How are older entrepreneurs different from their younger counterparts, or even from their younger selves? We interviewed more than 30 entrepreneurs in a variety of industries who started companies between the ages of 50 and 70 to find out.
Big risks in empty nests
Older people who can't find work after a layoff are often forced into entrepreneurship. The rest, however, make the same risk calculations as other aspiring founders. Many Boomers interviewed had weighed entrepreneurship at an earlier age and decided against it. A majority said they are more risk tolerant now because they care less about their own security than they did about their young families'.
Ambition never withers
Boomer businesses skew smaller than others. Many founders just want to supplement retirement income, indulge an interest, or keep alive their old professional networks. But plenty of entrepreneurs--especially serial founders--are more ambitious. Some reported more than $10 million in revenue. Several had filed for or obtained patents on recent inventions.
Experience beats all
Many Boomer founders have previous management experience, deep domain expertise, or both. Or they are serial entrepreneurs applying all they've learned in starting companies to one final--or close-to-final--adventure. Perhaps most important: They know other people who have provided expertise and support in the past, and often will do so again.
Sometimes, seniority sells
A few entrepreneurs described encountering the occasional raised eyebrow or snide comment from customers, competitors, or investors. But most said their advanced years evoke no visible negative response. Some even said it wins them additional respect. That experience is the inverse of what older people encounter in the job market, where ageism runs rampant.
Health and balance are key
Although many Boomer entrepreneurs report working up to 60 hours a week, few claim to have the same energy as when they were younger. That said, our interviewees are a robust crowd who exercise regularly, bike, swim, run, and play pickup basketball. The Boomers also cultivate psychological health, with an emphasis on work-life balance. Many purposely spend more time with their grandchildren than they did with their children in their earlier work lives.
Some kids are alright
Business pundits fret over how Millennials and Boomers co-exist in offices. Older entrepreneurs, however, express little but gratitude for youthful assistance. Many rely on much younger people to help with the business applications of technology. Some, however, suggested that young people require too much instant gratification to make successful entrepreneurs.
Boomers target Boomers
Many Boomers create products and services that target other Boomers, a rich market whose spending is projected to grow more than twice as fast as younger Americans' over the next 20 years. The Boomers' distinctive sandwich-generation role presents still more opportunities, as some entrepreneurs turn their attention to the very old--their parents.