I’m not getting any younger, but my tiny little business, Vaughan-Nichols & Associates, is still going strong after over 30 years, even though I’m well past retirement age. My retirement plan, as I like to tell people, is to fall over, gracefully, into my keyboard. No, seriously — it’s what writers do.
But that led me to wonder if people my age start businesses. The answer is yes, yes, they do, and in surprisingly large numbers.
According to an Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation report, Trends in Entrepreneurship, the 55-to-64 group accounted for 22.8% of entrepreneurs in 2021. Another academic study by MIT, Northwestern, Wharton, and US Census Bureau researchers, Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship, reported that the mean age of US startup founders was 42 years. High-tech founders? Even older: 43. Oh, and those miracle unicorns? 44.
Indeed, this latter study also discovered that the older you are until you hit 60, the more likely you are to be successful in steering your fledgling company. A 50-year-old founder is twice as likely to take an enterprise to an IPO or a successful acquisition as their 30-year-old sibling.
I believe it. Heck, I’m living it. My business is doing better than ever.
So, if you have a business idea and are of a certain age, seriously consider giving it a shot.
Here are some factors you should consider before making the jump:
First, do you have experience in your dream field? It’s possible to be a winner without it. Rex Stout, the novelist behind the Nero Wolfe mysteries, didn’t write a mystery until he was 47. However, the most successful, older entrepreneurs have had years of experience in their chosen area.
If you’ve always thought you could do a better job if you were the boss, here’s your chance.
Have you already been successful in your field? If so, your odds go up. You already know what you need to bring to the table to be a winner.
With success and experience, you also have another “must-have” for business success: a network. Knowing and being on good terms with others in your field and market is vital. No one is a success on their own. People love to say they did it all on their own. They’re either liars or narcissists who don’t recognize the debt they owe their co-workers, friends, and family.
It’s obvious, but I must mention that you must be really committed to building your own business. You’re in trouble if you’re not willing to be a workaholic. Sorry, this is non-negotiable. Hard work, and lots of it, is essential for any startup.
That also means you must take a long, hard look at your “retirement” plans.
Will your partner be OK with you burning the candle at both ends? Do you want to spend a lot of time cruising around the Mediterranean? Are you looking forward to being with your grandkids a lot? If so, you may not have what it takes to build a business from scratch in your 60s.
Now, that’s not to say that it can’t be done. For example, my companion of the digital pen, Mike Elgan, and his wife are currently in Marrakech. He’s a digital nomad who proves you can have a great work life and travel internationally.
It’s also easier now than ever before to start a business, no matter where you live. For example, you can use Google Workplace or Microsoft 365 for your office software, Slack and Zoom for your real-time work communications, and AI programs such as Zoho Desk with OpenAI for customer support.
Look around in your field and see what software is out there that can make your life easier. For instance, as a journalist, one of my biggest time sinks was transcribing speeches into editable words. Now, thanks to Otter.ai, a task that used to take me hours or cost me a pretty penny for someone else to do it for me in a day or so costs me less than $300 a year and takes only minutes.
There are also two other major problems. One is ageism. Just because you’re working for yourself doesn’t mean you’re free from prejudice. It’s even worse if you’re a woman or a minority. If you were looking for employment, you might not get job offers. When you start your own business, you may have trouble getting the finances you need to get your newly minted company off the ground or to keep it growing.
Guess what the other problem is? Ding! Right. It’s money.
It’s one thing to bet all your chips when you’re young on your great idea; it’s another when you’re pushing toward 70 or beyond.
The older we get, the less time we have to catch up from a failure. And finding a job when you’re older is hard, hard, hard.
Thus, I wouldn’t try starting a business if you don’t have money to waste. Of course, if your alternative plan is to work as a Wal-Mart greeter, maybe it’s worth taking a chance. Only you can answer that question.
Finally, let me leave you with my favorite appropriate quote for those who still think entrepreneurship is only for the young: “Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.”
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