders who are older. She says having co-founders from different age brackets could work well, by combining younger entrepreneurs’ zeal for jumping on opportunities with older entrepreneurs’ maturity and connections.
What’s her advice for people who want to start a business? She encourages people to have a clear idea of: their specific goals; their appetite for risk; and how big they want the business to be (many businesses are one-person “solo-preneurs”). This will differ from person to person.
“There should be no hard and fast rules in terms of what a business should look like…Businesses come in all shapes and sizes, like people do,” she says.
You can find out more about Fiona Hudson-Kelly’s book, Grow and Sell Your Start-up, on her website.