Your first act is school, your second act is work, but have you thought about what you’re going to do in your third act? Join host Liz Tinkham, a former Accenture Senior Managing Director, as she talks to guests who are happily “pretired” – enjoying their time, treasure, and talent to pursue their purpose and passion in the third act of their life.
Inspire others to get more and to do more later in life.
Athena helps women achieve executive-level leadership expertise, polish their boardroom and executive knowledge, get closer to board seats, and make leaps in their careers.
Carol was a serial tech executive, successfully rising through the ranks of a male-dominated world. She began founding and selling companies on her own, building her career from her humble origins as an Iowa farm girl.
Throughout her career, Carol lacked female mentors. She began looking for ways to advise young women, leaders and founders, filling in the gaps she encountered in her professional life. Carol shares her experience investing and advising with Astia Angels, and her involvement as a fellow in Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute.
Listen to hear how Carol shares her entrepreneurial spirit to elevate women following her lead.
(01:14) Iowa and Clark College roots
(03:00) The woman at John Deere
(04:05) Back to school for more technical degree
(05:58) Finding niche building things from nothing
(06:52) Knowing when it’s time to change it up
(09:15) Givezooks and crowdfunding
(10:03) Angel investing and advising at Astia
(11:03) Fighting ageism
(13:46) Stanford Distinguished Career Institute Program
(17:12) Understanding personal purpose in a community setting
(19:10) Going for a fellowship: educating through an intergenerational experience
(19:55) Third Act: deepen focus and impact in elevating women in business
(20:12) Stanford Women on Boards
(22:09) Redefining value beyond pay
(23:49) Confidence is key to fighting imposter syndrome
(28:14) The more I engage, the more opportunities present themselves
Get in touch with Carol Schrader on LinkedIn, and learn about how to become a Stanford fellow here. Hear more stories of people who found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life on Liz Tinkham’s Third Act podcast at thirdactpodcast.com.
Liz Tinkham (00:18):
Hi, this is Liz Tinkham and welcome to Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The third act begins when your script ends but your show’s just not finished.
Liz Tinkham (00:33):
On today’s episode of Third Act, I talk with Carol Schrader, the entrepreneur for good. Carol was a serial tech executive successfully rising through the ranks and then founding and selling companies on her own. Throughout her careers, she lacked female mentors because frankly there weren’t any. So she began looking for ways to advise young women, leaders and founders. In Carol’s third act, she’s sharing what she calls the gift of entrepreneurship with young women through her investing and advising activities with Astia Angels and her involvement as a fellow in Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute.
Liz Tinkham (01:09):
Fellow Hawkeye, welcome to Third Act.
Carol Schrader (01:11):
Hey, it’s great to be with you, Liz, fellow Iowan.
Liz Tinkham (01:14):
Fellow Iowan. So I want to get started a little bit with your Iowa background and talk a little bit about where you’re from there, where’d you come from, how’d you get to Clark College and then we’ll go on from there.
Carol Schrader (01:27):
So I am from a very small farming community, but aren’t they all? A little town called Doherty, Iowa.
Liz Tinkham (01:33):
And in what part of the state is that in?
Carol Schrader (01:34):
North central. So really up, very cold, close to Minnesota.
Liz Tinkham (01:38):
Got it. Okay. How’d you end up at Clark College?
Carol Schrader (01:42):
A lot of hard work, both on my part and my parents. I used scholarships and grants and it didn’t hurt that a couple of my girlfriends, closest friends, were also going there. It was an all women’s school and private school so my parents thought it was a safe bet.
Liz Tinkham (01:59):
Keep you sequestered away there. What did you think you were going to do? What’d you major in? What’d you think you’re going to do with that?
Carol Schrader (02:06):
It’s kind of interesting. I went there because actually the first woman PhD in computer science was a nun at Clark College. Very little known fact. And I thought I would go there and pursue a degree in computer science. So first semester I took a class and hated it. So over the course of a number of quarters and some much consternation, I ended up with a degree in management science, which is basically business.
Liz Tinkham (02:34):
And then you end up, you go to John Deere, is that correct?
Carol Schrader (02:37):
Liz Tinkham (02:38):
That’s in Moline, which is one of the quad cities, and for people who fly over the Midwest that is in the beautiful area of Moline and Rock Island, Illinois but Bettendorf and Davenport.
Carol Schrader (02:51):
Liz Tinkham (02:52):
So four cities bisected by the Mississippi River, which at that time that had to be a great job being an Iowan. Is that true?
Carol Schrader (03:00):
For sure, for a farm girl from Iowa, that was really the place to be. And it was a great job. I ended up working in kind of their experimental products group as an engineering analyst. So I got to see all the new products that were coming down the pike. I kind of estimated the costs since some of them failed and didn’t get to market because they were too expensive to build. And from that, I went into a new technology group, engineering automation group.
Liz Tinkham (03:29):
That must’ve been fascinating. I mean and were there very many women in the group with you?
Carol Schrader (03:33):
No, I was the woman.
Liz Tinkham (03:36):
Carol Schrader (03:37):
Right, right. John Deere was very technologically, they were really ahead of a lot of other industries. They were very engineering driven. So it was a great place to be, especially at that time because that’s when computer aided everything was coming in to be. All the kinds of processes on the manufacturing floor, in the design world, everything was being automated and streamlined. So it was really an interesting place to be.
Carol Schrader (04:05):
And that’s ultimately why I left John Deere, I went back to get a graduate degree in industrial engineering and focusing on computer-aided processes because I could see that that big shift was happening in the manufacturing sector. And I thought for me, with an undergrad in business, I didn’t have the engineering degree I needed to go get something more technical and at a more advanced level and that would help me out. So I took a leave of absence from Deere.
Liz Tinkham (04:33):
It’s interesting because you’re one of many of my guests now, so this is, I don’t know you’re going to end up episode 12 or so, and many of the women share the same characteristic of “We were the first woman in our group starting wherever we started out of college, but all of us sort of had a really good experience and launched from there.”
Liz Tinkham (04:58):
It’s sort of a fun thing that there’s probably eight of us so far, including myself, who have had that background which is good. Hopefully it’s more 8,000 or 800,000 of us at this point, not just one of eight.
Liz Tinkham (05:11):
So after you get your degree, where do you go from there? Your graduate degree?
Carol Schrader (05:16):
I actually, I was on a leave of absence from Deere, so I went back to John Deere but then I was there probably six months and I just kept looking around, looking for my role models, looking at the corner offices and none of them had women in them. And so I was a little disillusioned having invested in the degree and really coming back. So I started to look around and actually was recruited by a software company and went to the East Coast. So that was really my move from kind of industry into the tech world.
Liz Tinkham (05:55):
So you eventually end up in Silicon Valley.
Carol Schrader (05:58):
I got recruited to the West Coast, another tech venture, right? And I thought, well, I’m from the Midwest, spent some time in the East Coast, got to try the West Coast. So I thought I’d go out and spend five years. Well, 30 years later here I am. But again, I spent the majority of my time here in Silicon Valley working at startup companies, a couple companies went public, others were acquired and it just, I found my niche basically, entrepreneurial environments, building things from nothing.
Liz Tinkham (06:30):
You have a really interesting career in that you’ve worked for many different companies that have been acquired, you’ve built them or they’ve been bought. I mean I assume that wasn’t any… I mean you can’t really plan that. As that was happening and you looked forward at your career, I mean how did you see your career progression going?
Carol Schrader (06:52):
Well, I think I look at my career and I think the common denominator has changed, either driven by myself or driven by market factors. I worked at seven different startups over my career and some of them I’ve learned a lot of lessons, some not so great and some were really wonderful experiences. So I really feel like I just always said yes to a new opportunity. I didn’t let geography get in my way. I didn’t… I just was constantly driven to kind of learn new things, finding new environments where I could learn something new and grow and change.
Liz Tinkham (07:29):
As our listeners, as people are listening to this and they’re at a company and they’re thinking they might want to make a change, I mean were there any signals or signs? I mean how did you know, okay, it’s time for me to leave this one and go to that one or take the risk to move to another startup?
Carol Schrader (07:47):
I think I had to learn what to look for but there were some indicators. You could tell if funding seemed a little slow, your budget was getting cut…people in more senior roles were starting to look elsewhere, and then you can always… I mean I was always on the marketing side, so I was very aware of my competition, what was happening, what new things were being started. So I just, I think I always kind of kept a real close look at the environment.
Liz Tinkham (08:19):
What were some of the things that maybe didn’t go as well as you moved around to different companies?
Carol Schrader (08:28):
Yeah. I think some of the things were….in one company, I had a CEO who basically the company was ready to go public and he basically shut it down. He was afraid to go that next step. That’s something that no one could have predicted, right? Certainly I had started another company and we started the company in fall of 2007 and launched the site in September of 2008 as the financial crisis happened. So what I learned over the course of my career was there’s a lot of timing and luck, but you really learn to align yourself with a strong team and strong investors that are going to be there for the long haul. It’s what ended up serving me the best.
Liz Tinkham (09:15):
So eventually you found the company Givezooks. What did they do?
Carol Schrader (09:20):
We were one of the first companies to do crowdfunding focused on bringing charitable donations online, either via campaigns or online events or basically trying to bring that whole industry online.
Liz Tinkham (09:34):
Okay. And they eventually get bought as well?
Carol Schrader (09:37):
Yes, they did. They did. We sold the company in 2014.
Liz Tinkham (09:41):
Oh. So fairly recently. Now you’re six or seven companies or maybe even more, bought, sold, bought, sold and Givezooks you founded, it gets sold. Now, what? What was your plan after that?
Carol Schrader (09:55):
My initial plan was to head for the spa. I remember I booked-
Liz Tinkham (10:01):
Are you still there?
Carol Schrader (10:03):
I booked the trip two days after the deal was signed, but I really didn’t know. I had never kind of been in this situation with regard to now what and not having a paycheck, not having a company, not really… I just really didn’t know what I wanted to do next. Did I want to do another startup? Did I want to do something on my own? Did I just want to take a break? So I spent the time, probably took about six months to really talk with friends, colleagues, hit some webinars, read some books and then I decided, well, I wanted to get involved as an angel investor and advisor. I went back to Astia who had helped support us at Givezooks as being a woman entrepreneur. That was their mission was to connect women entrepreneurs with expertise and funding to launch their own ventures. And so I decided that’s where I wanted to get involved.
Liz Tinkham (11:00):
Why did you choose not to go back to work at that point?
Carol Schrader (11:03):
A couple points. I think I didn’t know where I wanted to focus. Did I want to do another big thing? At what level? And then I also felt a little bit that I had pursued. I actually did put my name in for a few jobs and talked to some people about some jobs. There was a bit of an ageism thing going on.
Liz Tinkham (11:26):
Yeah. The jobs didn’t come to pass.
Carol Schrader (11:28):
No, they didn’t. It was really hard. Yeah. It was hard to take that, saying hey wait, it doesn’t happen on the other…if I was a male, probably not as serious of an issue, but it just didn’t happen.
Liz Tinkham (11:45):
This podcast is for people our age because I’m the same age and I feel the same. I think there’s rampant ageism out there. I mean how did it manifest to you and were you able to ever call it out?
Carol Schrader (11:59):
I didn’t call it out. You don’t get the response. You don’t get the respect almost in a conversation, and no one takes you seriously.
Liz Tinkham (12:13):
Really? Even though you’ve been a CEO, a founder?
Carol Schrader (12:17):
Liz Tinkham (12:18):
Carol Schrader (12:20):
It’s almost like, do you really want to do this? Why do you want to do this? And I think that is part cultural for men and women, that people get to a certain age and people think you’re done. And there’s a lot of us that aren’t done and a lot of us that have a lot to bring to the table. And I think it’s just unfortunate that there is this perception that there’s a time to retire and that is a very individual thing.
Liz Tinkham (12:45):
I agree. I agree. And I don’t think there’s a set clock for anybody.
Liz Tinkham (12:54):
You decide not to take another job and you’re involved in Astia and then how did you start thinking forward of what you’re going to do next? Because you’re not done.
Carol Schrader (13:06):
Oh, well, the thing that was still lacking for me was feeling a part of building something and growing something, being part of a team. It was so ingrained in me and what I had done so many times that I really missed that whole social engagement, passion of a startup and the community within which I would be thriving. And so I said, well, there’s got to be something else. I mean I really do enjoy working with the Astia group and the portfolio companies that we support there, but it’s very ad hoc. Right?
Carol Schrader (13:46):
So I felt like I really wanted to get into something that had a bit more of a definition, a structure to it. I was looking for a like-minded community of people and experiences. I also felt like I had given out so much that it was time to replenish. I felt like I wanted learn new things, bring new things, integrate some, do some reading, do some exploring. And I just was looking for something that brought all of that together. And that brought me to the Stanford Distinguished Career Institute program.
Liz Tinkham (14:26):
I think this is fascinating. So tell us, what is that and tell us about the program and how do you apply and who applies, et cetera?
Carol Schrader (14:33):
Well, it’s Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute. It’s a fellowship program less for one calendar year and you can head to their website and fill out an application. Phil would be very happy to entertain your application I’m sure. But it’s open to all people who have had their professional careers, but they still don’t feel like they’re done. They still would like to have impact in some additional way and basically kind of lay out two or three narratives that maybe you would be interested. Why would you be involved and what are the kinds of things you would like to consider maybe for a next chapter?
Carol Schrader (15:14):
And so there are 38 of us that went through this program. People from all different kinds of professional backgrounds, public health, finance, law, tech. I mean it’s just a very wide and very diverse group, a lot of different representation from international as well. And we spent the year basically going to classes, experimenting with a lot of different topics and areas that maybe we’d always wanted to pursue but never had the time. We also get involved in a lot of volunteering and mentoring exercises. I was very active with Stanford Women in Business. I was involved in the launchpad classes where basically five or six students bring a venture and go through 12 weeks and basically try to pull it off with a business plan all the way to launching a product.
Carol Schrader (16:04):
And then being a resource available to women in the GSP program, if they wanted to talk about what it’s like and to build a startup from scratch and those kinds of things. So a lot of mentorship, intergenerational learning opportunities, which was really probably one of my more favorite parts of the program.
Liz Tinkham (16:22):
Yeah. The intergenerational part of it, is it with current graduate and undergraduate students?
Carol Schrader (16:27):
Yes. Yes. Because we could take classes that were either undergrad classes or graduate classes depending on professor approval or demand of the class. And so we would often find ourselves sitting to maybe a master’s or PhD student or it could be a second year undergrad, and the conversations that would stem were very interesting and they sometimes extend to a cup of coffee after class or we were part of a project team that might have four or five other students where you had to deliver a project at the end of the quarter and you had to work with a team of very different folks. So it was really fun.
Liz Tinkham (17:07):
So what was your project or your thesis that you decided to pursue while there?
Carol Schrader (17:12):
First when I went in, I was really interested in the whole… There are three pillars of the program based on purpose, community and wellness and what impacts those three different pillars have on longevity. I was quite interested from my own personal perspective how I could really more seriously understand my own personal purpose and where I stand in wellness and things I could do differently and then the benefits of a community like we got to know. And then there were also classes and I ultimately really pursued the longevity to the extent that I got involved with an accelerator in the fall with a couple of different venture groups that was focused on longevity, the future of longevity, because if nothing else, as an entrepreneur, I see the business opportunity associated with the sheer numbers of baby boomers moving into this next phase of life.
Liz Tinkham (18:10):
And what did you find as you pursued it?
Carol Schrader (18:13):
I think there’s a lot of basis for having a real strong sense of purpose, a well-defined sense of purpose heading into these later years in life, really not underestimating the value of personal relationships and strong community. And we certainly have heard this over and over during COVID times about the isolation that people feel and then also wellness and how that comes to bear as well. It’s not just living longer, it’s living better longer. And I think that’s just…it’s something we probably all at some level understand, but I think in taking time to really pursue it, understand, see the research results, see the basic science that’s involved there in the actual numbers is something that was very, very interesting to me.
Liz Tinkham (19:10):
So if I’m listening and I’m thinking about doing a fellowship, whether it be at Stanford or Harvard or Notre Dame or Texas or wherever they do them, I mean as you think back on it, how would you advise doing that?
Carol Schrader (19:22):
I just say go for it. I don’t even think it has to be one of the formal ones necessarily, because I think the value of getting back into an educational environment with that intergenerational experience is somewhat transformative, at least I found it to be.
Liz Tinkham (19:42):
We will put in the show notes how to apply because I think it’s…as I told you when we were talking earlier, I certainly have looked into it myself.
Liz Tinkham (19:55):
So now your third act, so you’re done with your jobs or your formal jobs, you’re still pursuing longevity, you’re really involved in Astia Angels. I mean, how would you characterize that in terms of your third act?
Carol Schrader (20:12):
Well, I think the common denominator or thread for me is I continue to kind of deepen my focus and impact on elevating women in business. So, I’ve done that throughout my own career, focused on myself and now I’m trying to say how can I help others and lift them up? And I’m extending that now by my involvement with the Stanford Women on Boards.
Liz Tinkham (20:35):
Carol Schrader (20:36):
So I started working with Stanford Women on Boards in November to help obviously with the California legal requirements for more diverse boards and now NASDAQ has the same requirement. It’s just a really unique situation to be able to match corporate board requirements with some really stellar candidates and hopefully help them achieve their goals of gaining a board seat.
Liz Tinkham (21:01):
Many of my friends who are sort of at senior levels of business are asked to advise startups, and I know I’ve done some of it myself, and one thing I’ve found difficult, and I’d like to get your opinion on this is, and I was at a big company so it’s a little harder, you’re looking at a startup and maybe they’re making $10 million if that. What do you think best translates from your sort of multi decades of experience as a senior marketing person to looking at some newer companies and helping advise them?
Carol Schrader (21:36):
Operational experience really comes into play. First evaluating the market. Are you being realistic about what the market is and the opportunity is? I think that’s often sometimes where they get caught up. I think it’s much bigger, much easier to…basically much easier to actually get after than it really is and underestimate what it might cost and the significance of the market opportunity. So that’s probably number one. It can be a really good sanity check for companies there. It’s not always what they want to hear, but it can be a good sanity check.
Carol Schrader (22:09):
And then I think it’s just things to look for, look around the corner on. Things are going really well, really, really well here, but what about the next stage of growth? How are you hiring in these areas? What are you looking at here? And I think that’s where they appreciate the advice. The challenge is the value in that. I think for me it’s like, yeah, you like my advice, you like to pick my brain, but nobody’s willing to pay for it. Right? How do you monetize that? And for a long time, that was a hard thing for me because I ascribe value, if someone’s going to pay me, that kind of defines my value. Well, that was probably my issue and I really need to look at it and that’s part of what I’m trying to do is to say it’s not really the concept of getting paid, it’s the concept of what’s the outcome of the information and the advice that I’m giving. What are the results that they get or that I feel from advising them.
Liz Tinkham (23:07):
And as a woman giving advice to younger women, what are some of the one or two key points in terms of where you might see them holding themselves back? So you talked about operational experience and I was just looking at an investment the other day and I was like, ugh, their revenue projections are so inflated. I mean I was just like cutting them in a quarter, not even having them. I’m like no, no, no, no. And then I was reworking the spreadsheet, right? Yeah, no, this isn’t going to work. But that’s the monetary part of it. That’s the financials, right? But as you advise women CEOs, women founders, having been one yourself, what are you telling them?
Carol Schrader (23:49):
I think I’m trying to reinforce, well, I’ve never done this before or I’m a first-time CEO so I don’t know this or I don’t know that and I’m not sure whether I should do this or I’m not sure, I’m not sure. And I think I try to zone in with them the fact that there’s a lot of people out there that haven’t done it before and that’s never stopped them. And you’ve got this idea, you’ve got this, it’s your passion or you’ve spent years researching this and you really want to get after it and nobody else is doing that. So I try to re-affirm and give them confidence. I think it’s something I wished I would have had when I was a younger person. It was like where are those mentors? They weren’t there. They did not exist.
Carol Schrader (24:35):
So given that we exist, encouraging them to reach out. I think oftentimes they don’t want to reach out, they’re fearful of reaching out, they’re embarrassed to ask the question, they think they should know it all by now or whatever. So I try to allay those fears. I try to present myself as somebody who has been there and there’s no such thing as a stupid question. It’s stupid if you don’t ask the question.
Carol Schrader (24:58):
So I think that’s where I really try to work with them the most. They can get anybody to go through their numbers. They can get… There’s a lot of resources and somebody else to help them figure out their social media strategy or whatever. But I think it gets into the female dynamic of self doubt, imposter syndrome and all those kinds of things that we’re harder on ourselves for whatever reason it is. I just try to reassure them and boost their egos and help them get back up and get after it.
Liz Tinkham (25:32):
Since you left your job at Givezooks and you’ve done the fellowship and worked on longevity and you’re advising them, how’s your sense of identity changed?
Carol Schrader (25:41):
You know I really define myself by my title and who I worked for for so long. And I really had a hard time of… I was a single woman for a long time, made my way in the world. I just felt like, wait, nope, I’m not getting paid by someone therefore what am I worth? And so I think a lot… I’ve gotten around that. I’ve gotten beyond that by saying to myself I think, Carol, it’s more about the outcome of either the advice you’re giving, whether it’s investment dollars that you’re giving, whether it’s mentorship time, sitting over a coffee, working to help find a board seat match. These are all things that in the end I’m helping to elevate another woman or many women to the next level in their own careers, in the business world, and to me that’s what so much of my own career focus was about, was to try to rise up and I really feel like that’s my mission and that’s what I do.
Liz Tinkham (26:57):
I think if the women that you mentor were here, they’d be thanking you over and over and over again. So hopefully you’re getting a lot of that feedback from the people that you talk with.
Carol Schrader (27:09):
I do, I do. You can tell when you speak with someone 18 months ago and then they’re checking in with you again around Christmas and the holidays and things like that. So I do know and I do feel that the time we spend together is of value and I more than anything just enjoy hearing from them and finding out that they’re doing well and they’re often pursuing what they want to do and being successful.
Liz Tinkham (27:36):
It’s sort of a unique obligation that many of us in our generation have being somewhat the first women and whatever we did you have to keep talking to people, right? You have to keep reaching out to younger women and telling them they can do it and pushing them to get past all their fears. So our audience is growing with younger people so hopefully they will listen to this and get some inspiration from it.
Liz Tinkham (27:57):
So we’ve talked about not being done yet and you clearly have mastered many, many things since you retired from your second act, so to speak. So what aren’t you done with yet?
Carol Schrader (28:09):
Well, I got to tell you, you’re a real inspiration with your podcast series.
Liz Tinkham (28:12):
Well, thank you.
Carol Schrader (28:14):
I think it’s a really cool thing. I’ve always toyed with the idea of maybe writing a book. I don’t know. We did some memoir classes and that was also part of the fellowship program which was really fun and interesting to do. So kind of has gotten my mind rolling on that. Maybe even a small business, kind of a little more community based small business with my husband, some more travel obviously and pursuing maybe another board opportunity if the right opportunity presents itself.
Carol Schrader (28:43):
So I just find that the more I engage, the more opportunities reveal themselves.
Liz Tinkham (28:48):
I totally agree. This is how you and I met, that you reached out after listening to the podcast and so it’s been wonderful to talk and I’m thrilled that you’ve been on the show. So thanks so much, Carol, and we look forward to continuing to hear more about your story.
Carol Schrader (29:02):
Well, I really appreciate the time, Liz, and really, lots more success with the third act.
Liz Tinkham (29:07):
Liz Tinkham (29:10):
Thanks for joining me today to listen to the Third Act podcast. You can find show notes, guest bios and more at thirdactpodcast.com. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host, Liz Tinkham. I’ll be back next week with another guest who’s found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life.
Want to share the story of your own Third Act on our podcast? We welcome stories from executives who pivoted their careers to find their passion and purpose later in their lives. Tell us more about yourself to be considered as a guest.