Midlife Entrepreneurs Better Prepared Than Younger

One of the most gratifying things I get to do is work with entrepreneurs and business owners to optimize their businesses. In the area where I live, most of the media attention is focused on technology startups usually run by people in their 20s. What I find interesting about the new businesses in our area is that the founders who are willing to rent an office and hire a consultant or take some classes tend to be mid-life entrepreneurs. These older entrepreneurs actually are more prevalent than the younger ones. Dane Spangler, a researcher at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation wrote in a 2009 report, “in every single year from 1996 to 2007, Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those aged 20-34.” Also, according to the 2011 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor U.S. Report — a survey of a representative sample of the U.S. adult-age population — 15.4 percent of Americans aged 55-64 and 12.8 percent of Americans aged 45-54 run their own business, compared with 0.8 percent of Americans aged 18-24 and 4.9 percent of Americans aged 25-34.midlife entrepreneur

Bureau of Labor Statistics data on both incorporated and unincorporated self-employment show an even more extreme pattern. The rate of self-employment is higher among people in their 60s than even those in their 50s, let alone those in their 20s or 30s. In fact, the bureau’s surveys of American workers reveal that people aged 65 to 69 are self-employed heads of corporations at four times the rate of people aged 25 to 34. 

The Small Business Administration reports in its recently released publication Small Business Economy that, from 2000 to 2011, self-employment among people under 25 dropped 9 percent. Among those aged 25 to 34, it fell 8 percent, and for those between 35 and 44, it declined 24 percent. By contrast, self-employment among those aged 55 to 64 rose 54 percent, while it increased 36 percent among those over 65.

Scott Shane (A. Malachi Mixon III professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University) shares an interesting observation that, even in high technology, entrepreneurs are much more likely to be over 50 than under 25. Research by Vivek Wadhwa, Richard Freeman and Ben Rissing shows that these older entrepreneurs, while they fly under the media radar, are very prolific and on the rise.

Shane asks (as you might), “Why are baby boomers more likely than their kids to be entrepreneurs?” He goes on to answer his own question:

Researchers have two hypotheses, the second more plausible than the first. The first explanation is a cohort effect: Today’s young people don’t want to run their own businesses as much as their parents did were when they were young. The more plausible explanation is an age effect.

The reason Shane provides for the cohort effect being a weaker argument is a body of research conducted at UCLA within the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP). CIRP points to a trend over the past quarter century whereby college freshmen are less likely to want to be a “business executive,” “accountant,” or “actuary.” Instead, a higher percentage want to own a business now than previously.

So, while more freshmen want to be business owners, fewer people in their early twenties are actually starting businesses. This is where the age affect provides an explanation. Those who prefer this argument would say that the experience gained and savings accumulated over a period of fifteen years or more give one more confidence to start a business later in life. While there are certainly more responsibilities for the stereotypical midlife entrepreneur on the home front, this age group appears to have figured out how to address those responsibilities and still be willing to start businesses at a higher rate than the younger counterparts.

What’s holding you back? Start a business as a second career!

 

Advertisements

Entrepreneurial Field of Dreams

Many communities across the United States are scrambling to come up with an agenda for entrepreneurship. With significant success stories in the San Francisco Bay and Boston areas, others have jumped onto a bandwagon. Each community pursuing the elusive prize is making wagers with a combination of public and private dollars to try and effect economic growth through encouraging start-ups. While the models being used are very different, the common denominator is that each effort, like a start-up itself, must determine where to focus to obtain the best trade-off of investment versus anticipated benefits.

Go For It  Start a BusinessInstead of one of the “hotbeds” of entrepreneurship, I like to look at what is working in the hinterlands. Columbia, Missouri certainly seems to fit that categorization at first blush. Mike Brooks leads REDI (Regional Economic Development, Inc.) in an effort to “promote positive economic expansion and provides increased economic opportunities in the Columbia area, assisting entrepreneurs, developing businesses, and companies relocating.”

His group sees the following as Benefits for Local Communities committed to the process:

  • Employment and Opportunity: Cities are places where people live, work, and play. Cities need opportunities for employment so citizens can afford to enjoy the metropolitan lifestyle. Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson defined entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” Prosperous cities work to understand this dynamic, since entrepreneurs will establish their businesses in locales that support business growth. The jobs created by entrepreneurs not only support current citizens’ lifestyles, but they also make specific cities more attractive for future businesses to establish themselves in that location.
  • Tax Income: Communities require governance to provide a structured environment. The infrastructure of successful cities would not exist without money coming into local economies from the sale of products or services. The necessary public works and amenities that sustain a city depend on businesses, as well as resident taxes and purchases.
  • Identity and Character: Entrepreneurs help create the unique character of a community. This character enhances the sense of place and belonging that adds to the overall quality of life. Most entrepreneurs start businesses where they live, which allows companies to develop deeper connections to the community. Apple, Google, Dell, and HP started as entrepreneurial companies that were identified with, and formed a strong relationship with, their surrounding communities.

In order for these benefits to accrue to the community, an entrepreneurial ecosystem has to be built. In Raleigh, the Innovate Raleigh initiative is the rallying cry for such dedicated efforts, though many others are tackling the challenge in differing ways. The important thing is to, as Brooks recommends,

Support Entrepreneurs

  • Recognition and Shared Goals: Already-established entrepreneurs in the community can greatly help city organizations focus on effective economic development, prioritizing incentives, and planning strategies to encourage business growth. The presence of colleges or universities can also be a great channel for enticing businesses to launch or expand in a community. A diverse population of students, professors, visitors, and residents allows for more variety in business ventures.
  • Community Programs: Several communities around the nation continually find successful ways to encourage local entrepreneurs. In the 1980s, the city of Littleton, Colo., decided to focus on homegrown businesses as a community growth strategy. They established “economic gardening,” which focused on bringing sophisticated, corporate-level tools like database research, geographic information systems, search engine optimization, and social network mapping to small businesses within Littleton. This nurturing environment proved successful and serves as a model for similar communities throughout the nation.

Other best practices for supporting entrepreneurs have less to do with cool co-working spaces and meetups and more to do with helping someone who’s never run a business sort through what they will face. A proven entrepreneurship curriculum, complemented by personal mentoring of the founders by experienced start-up veterans, is so needful and should be a part of every community’s offering to all entrepreneurs they hope to serve.

Main Street Start-ups Better

 

Sean Ogle, the founder of Location Rebel, once faced the daunting challenge of whether to go the start-up route or begin a lifestyle business. He took the time to examine the two alternatives and feels that lifestyle businesses are a better option for many people. He offers 7 reasons why he thinks this way below:

1. You are not Instagram.

For every startup that sells and makes millions, there are hundreds — if not thousands — that fail or, even worse, continue to just barely make it, sucking the life out of you in the process.

2. Building a startup is building a 9-to-5.

While it’s fun to start up running on nothing but adrenaline and Red Bull, the excitement wanes and the monotony sets in after a few months. Many startup companies turn into really bad 9-to-5 jobs for the founders. For example, Jun Loayza who, after getting over a million in funding and successfully selling two companies, left his current startup to pursue a lifestyle business.

3. You won’t wait years to turn a profit.

When you work for yourself, your overhead is limited. Salaries, office space, benefits? That’s all on you. I started my most recent business with less than $500 and it took me three sales to become profitable. Most startups are lucky to be profitable after three years!

Lifestyle business4. You can work from a beach with a Mai Tai.

You know that dream everyone had after reading “The 4-Hour Workweek” where they’re chillin’ on a beach with a cocktail, working from a laptop? That really is possible. This year I’ve already worked from places like Vail, Playa del Carmen, Cuba, New York, China and Jordan among others — all without skipping a beat in my business.

5. You’ll have more flexibility than Gabby Douglas.

You wanted increased flexibility and control in your life? Fat chance in a startup, especially when you’re playing with someone else’s money. As a lifestyle entrepreneur, you truly have the flexibility to set your own schedule. For many, that’s more time with friends and family; for others, it’s travel and adventure. You get to decide.

6. Stress is minimized.

Thoughts like “How am I going to make payroll this month?” and “Revenues were 30 percent less than projections, what will the investors think?” or “My partners and I have drastically different opinions of where the business should go, what do I do?” are all common issues in a startup. A lifestyle entrepreneur has no one to answer to but themselves, thus reducing the stress that comes with common business problems. 

7. You can become a modern-day Renaissance person.

I can’t focus on just one thing; I’m always all over the place. Being a solopreneur has forced me to learn how to handle all aspects of business — marketing, accounting, sales…you name it, I do it. In this position, you grow your expertise and become a more well-rounded business person, and that will undoubtedly help you in any future endeavors. 

 

Much of what Ogle says has basis. Yet, when I think of a lifestyle business, the image that comes to mind is of a semi-retired person who has enough savings that income needs are very minimal. Solopreneur, a term used under the category of Renaissance leadership, seems more apt. The beauty of not being a sole proprietorship, however, is the opportunity to create jobs, build community, and share life with others. At EntreDot, we often refer to such an enterprise as a “Main Street business.” These types of businesses represent about 35%  of start-ups, where fast growth (often venture or angel-backed) is about 5%, and sole proprietorships about 60%. 

Let’s go create more Main Street businesses that have many of the benefits espoused above, but also help grow the economy for someone other than just ourselves!

 

 

 

Harness or Release the Intrapreneur Troublemaker?

Recently, the World Economic Forum convened in Davos for its annual meeting. What, one may ask, does such a high brow event have to do with intrapreneurship and innovation in business? Actually, one of the panel discussions at the Forum was on social intrapreneurship. The definition that was being used seemed to focus on the social implications of the issue as it relates to those change makers who offer creative solutions and drive growth. Gib Bulloch, the Executive Director for the Accenture Development Partnership, writing for the Huffington Post last week, noted that there exists no job title for the social intrapreneur. Admittedly, he argued, no one leaves college or university to become one and the  role lacks a clearly defined job description. Companies that embrace the power of these intrapraneurs to think differently and innovate, Bulloch said, have significant opportunities to leverage their passion and benefit the business.

Bulloch recalls Vodafone’s M-PESA mobile banking business as a prime example of the benefit of empowering intrapreneurs:

The idea of using mobile phones as bank accounts for the un-banked in Kenya was not born in the corporate boardroom. It was the brain child of a middle manager in the marketing department, Nick Hughes, who came up with the concept and brought it to the attention of those who could advance its development, both inside and outside the company. Seven years into the program, a thriving M-PESA business now delivers socio-economic benefits for Kenya and business benefits for Vodafone.

Therein lies the key to social intrapreneurship. It is not a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. It is a business growth initiative that tears down barriers and embraces the passionate ideals and innovation of the millennial generation now flooding into the workplace. It is a concept that captures the zeitgeist of young people who care less about making a fortune on Wall Street and more about making a difference on Main Street.Intrapreneurman

For organizations that aspire to leverage the rare win-win of business benefit with social good in 2013, four key takeaways have emerged as guideposts for developing an effective social intrapreneurship program:

• The role of leadership is key: In the early stages of an innovation program, leadership must provide the air cover required to protect bottom-up ideas. As the best ideas mature, they must be promoted within the organization and embraced from the top down.

• Harness the troublemaker: Social intrapreneurs are at their core different from their peers. They march to a different drum beat and their passions fuel both their personal and work lives. Having a culture that both nurtures the change maker’s innovative spirit but also harnesses the troublemaker’s enthusiasm and energy to break molds and achieve where others have come up short will return significant rewards.

• Realize the retention value: For the social intrapreneur, making a difference is often equal to making money. For organizations that embrace the value of providing “bottom up” channels for creative business solutions that provide social good, the long term benefits for retaining your best innovators cannot be understated. Simply put, for the millennial generation, making a difference matters.

• Base decisions on the Business Case: Even for the most passionate social intrapreneurs, the numbers still matter. Innovations that pull on the heart strings as opposed to the levers of business value are unlikely to be sustainable or scalable in the long run

How do you see these guidelines at play inside your own organization? Is top leadership committed to openly supporting new ideas? Are those who see the world differently perceived as liabilities or assets? What are you doing to keep these change agents engaged and motivated? Does your group operate on emotional or sound business foundations? Harness the power of the intrapreneur!

 

Know the Customer Before Business Planning

Previously, I have referenced the column from Inc.com on “Herding Gazelles,” written by Karl Stark & Bill Stewart. These guys have a consultancy that works with businesses on strategy as it relates to attracting investment. Their contributions to Inc are well thought out and I enjoyed this morning’s edition:

We have been working with an early-stage enterprise tech company to help them get their product to market. We recently gathered to watch their first customer installation. They were naively fearless–they knew things would go wrong, but they didn’t know what or how severe the problems would be.

No one, however, expected the install to go as badly as it did. If there was a feature that could be broken, it was. If there was a process that could be challenged by the new technology, it was. If there was a remote possibility that some network setting would cause chaos, it did.

All the testing they did in advance didn’t prepare them for “real” users. The tech team was at first horrified by the volume and severity of the challenges they experienced. But then something amazing happened. They showed us exactly why we are excited about their potential.

They took a deep breath, stopped trying to gloss over the challenges, and instead embraced their flaws. They encouraged users to try to break things. They feverishly took notes as they learned what they needed to do better.Customer insight wordle

The customer wasn’t scared off by the bugs because our client had prepared them for possible issues. The team was honest about where the problems were, but more importantly, they showed the customer their resolve to learn everything that they could to develop a great product. The customer’s attitude actually shifted from tolerance to excitement as they realized the system was going to be refined beyond just fixing flaws and that they were going to be a part of designing a system that they would love to use.

The tech company accepted that they didn’t know it all and eagerly solicited feedback from the customer. The experience gave them the best free product development input they could ever expect.

We thought to our own client experiences, and the experiences our other clients have with their customers. If we can all listen to customers as openly as this tech start-up did, we will not only build great products and services, but we will forge the sort of lasting relationships that most companies seek.

When developing new products and services, it’s good to trust your intuition and your internal expertise–to a point. But when an opportunity to learn from a real live customer presents itself, you need to be all ears. You can’t possibly know it all if you don’t recognize the wisdom of others.

What is recommended here echoes what I am sharing with entrepreneurs on a recurring basis: until you fully understand the needs of your (target) customer, you are fooling yourself as to the viability of your business model. Taking the time to first identify target market segments, then messaging appropriate to each, followed by testing your proof of concept in an effort to revise your offerings is Business 101.

We are passionate about the need to understand how your target buyer thinks, what is important to them, and how you can produce something that they perceive as highly valuable. Asking is a great start! Slowing down from product or service development, let alone ongoing business operations, and asking yourself tough questions requires discipline and commitment. Kudos to those who are strategic enough to realize the potential compound payback on the investment!