The golden age of redundancy
Starting a Business
Why older people make great founders
by team Holly & Co
On 7th November 2021, Julia ‘Hurricane’ Hawkins broke the record for the 100 metre dash. She was 105-years-old. She became the first female track and field athlete to set a world record in her age group, and only started training competitively when she turned a hundred. Her advice? “Keep yourself in good shape if you can. Have many passions. And look for magic moments.”
There’s no doubt that Julia is a pretty exceptional person. Yet with people living longer and changes in lifestyle becoming more common, it’s not just new hobbies that people are starting later in life, but businesses too. And why not? There is nothing better than having purpose; something to drive you every day; something that’s yours. A place to pour in all the years of accumulated wisdom and experience gained, to generate a new income source or to contribute to building a better world. Whole new futures can be born in an instant by starting a business, which is incredibly exciting. So if you are older and have a burning idea for a company that you’d love to explore, or are just ready to try something new, there are plenty of reasons why older people make great founders. It’s also much more prevalent than one might think…
The key to success
According to the Office of National Statistics, more than four out of 10 new businesses in the UK are founded by people over 50¹. The average age of UK founders is 41. Plus a report from Barclays Business a few years ago highlighted that over 55s were 63% more likely to start businesses than 10 years previously². Of course, the pandemic will undoubtedly have changed the landscape somewhat, but the point is, it’s happening. Many people are channeling their decades of gathered expertise into enterprise and making an income from it. And it’s not just that older people are starting businesses, it’s that they’re often jolly good at it.
In 2018, an expansive US study explored this area in depth and found that the most successful entrepreneurs tend to be middle-aged. In the tech sector specifically, in the fastest growing new companies, the average founder was 45 when they set up. Furthermore, a 50-year-old entrepreneur is nearly twice as likely to have a runaway success as a 30-year-old³. So what makes older founders so good at running their own businesses? There are a number of factors that are likely to come into play.
You have the experience
Being able to see the bigger picture and have a truly informed view in order to set your vision and execute it well are the cornerstones of being a good founder. Having a wealth of life experience allows you to weigh up the risk versus reward in each scenario and gives a better idea of consequences. Having said that, there’s no doubt that the naivety of youth can be a wonderful thing. Founders of all ages have said that if they knew then what they know now, they might never have started up in the first place. But they also primarily say that they’re glad they did. Starting businesses in later life is all to do with mindset. People have the experience to fly, but it’s often a lack of confidence that gets in the way, so telling yourself you can absolutely do it and removing barriers should be the first step.
You can be more resilient
Running a business is hard work and takes true grit. The kind of grit that perhaps years of having to balance raising children with working full-time with running a household with maintaining a relationship with caring for family members with dealing with health issues etc can teach you. Older people often have the resilience to run businesses and go the distance because they are more prepared to play the long game rather than expecting consistent, short-term gains.
You’ve had time to build up a strong network
Businesses are often grown not by what you know but who you know and all the relationships built up over the years can really help. Research from MIT and Northwestern University says older entrepreneurs have been found to have, “a richer social network to tap into for suppliers, co-founders, new hires and financial supporters⁴.” It’s important to use those contacts and gain the combined wisdom from different types of people, at different life stages. Reverse mentoring with someone younger can work well too, as you can swap key learnings that will help you both.
According to the Office of National Statistics, more than four out of 10 new businesses in the UK are founded by people over 50¹.
You’re more likely to work for reasons other than money
The older you get, the more likely you are to realise that doing things for the good of the many feels better than doing things for the love of the money. With the large rise in conscious consumerism in the UK over the last few years, this bodes well from a business point of view too as more and more customers are looking to shop with companies whose purpose they share, whether those are social enterprises or just brands with strong values.
You’ll potentially have more access to funding
This wholly depends on the circumstance of course, but where once-upon-a-time those at retirement age might have spent their savings on cruises or home improvements for example, some are now choosing to invest in their own business instead. As older people are more likely to have generated more savings⁵ or have had longer to build up a stronger credit history, this might help. Plus depending on the type of business, starting up doesn’t always need a lot of capital.
Yet what should older founders bear in mind, though?
Only do something you’re passionate about
This applies to anyone starting a business at any age but it’s clearly a big job and chances are, you’ll spend a lot of time on it so it’s important to choose something you’re really passionate about. Finding this in later life can be more of a challenge as you’re often clearer on what you want or don’t want, and also might be less used to focusing on yourself. However, we’ve all got an average of just 29,000 days on the planet, so think carefully how you want to spend yours.
Build your confidence and trust your instincts
You may well come up against all sorts of barriers including ageism, and this is the time you’ll need to really dig deep to believe in yourself. You can absolutely do this. There’s no reason others can and you can’t. Surround yourself with those who give you energy and think about getting some coaching if needed, too. Always keep learning. Whether it’s understanding yourself better or knowing your tech, these aren’t things that need to hold anyone back.
Seek out others who’ve done it or are doing it
Reach out to the small business community and look for people who’ve been there and done it. As well as providing a huge support network, you can pool knowledge, and gain ideas and inspiration. There are many who will be happy to help you if you’re brave enough to ask and you might even find a co-founder if you want one, too.
Being able to see the bigger picture and have a truly informed view in order to set your vision and execute it well are the cornerstones of being a good founder. Having a wealth of life experience allows you to weigh up the risk versus reward in each scenario and gives a better idea of consequences.
Know your subject and strategy inside out
One of the best ways to feel confident is to come prepared. Use your time wisely. There’s so much information and so many resources available to help you. Make google your new best friend and do your research. The most important thing is to build a business that will stand out, and one based on what customers want (not what you think they want). If you’re older, you might have to work even harder to show how in touch you are, so knowing your subject is important.
Many people imagine entrepreneurs as being twenty-somethings in tech start-ups, all suits and trainers, but the stats prove otherwise. So take inspiration from Julia ‘Hurricane’ Hawkins and be brave enough to try something new. Look for your magic moments. Could starting a business be yours?