A study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation reports that the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity over the last few years is not Gen-Y young upstarts, but Baby Boomers in the 55-64 year age group. In fact, according to this study, these Boomers are actually driving a new entrepreneurship boom. Upstart companies are finding wisdom and expert guidance with boomer employees. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 60 percent of the country’s work force is made up of senior employees.
“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old,” opined George Burns, the famed comedian who continued to work until shortly before his death at the age of 100. I believe part of feeling young is continuing to nurture new dreams, broadening one’s social and business circles and taking calculated risks.
At age 59, after over 28 years spent working for various division of a global company, I honored a personal goal I’d made to myself which was to own a company. After attempting a management buyout with my previous employer which was stymied by the recession, I remained true to my pledge. I left the comfort of the corporate world and assessed entrepreneurial opportunities. Today, I’m CEO of an Internet start-up. I’m frequently asked, by other “Boomers,” as well as Generation Y, X and even Millennials, for advice on how to successfully take the plunge toward entrepreneurship. Here are some of the primary life lessons I share:
Take Time to Dream – If you can dream it, you can do it. Mark Twain once said, that “twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Everyone needs to take some quiet time to review what really makes them happy. If you have always wanted to be an entrepreneur, sit down and think about why that is and determine the primer drivers behind your entrepreneurial dream? Is it being your own boss? Is it the ability to be in a business sector you feel you’ve been shut out of? Are you looking to make a huge financial windfall? Did you develop a new product or service that you believe has enormous upside potential?
Whatever the motivator is be sure to take some time to assess your strengths and weaknesses in tackling your entrepreneurial dream. Transforming the dream to a reality takes assessment, planning and patience.
Network – It is too easy to interact with the same people from work and not broaden your circle. A great way to meet new people is to join a networking group. I joined Vistage, a business networking organization aimed at CEOs and executives. It was at a Vistage meeting that I met entrepreneur Aaron Miller, the co-founder of BuyHappier, an ecommerce site. I was intrigued by what Aaron was doing and became an investor in his business and later acquired the business which is now operated under the Digital BrandWorks moniker. Networking groups are ideal for raising your personal profile among your peers, sharing ideas, building new relationships and generating new opportunities.
Boomer leaders have a better understanding of how to manage the critical external relationships with banks, investors and board members that is needed to support a start-up with business. The fact that we have “been there, seen that” is very assuring to outside stakeholders.
Attract and Keep Talent – The core skill of a good leader and manager is to surround yourself with people who possess talent in areas that you are lacking. When I joined BuyHappier, I knew little about ecommerce, but quickly realized that we had several key players on board with deep knowledge on the buy and the distribution side.
I knew I had several executives who rounded out areas that I didn’t have any experience in. My core competencies would be more around customer service and leadership. Boomer leaders have an advantage over the younger generation as they’ve already learned through painful trial an error the artful process of finding and keeping talent.
In addition to attracting and retaining talent, it is important to analyze whether there are any skill gaps. In our case, we realized we needed senior leadership on the digital marketing side and recruited a highly experienced Chief Marketing Officer.
Identify Your Passion – Speaker and productivity guru, Denis Waitley said, to “chase your passion, not your pension.” For your entrepreneurial path to be successful it requires that you find something that you can really put your heart and soul into—something you’re very passionate about.
Sustainable Business Model – The entrepreneurial venture needs to be a sustainable business model. You can fall in love with something, but if you can’t realistically look at it and see that over the next four or five years it will be sustainable, then all the passion in the world won’t get you there. What will drive that economic engine? What is the single thing you can look at in the business that will make it a viable venture? For my business, its recurring revenue—the consultancy side. Many start-ups fail because they run out of cash. Boomer leaders understand the significance of cash flow and how to manage and protect it.
Provided the “Boomer” has committed to continual personal learning and growth, I believe they have some major advantages for success over much younger start-up CEOs. Boomers have more evolved emotional intelligence. The rapid growth and continually changing environment inherent in a start-up business requires leadership that is consistent and steady. Boomer CEO’s have worked through countless change management initiatives over the years. They can provide their coworkers with the guidance, inspiration and motivation required to get everyone focused on the vision of the business while fully understanding that the road to get there will be filled with anxiety, fear and exhilaration.
Younger entrepreneurial CEOs sometimes have difficulty empowering others to carry out their vision. They have to have their hands in everything because it’s their “big idea.” This type of leadership eventually wears down coworkers and has them shutting down and walking out the door. Boomer CEOs understand empowerment and delegation and are more likely to center the business on the team, not the founder.
– Jeff Mariola is CEO of DigitalBrandWorks, a digital consultancy which specializes in representing manufacturers in the digital marketplaces and ensuring proper overall representation of product’s pricing and content online. Previously, he served as President of Ambius, the premier creator of ambience for businesses and a division of Rentokil Initial plc., where he led the company’s European and North American businesses.
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