08 Aug Susan Joslyn of SJ+
Female Entrepreneur: Susan Joslyn
You don’t always end up doing what you thought you might; often, even if you stick it out and get the degree, you may not end up working in your chosen field. This was certainly the case for Susan Joslyn. She took her BFA in Theatre and went on to own a technology business. It wasn’t what she’d planned to do, but it turned out that she found it fascinating and she was good at it. The higher income and schedule flexibility allowed her to dedicate time and energy to her family so she could become the female entrepreneur she was destined to be. It was the best of both worlds.
Launched in 1994, Susan’s business is built around a software product that she built called PRC. The software is for medium-sized businesses that have in-house programming staff to build or customize their own software. PRC provides control and visibility to authorized change and can prevent unauthorized access. She was doing this before new requirements around privacy and security came to the forefront so she was ready when they did. Suddenly PRC became more of a necessity than a luxury.
Building the product and the business was a long and interactive process staying informed in the field and also learning from customers. Growing a business, like growing a garden, requires careful attention long after the initial planting. It is especially important to nurture your reputation – this is true in any business, but may be especially true when you are a woman working in a male-dominated industry. Susan was uniquely positioned for her business by years of writing software as a contractor and consultant. Coupled with her inherent personality quirk for keeping things in control, it was a natural evolution. Her on the job training after college in the tech boom days of the 1980s was working with her father and mentor, Robert Joslyn. Bob was an accomplished computer programmer himself, helping to send man to the moon in the 1960’s. He passed along wisdom in many pithy sayings that Susan thinks about and often quotes to this day. For example, we all know Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can happen, will happen.” Less known is what Bob called Murphy’s Corollary: “Murphy was an optimist.”
Like any other small business owner, Susan experienced challenges like juggling her private life with young children and trying to be taken seriously in the workplace. Susan kept her nose to the grind for many years and is well-respected and established in her field, trusted by her loyal customers to this day. She tells Stepforward, “It is a privilege to work with my customers, old and new. It is a great source of pride to me that my customers mostly stick with me for a long time.” When asked what she sees in the next five years, she says “Five years, ten years, more – I hope it’s still going strong. That I’m able to do good work for people and people still believe in me and in the product.” She did add that she’d like to get back to her more creative roots. “Now that I’m not juggling the soccer carpool and all of that I’m trying to get back to my youthful dream of writing fiction. So in that same five years it would be great if I have honed my skills enough to produce solid material – maybe even to have a fan base.” She’s off to a good start, published in several short-story anthologies and working on a book. She never let the interest in writing and performing fall completely away, though. She’s written a number of magazine articles in her field, even the ‘cover story’ a couple of times. She’s also a well-received speaker at technology-related conferences.
Everyone needs inspiration. For Susan Joslyn it came from the example her mother, Louise who taught her two important things about work: that a woman can do anything she sets her mind to do and that the best thing we can do as women in a male-dominated workplace is to support each other. She was tireless in her support of other women who were trying to make it and wildly congratulatory of women who did. Susan still remembers Louise’s happy dance when her high school friend Sandra Day O’Conner was the first woman appointed to the supreme court. The wire that Louise sent said “Hooray for you! Hooray for women everywhere!” Louise was a successful computer programmer – beginning in the 1950s when there may have been a handful of women in the field, world-wide. She was a hard-worker who taught Susan the value of sticking to it. She never tolerated chauvinism or misogyny in the workplace, often using a biting humor to let a man know when he had overstepped. Susan sees herself and her daughters as the current standard bearers of a long line of strong women. She reminds her daughters that they have a heritage to hold up and can’t wait to see everything that they will do. Being a female entrepreneur means you’ve got to do twice the work to be recognized.
We asked Susan whose advice she’d seek from anyone, alive or dead. She answered that it would depend on what kind of advice she was seeking. “I’ve always greatly admired Walt Disney – mostly for being wildly creative and staying true to his vision while taking big risks. I admire Secretary Clinton very much because she’s taken a lot of the same kind of flak that I have – only far, far more! And she just keeps going, never loses her cool, never ever gives up. I have received little nuggets of business wisdom along the way that have really made a difference. But I think I was mostly lucky in the kind of parents I lucked into.”
Susan likes to wear her “Just Keep Swimming (with a picture of Dory)” shirt when she’s working and can always be found sitting at her computer, either working with her customers, coding, or writing the next great American novel.