With research finding that over 65s are the fastest-growing group of new business owners, lifelong entrepreneur Robert Gould reflects on his own experiences to guide others through the journey of a so-called “olderpreneur”.
Being an entrepreneur is currently “en vogue” and seemingly everyone wants to do it. While the bulk of aspiring entrepreneurs inhabit the 25 to 35 age bracket, a more recent phenomenon is the growth of what I call olderpreneurs, those aged 50 and above.
According to the UK Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report in 2013, 6.5 per cent of Britain’s 50+ population was engaged in entrepreneurial activity, equaling that of the 18 to 49 age bracket.
More recently, The Economist reported that 40 per cent of all new business founders in the UK today are over 50 years of age, while 60 per cent of over-70s who are still working are self-employed.
So the trend is well established. And I am part of that trend, as a UK septuagenarian founder of a luxury fashion startup.
While olderpreneurship is not a new phenomenon – Ray Kroc started McDonald’s at 52, Charles Flint began creating what was to become IBM at 61 and Harland Sanders started selling his first bucket of KFC at 65, to mention just a few late in life entrepreneurs – it is only recently that those notable exceptions have become more of the rule.
But being an olderpreneur isn’t for the vast majority. Why is this? For one thing, it isn’t one size fits all. There are some people who should not be entrepreneurs at any age because of risk tolerance, temperament or work ethic.
For others, the right idea may not have yet come along. And many just want to put their work careers behind them and smell the flowers.
However, for readers on the fence about olderpreneurship, those who think they have the right disposition, concept and financial capability but are unsure how to navigate the business sphere, here are some of my thoughts on how to navigate the business world as an olderpreneur.
Apply your experience
There is something to be said for having a wealth of experience under your belt when attempting a startup – not just of business but of life.
Since no startup goes according to plan, it helps to have a “been there, done that” perspective when confronting setbacks.
Use your contacts
With longevity comes an ever-widening circle of friends, consultants, professionals and people who have become successes in their own right. Many of these people can be of help to a startup, with connections or even as a sounding board.
Interact with younger generations
Far from being an intimidation, being the oldest person in the room means that you are regularly interacting with people younger than you. In my experience, this keeps you stimulated and more well-rounded than if you just hung out with peers.
Furthermore, olderpreneurs can greatly benefit from the company of younger start-up practitioners to keep informed about what is happening with Generations Y, Z and millennials. For any entrepreneur, it is always good to seek knowledge and feedback outside of their peer group.
A little grey at the temples helps convey an aura of authority, maybe even wisdom, to those of younger years which often helps in various facets of startup work including when some maturity and reassurance is needed to calm the waters.
Be prepared for it to take time
As with most things in life, elder entrepreneurship is not a black and white decision.
For all of its benefits, it comes at a cost – time. Devoting three, five or ten years to a startup at age 25 or 30, when you have what seems like forever ahead of you, is one thing. Doing so in what could be the last or penultimate decade of your life is another.
Be prepared for adjustment
Since most entrepreneurial efforts start out as minimalist undertakings, the adjustment in status and support should not be underestimated. How will you handle not having people who report to you or to whom you can delegate? Will you feel comfortable being the oldest person in the room at a workshop or networking event?
These are more ephemeral factors colouring the olderpreneurship decision but in many ways the most critical.
Use your financial edge
When it comes to raising money, olderpreneurs often have an under-appreciated edge. Risk capital is always looking for experience to lessen the risk, and many olderpreneurs pursue startups that play to their experience in a certain field or with a certain product.
That is a valued quality many younger people can’t match. Consider that 70 per cent of businesses started by individuals 50+ last longer than three years, whereas only 28 per cent of those started by those in the 18 to 49 category do. Experienced investors understand this.
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Don’t forget your sixth sense: Common sense
There will be no shortage of “experts” available to tell you how to do what you want to do. Much of that advice will be good, sound counsel. But some of it won’t be right for what you specifically are doing or for how you work.
This is where your entrepreneurial sixth sense should kick in. If something – a color, a shape, a process, a description – doesn’t seem or sound right, it probably isn’t. Most entrepreneurs, indeed most people, have good common sense. Trust yours when in conflict with the advice of experts.
Or your seventh sense: Sense of humour
In any startup effort, there will be plenty of times to be deadly serious, frustrated and despondent. It is at these times that a sense of humour, as black as it may be, can reassure you that the world is not coming to an end and the best is yet to come.
Have the ability to step back and see the lighter side of any situation. Few entrepreneurs mention this as part of the process but I think it is a vital key to success. It gives you balance and keeps things in perspective.
Robert Gould is a lifelong entrepreneur who has founded both B2B and B2C startups in the US and the UK, and most recently launched London-based luxury fashion business QIVIUT & CO
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