How to make £10m as an empty-nest entrepreneur

How to make £10m as an empty-nest entrepreneur: She devoted her life to raising her family, then at 50 she accidentally discovered a way to reinvent herself — and struck gold

  • Maxine Laceby, 55, from Staffordshire, started new career after raising children
  • Now former stay-at-home mum is CEO of £10million business, Absolute Collagen
  • The supplement company was born at her kitchen stove making bone broth

When Maxine Laceby hit 50, five years ago, she took a long, hard look at her life. For half of those five decades, she’d been a stay-at-home-mum to her two daughters and two older stepchildren, and had ‘conformed’ to the expectations of everyone around her.

More often than not, that meant putting her own needs last and ‘forgetting’ who she was to prioritise her roles of wife, mother and housekeeper.

‘It wasn’t that I’d hankered after a career — I worked in a factory and in clothes shops and I did a bit of marketing for a hotel. Then I’d very happily stayed at home from the age of 25.

‘But then, one day, I sort of woke up and thought my time is mine again. My eldest daughter Darcy, now 24, went off to university and the younger Margot, now 21, was doing A-Levels, and, suddenly no one needed me any more. I could be whoever I wanted to be.’

Maxine Laceby, 55, from Staffordshire, started a new career mid-life, founding her own business after after raising her two daughters and two older stepchildren

Divorced in 2010, but still in the family home in a South Staffordshire village, Maxine decided on a whim to do something purely for herself and took a degree course at Wolverhampton School of Art. 

Her first project was terribly modern and earnest, and also a bit of a disaster. ‘I decided to strip myself bare of make-up and let my hair go grey and see how people reacted.

‘It made me question everything — which was partly the point — but not in a good way. Going grey made me feel awful. What it actually made me realise was how insecure I was.’

A misconceived art project turned instead into a top-to-toe midlife reinvention. Five years later, former stay-at-home mum Maxine is CEO of a £10 million business founded on the idea that what women need is not radical make-up-free honesty, but a major health and beauty boost to kickstart the second half of their lives.

The supplement company Absolute Collagen was born at her kitchen stove. ‘I decided after that art project to really take myself in hand and get into shape physically and mentally, and even spiritually. I didn’t want to feel old like that.’

Somewhere she’d read that bone broth was good for joint health and for younger-looking skin and hair, so she began to boil up pots of it and drink a daily cupful.

‘Quite quickly my friends started saying how well I looked. How white the whites of my eyes were. How good my skin was. Well, the only thing I was doing differently was drinking bone broth every day.’

When those same friends wanted daily cupfuls, too, she started to cook up great vats of pigs’ trotters and chicken feet.

Maxine began to research the science behind the broth and discovered the bit that was probably making the difference was collagen — visible in the jelly that formed on top after reducing the liquid.

The former stay-at-home mum is now CEO of a £10million business, Absolute Collagen, after she started researching the science behind collagen

She enlisted the help of her daughter Darcy, then doing a food science degree, and struck upon the idea of marketing pure collagen from fish in one-a-day sachets made palatable with fruit flavours.

‘I spent a year talking to people about it. One scientist would lead to another. And I realised marine collagen is better than other kinds as it’s easier to absorb. Lots of them thought I was crazy but, the point was, collagen really did work.’

Collagen fans are often evangelical, claiming supplements have the power not only to ease aching joints and hydrate skin but to reduce inflammation, calm digestive problems, strengthen teeth and nails, relieve anxiety and generally slow the ageing process.

Starting a business had never been an ambition, yet now it consumed her. ‘If you’ve run a family, running a business isn’t that hard. I come from a line of strong, working-class women, and they all could have done it given the chance.

‘What I needed was money, and because I was a 50-year-old woman with no business experience who appeared to be going off on some wild tangent, I didn’t think anyone would give it to me. I borrowed from friends and sold things and then asked the children if they’d mind me putting the house on it. They all said: “go for it, Mum”.

The online subscription supplement company was born at her kitchen stove making bone broth and she now imports the fish collagen from France

‘It was a risk I was prepared to take because I believed in it. Sometimes you stand on the edge and look over it but, at some point, you’ve just got to step off.’ 

Absolute Collagen was built as an online-only subscription service, though you can buy one-off products too, with a community of users who share tips via a forum on the website. Today, she imports the fish collagen from France.

Making a success of it transformed her self-image. For years, she felt like she was ‘pulling on’ the Maxine everyone expected to see rather like an ‘imaginary onesie’. 

‘Then somehow I stopped putting it on and for the first time really felt like myself.’

She talks of a terrible menopause in her late-40s, during which she became extremely low. ‘I can remember feeling absolutely crippled by it to the extent that I couldn’t even put the bin out. There are so many women living like I was. They’re hiding in plain sight. Running families, keeping it all afloat, with no one watching them or saying “well done”. I don’t think of myself as a staunch feminist, but I want them to feel empowered, too.’

Today, Maxine has embraced a glamorous salon grey and a stylish, wavy quiff — a strong look paired with big, frothy-collared blouses and tailored shirts. She wears make-up but minimally. The aim is not perhaps to look 20 years younger, but as good as you can at 55.

As a single mum, she’d grown used to making decisions alone, and simply carried on doing it as an entrepreneur. ‘I’d think hard about something and scrub the house from top to bottom as I did it. The house was always very clean. It was scary in one way and liberating in another. Now I think owning those decisions was one of the keys to my success.’

With a proven track record, financial backers finally emerged and, last year, Maxine took on outside investment to develop new products. She’ll now take a step back as daughter Darcy takes on a bigger role. ‘She’s doing all the things now I never got the chance to do.

‘In fact, the only thing she can’t do is the washing. I’ve never taught either of my girls to do washing because I don’t want them to end up doing it for their boyfriends, too.’ The load has to be shared, she says, or women will continue to get buried by domestic drudgery.

‘It’s taken me 50 years to find the real Maxine and, even then, it was a conscious thing I had to work at. I loved being a mum, despite all the pressure I put on myself to do it a certain way. But I wouldn’t have missed this bit for the world.’

absolutecollagen.com

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