People love stories, especially when they reinforce our own beliefs and prejudices. This is true in life and in business. Well, today, I want to talk about one narrative that is not only killing our dreams as older adults but is also damaging our economy – the story of the young, hacker entrepreneur.
Like the protagonist of Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” we have heard the story of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur a hundred times.
A young man (for he is almost always a “he”) has a brilliant business idea. He quits university, sets up shop in his (or his parent’s) garage, hacks out a few thousand lines of code and… VOILA… becomes an instant billionaire.
In fact, we have heard this story so many times that most of us believe that young people are the only ones starting businesses. Certainly, we think that they are the only ones starting technology companies. So, many of us stay on the sidelines, thinking that we are too old to compete.
The truth is shocking (although it shouldn’t be). For starters, over 50% of all small business owners in America are over 50-years-old. How successful are these entrepreneurs? Would it surprise you to know that entrepreneurs in their 50s are 2.8X more likely to start a successful company than a 25-year-old founder?
I could go on, but, the bottom line here is that society has it all wrong about the perfect age to start a business. And, despite the statistics, the narrative of the “young hacker founder” is so powerful that we continue to believe it.
So, today, I want to talk about why your 50s are the perfect time to start your own business. I hope that my words inspire you to build something amazing!
You Finally Have the Skills and Experience to Start a Successful Business
There is a reason that so many younger entrepreneurs start businesses targeted at their peers; that’s the only audience they know. A lucky (and hard-working) few succeed in disrupting this market or that… but, the great majority find their ideas sitting at the bottom of the dustbin of history.
I am perhaps oversimplifying here, but, there is a difference between the kinds of businesses that people start in their 20s compared to the kinds of businesses that people start in their 50s.
Younger entrepreneurs tend to take one of two paths – either they shoot for the sky or they copy someone else’s success. These are the kinds of businesses that appear in TechCrunch, even if they have no chance of being profitable.
Older entrepreneurs tend to start boring businesses in industries that they own. They are typically an attempt to solve a problem that the entrepreneur faced him or herself or that she heard over and over again from her peers. They are the kinds of businesses that grow without fanfare or PR. They are also typically more profitable when businesses started by younger entrepreneurs.
So, don’t listen to the media. If you are in your 50s, you are at the perfect age to start a business. You have the skills and experience necessary for success. Now it’s time to show the world what you can do!
You (Probably) Don’t Have to Worry About Climbing the Corporate Ladder
If you are in your 50s and feel like your career has stalled, you are not alone. There is plenty of evidence that older workers get less job training, fewer career development discussions and limited promotional opportunities.
For example, according to a survey by AXA PPP Healthcare, only 15% of employees over 50 had a career development discussion with their manager in the last 6 months. This is compared to 29% of younger employees who said that they had a similar discussion.
I’m not saying that you should check out of your job, start missing deadlines or walk around with a chip on your shoulder. I’m simply saying that, if your employer is no longer thinking about your development, you should!
Instead of fighting to climb one more rung on the corporate ladder, maybe it’s time to start your own business. Once again, be sure that your contract doesn’t prevent you from doing this to prevent any potential issues.
But, assuming that you aren’t facing any contractual barriers, why not use your extra time to build something that you can be proud of? Why not build a business that you love today so that it will be there for you tomorrow?
As many older adults have learned, “invisibility” works in both directions. Yes, it is frustrating when our employers no longer see us as development material. But, if we can fly under the radar, just a little bit, we may be able to build something truly amazing.
You Finally Have More Time… Don’t Waste it!
I have so much respect for people who are able to start a business with toddlers running around. My son and his wife became new parents just a few years after helping me to found Sixty and Me.
Like many people, they have done an admirable job of balancing their family and work commitments. But, it took a great deal of discipline… and through careful planning, they had the financial resources to leave their corporate jobs to focus 100% on their family and the business. Most people just can’t afford to do this.
If you always felt like you could have started a business and, due to family and work commitments, couldn’t find the time, now is your opportunity. With your kids out of the house, this can be your time to shine.
On the flip side – and I’ll be totally honest here – it is possible to wait too long to start a business. As I spoke to the women in our Sixty and Me community, it quickly became clear to me that most people in their mid-to-late 60s and older just aren’t interested in starting a business.
Is this a universal rule? Of course not! I know plenty of people who started successful businesses in their 60s and 70s. But, it is a heck of a lot easier to become an entrepreneur in your 50s. At your age, your contacts are still fresh, you have credibility and you haven’t settled into a retirement mindset.
So, don’t wait a moment longer. Use your extra time now to build a better future tomorrow.
You Know the Right People
I don’t know how it happened, but, by the end of my corporate career, I had over 1,500 contacts on LinkedIn. The crazy thing is that I actually know most of these people!
Since I started Sixty and Me, my ex-colleagues and other professional acquaintances have helped me to find advertisers, get featured in CNN and Vogue, build my website and much more!
Since most of us start a business in the industry that we worked in during our careers, you probably know quite a few people that can help you on your journey. Just ask any 20-something entrepreneur what they would do to have a Rolodex (remember those?) full of relevant contacts in their industry. They would be jealous beyond words!
So, what are you waiting for? Start planning for your business today. Your friends, family and professional contacts have your back!
You Have the Right Motivation to Start a Business
Do you know what the number one fear of older adults is? It’s not getting cancer. It’s not a lack of meaning or social ties. It’s not even death itself.
No, the number one fear that older adults have as they approach retirement is running out of money. And, the unfortunate truth is that this isn’t an idle fear; there are plenty of reasons to believe that the majority of us will end up below the poverty line in our 80s or 90s.
By this point in your life, you are probably sick of all of the financial experts telling you that the best way to achieve financial security in retirement is to “Start saving early, put your money into a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds and let compound interest work for you.”
Yeah, we get it! But, we also had lives to live. We were struggling to build our careers, raising our families, dealing with illnesses and, basically, just doing the best we could to survive. Most of us didn’t save as much as we wanted to. But, sinking into regret won’t change anything!
Is saving important? Of course! But, if we want to make a dramatic change to our financial future, putting an extra percentage or two of our salary away won’t cut it… at least not if we are in our 50s.
As hard as starting a business is, it is one of the only ways to change your financial life in your 50s. You can do this. You can change your future, starting today!
You Know Yourself Well Enough to Succeed as an Older Entrepreneur
When people think about starting a business, they tend to point to the external factors that are standing in their way. They tell you that no-one will fund a business started by an older adult. They talk about the crowded market or abundance of competitors. They may even blame the poor economy for their decision not to get started.
Having talked with hundreds of successful entrepreneurs, I can tell you that our internal world is much more important than our external world. Successful entrepreneurs have the grit, determination and common sense to succeed.
While it is possible to have these characteristics when you are younger, the majority of us earn them over the course of a lifetime. We have earned our battle scars. Now it is time to take our training and discipline and apply it to building better lives for ourselves.
You have earned this moment. Spend it wisely.
Why do you think older adults are, on average, more successful than their younger counterparts? Do you agree or disagree that your 50s are the perfect time to start a business? Why? Let’s have a conversation!