Where do old entrepreneurs go to thrive?
This year I turned 50. Something that surprised me on so many levels, but perhaps most surprising of all for me is that after over 30 years of working as creativity consultants, I’ve lost none of my love of new ideas and entrepreneurial drive. But, after a few conversations with a number of people over recent weeks, it got me thinking – what does it mean to be an entrepreneur at 50 and how do we / how can we thrive?
Over my career I’ve had loosely three defining career shifts. I did a pastry chef’s apprenticeship in my teens (loved the job, but the hours drove me mad – I always felt odd drinking at 9am on a Friday – but when your job starts at midnight and finishes at 8am, 9am is effectively your Friday night party hour), was a professional musician in my early 20s (loved the gigs, but getting into leather trousers night after night eventually wore thin…) and then after a stint at university as a mature student (a very loose term in my experience), I fell into what we call the creative industries, starting with a role in PR.
Within a 25 year tenure in marketing, comms, reputation management and business development as creativity consultants, I’ve established and grown my own agencies, run a couple of side businesses, had an unsuccessful mid-life crisis and set up a surf clothing brand, and worked for some fantastic and respected agencies in senior management, commercial and creative roles.
And, yet here I am at 50, still going and still hanging out for the next exciting, new idea or business venture. Some people I know, not too much older than me, are already dialling it back in their businesses, reducing their hours and starting a walk on the long, slow road to eventual retirement.
But the weird thing is for me, I don’t even think I’ve reached my potential yet, made my mark, achieved what I feel I’m here to do. I’ve also not lost any of my creative passion, my love of business, my drive to succeed (I just sometimes sleep more on public transport than I use to) – and I know I’m far from alone in thinking and feeling this.
So, what does the business world think about or do with a 50 year old, 60 year old, 70 year old start-up entrepreneur? I’m not sure it knows what to do if I’m honest.
It accepts older individuals in lifestyle businesses – ex MDs setting up as coaches or consultants for example. But that’s not what I’m referring to, I’m talking about grabbing hold of another grand new idea and once again throwing everything you have at it in the hope this one might finally come through with the jackpot. I love the thrill of the chase of that new idea, and I’ve lost none of that thrill in all my years of working.
However, the market expects me / us (with start-up idea in hand) to be 25 or maybe 35 tops; certainly not 50, but why should that be?
At 50, you’ve made loads of mistakes, cut your teeth, honed your craft and all those other business clichés, so is it in fact not the best time to be an entrepreneur? The argument generally pushed back in response is about youthful energy and vigour, all those ’80 hour weeks’. And I get that, but some of those 80 hours a week is making mistakes and learning from them – understanding how to get the business right. So, in fact, the very same learnings many of us have now experienced and benefited from by the time we are 50.
I’m not suggesting we’ve got nothing to learn nor that starting up again at 50 is anything but hard work – of course we do and it is, but the essence of the 80 hour week pitch assumes that all of those hours are productive, and I’m not sure they are. They certainly weren’t for me when I was doing them 20 years’ ago, but that’s how I grew as an individual and as a business. And, I have that experience to apply to my next potential venture now I’m 50.
So, while we may be too old to be ‘cool’ at 50, or 60 or 70, we’re definitely not to old to be entrepreneurs. And, we can continue to thrive by using the same the passion, excitement, curiosity and the drive that got us this far.
Entrepreneurs are ultimately believers – they believe a real difference can be made, that there is real value in ideas and creativity, and that tomorrow will always be better than today, or if not tomorrow then the day after. So as creativity consultants I do believe and off I go with my next new idea and ‘No sleep till Brooklyn!’ no doubt.