While we are regaled with the success of wunderkinds like Mark Zuckerberg, consider the uber-successful entrepreneurs who started their businesses later—much later—in life. Colonel Harland Sanders started franchising KFC when he was 62 and Ray Kroc launched the McDonald’s juggernaut at 51. Martha Stewart who believes, “You should never retire; you shouldn’t even use the word. It implies going off into the sunset, and who wants to do that?”, started her magazine empire at 50. Coca-Cola, Red Bull and Nestle’s were all started by men in their 50s.
If you’re considering starting a business, whether you’re a Gen X’er in your 50s or a baby boomer in your 60s (or even 70s), these iconic role models should give you hope. And the numbers are on your side as well. According to the Trends for Boomers report in the 2019 State of Small Business study from Guidant Financial and Lending Club, “Boomers rule American small business.”
Motivation for startup
What’s the impetus behind the boomer business surge? The Guidant reports says boomer men start businesses because they want to be their own boss, while boomer women start to “pursue their passion.” Bridget Weston, CEO of SCORE, says “Research from our Megaphone of Main Street data report series shows baby boomers tend to start businesses out of necessity, such as getting laid off from a job. They might face challenges like age discrimination in the workforce, and business ownership is a rewarding way to capitalize on the valuable skills they have honed over the course of their careers.”
Aliza Sir, director of Financial Security at the AARP Foundation, says we’re experiencing a wave of “encore entrepreneurship.”
Data from the Kauffman Indicators of Entrepreneurship show the percent of the U.S. population that starts a new business is highest in the 45-55 year-old category (39%), with 55-65 year-olds a close second (38%).
Boomer business struggles
Guidant’s data show the most challenging part of running a business for boomers is lack of capital or cash flow. Their second biggest challenges vary. For newer companies (0-3 years in business) it’s marketing and advertising, companies in business 4-7 years cite time management and administrative work (bookkeeping and payroll), while companies in business more than 8 years struggle with recruiting and retention of employees.
Better odds of success
- Businesses founded by a 50-year-old are 2.2 times more likely to be successful than those founded by a 30-year-old and 2.8 times more likely to succeed than those founded by a 25-year-old
- Businesses founded by a 60-year-old are 3 times more likely to succeed than those founded by a 30-year-old
Boomers are in this for the long run—73% of those surveyed by Guidant are focused on growing their current businesses, 19% want to open an additional location, while only 8% are considering selling their businesses.
Some entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the trend. Tom Kamber started Senior Planet in 2006 to serve those who are “aging with attitude.” In their six locations across the country, boomers can take (mostly) free classes where they learn computer skills (digital photography, social media, website creation) that can help them launch businesses.
Talking to The MIT Technology Review, Kamber says he believes that while age is not a barrier to entrepreneurial success, sometimes technology can be. “When you’re a senior, and you’ve got an idea, and you want to make it happen,” he says, “somebody’s got to help out a little bit.”
Ready to make the leap?
Before you jump into boomer entrepreneurship, consider the risk. Starting a business at any age entails some risk, but the older you are, the less time you have to recoup any losses from a startup gone wrong. You can mitigate the risk by:
- Teaming up. Starting a business with a partner can expand your capabilities, reduce your risk, and make the startup journey a little less lonely.
- Purchase an existing business or franchise. It’s often less expensive and less risky to buy an existing business. Before you close the deal, have an attorney and accountant vet the business.
Here are some tips to help you succeed:
- Location. If possible, launch your business from home or a local coworking space to save on overhead.
- Create a business plan. No matter what type of business you’re starting, you need a business plan to help guide you.
- Tap into your network. You should have plenty of contacts and connections who can help you launch.
- Be tech savvy. Your business needs a mobile-friendly website. You’ll also need to know about social media, SEO and other digital marketing tools.
No matter your motivation, whether it’s necessity or choice, whether you’re pushed out of your last job, or just decide your time has come, make the leap. I started my own company in my 50s—and I have no regrets.