It’s never too late to succeed: How this 60-​​year-​​old founder took her business from zero to $500 million in 6 years

CNBC
By Catherine Clifford
July 20, 2017

One ter­ri­ble day in Novem­ber 2000, Julie Wainwright’s hus­band asked her for a divorce. That same day, Wain­wright, then the CEO of Pets​.com, deter­mined she would have to shut down the com­pany. She had led the e-​​commerce busi­ness through its mete­oric rise and IPO, and now it was crashing.

It failed, and I became sort of a pariah,” says Wain­wright, speak­ing at the Van­ity Fair Founders Fair in New York City. “I was the dumb­est per­son in the Val­ley. It was a lit­tle tough.”

Wain­wright says she was 17 years too early with Pets​.com (this year PetS­mart bought pet food and prod­uct site Chewy​.com for $3.35 bil­lion). Though she wasn’t the founder, Wain­wright had been with the com­pany since Pets​.com was only two peo­ple and a germ of an idea.

“Fail­ure is ulti­mately very lib­er­at­ing,” says Wain­wright. “Once you come out the other side of it, you just might have faced one of your biggest fears and lived.”

Between the demise of Pets​.com and her divorce, “it was just a dark cloud descended,” she says. For a while Wain­wright didn’t do much besides paint and work out. She took a job work­ing in ven­ture cap­i­tal and fielded a num­ber of lame (by her own account) CEO job offers. But she wasn’t inspired.

After sev­eral years Wain­wright real­ized that her sit­u­a­tion wasn’t going to improve unless she took action.

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