Never Too Old to Get Rich.

February 9, 2020

Never Too Old to Get Rich.

May 29, 2023

When I think about what it means to be rich, I often think of something that Dave Brubeck, the late American jazz pianist and composer, who was still performing at concert halls around the world at the age of 81, said when he was interviewed by Hedrick Smith for a PBS documentary.

“There’s a way of playing safe, there’s a way of using tricks and there’s the way I like to play which is dangerously – where you’re going to take a chance on making mistakes in order to create something you haven’t created before.”

To me, that’s a way to live a rich life. I carry this quote tucked in my wallet to remind me of why I started my own company as a writer, speaker, and consultant, and maybe you should, too.

It’s about fearlessly creating something new…regardless of your age. It’s scary. It’s risky. It’s hard work, and most entrepreneurs I’ve met have told me that their only regret is that they didn’t do it sooner.

More older adults have become entrepreneurs in the last decade than younger people. No kidding. Counterintuitive, right? But it’s true. 50+ entrepreneurship is on the rise.

When it comes to launching a successful business, youth is not the magic elixir. “Successful entrepreneurs are middle-aged, not young,” according to a recent paper called Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship. The coauthors refute conventional wisdom, “We find that age indeed predicts success, and sharply, but in the opposite way that many observers and investors propose,” they wrote. “The highest success rates in entrepreneurship come from founders in middle age and beyond.”

The provocative paper may stun some people, but not me. It confirms what I’ve found studying and interviewing midlife entrepreneurs for more than a decade. Boomers and Gen Xers are on the rise as entrepreneurs and the variety of businesses people are starting in mid-life is amazingly diverse. How do I know? I interviewed 20 of them for my new book, Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life.

There are a few reasons an older entrepreneur may reap the benefits of start-up success over a younger one: greater management, marketing, and finance experience, and richer, deeper industry knowledge. Also – and this is important – they may have larger financial resources to tap and more social networks to mine for support in leveraging their idea.

What I’m discovering is that people approaching retirement, or already in it, truly want to tap into their skills, knowledge, and experience to create something entrepreneurial, something that is meaningful to them, and an enterprise that makes an impact on the world around us.

While each new business owner takes a unique trail, I’ve found there’s a common spine that those who succeed share. They typically set a flexible time horizon for their venture. They don’t make any rash moves. If necessary, they add the vital skills and degrees before they make the leap. They often apprentice or volunteer beforehand.

They reach out to their networks of social and professional contacts to ask for help and guidance. They downsize and plan their financial lives, so they can afford a cut in pay, or the cost of a start-up.

At the heart of all of their efforts, lies a yearning to make a difference in the world, or to pursue a dream, or hone a hobby–to live. Different flavors of ice cream, as my sister, Pat, likes to say. Some start-ups have big grand schemes and will require long hours, hard work, and serious capital infusions. Others can be more organic, such as a consulting business or a one-woman craft shop on Etsy, that embrace a part-time, flexible work schedule.

I’ve been inspired by the innovation, grit, and possibilities that today’s older entrepreneurs represent. Entrepreneurship among those in midlife has two other noteworthy impacts. First, studies show that older people who remain engaged in work are physically and mentally healthier. Second, data shows a positive relationship between later-life startups and positive self-perception of one’s aging.

Entrepreneurship is a process. And here are some of my tips to get you started.

Soul-search. You will want to begin with a solid MRI of your own passion and personality, talents and inner drive to start a business. The big questions: Why start this business? Why you? And why now?

Reach out. Pick up the phone to ask for help.

Look under the hood. Research. What it will take to really do this in terms of time and money?

Get fit. It’s essential to be physically fit, financially fit, and spiritually fit to face the stress and demands that will lie ahead.

My book title, Never Too Old to Get Rich, is a tease in a way. It does bring to mind the financial rewards that are without question a huge motivation for starting a business. And that is my hope for you. The title also has another meaning for me, and, hopefully, for you too.

Getting rich can, and should, be also about the inner richness that comes from creating a new product or service that changes lives and our world and gives back. It’s the richness of doing work we love, alongside people we respect. It’s the powerful rich reward of taking a risk, trying something that scares you, learning new things, meeting different people, achieving personal goals. All of which may have nothing at all to do with the size of your bank account. But you’re rich in ways that are intangible and that matter deeply in this journey of life.

Kerry Hannon is the author of Never Too Old To Get Rich: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life and will co-lead a MEA workshop May 10-May 17, 2020 with Chip Conley.

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