It’s not too late to become an entrepreneur.
When you hear the words “successful startup founder,” you may picture a young tech entrepreneur. But even in the tech sector, the average age of a software startup founder is 40 years old, according to a Harvard Business Review study. And for successful companies, that average age goes up†. The reasons? Work experience, for one. Another study of Americans older than 50, who launched businesses in food, business consulting, health, and fitness, found that many use their experience to “pursue their passion .”‡
Whether you’re hoping to launch a passion project, a high-growth startup, or a nonprofit, here’s some advice from people who have done it themselves.
“Just do it,” says David Sperstad, echoing the famous athletics wear slogan. Sperstad is the owner of Touright Bicycle in Little Falls, Minnesota§. Sperstad was a Lutheran pastor for most of his career but always dreamed of opening a bicycle shop—a fantasy he and his father first dreamed up in the 1980s. Sperstad says the fear of failure stood in his way for decades until he finally opened the shop five years ago. In the end, he just had to make the leap.
Lori Volk, who launched a lemonade business after previously working at her local school district, also supports Sperstad’s full steam ahead approach. “You get up, you do it, you work, you get up again,” she says** . “There’s no magic to this.”
For Volk, the daily grind paid off. Led by the success of her signature lavender flavor, Lori’s Lemonade is now sold nationwide in more than 800 locations.
Do your homework. Market research is an important early step for any business, says Beth Shapiro, who volunteers as a mentor to entrepreneurs†† . She recommends starting with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to look for relevant data on your market. From there, try to get a more specific idea of your local area and the resources available to you. Trade groups and economic development organizations in your region can be useful sources of data and connections. You can find out more about starting and running a small business here.
Find your mentors. Seek professional advice. If you lack startup experience, talk to people who have launched and run businesses before. Most communities have chambers of commerce, which offer networking programs and speaker events.
Shapiro says to look for people who will give you realistic, even challenging advice—not just what you want to hear. Shapiro mentors entrepreneurs through the national small business network SCORE, which can be a helpful resource to connect you with experienced business mentors in your area.
Trade groups in a relevant industry offer another way to network and find a mentor. “Find somebody in the business that’s not going to be your competitor,” Shapiro says.
Make sure it’s something you really want to do. “I love to cycle. So it doesn’t feel like I’m selling anything,” Sperstad says.
Sperstad’s commitment to cycling demonstrates his work ethic. The same can apply to starting a business: dedication and work can pay off. The more you enjoy your work, the better it can be for you. That’s important because entrepreneurs rarely work eight-hour days, especially in the startup years. You may work harder than you did at your last job. Shapiro recommends having a long talk with your family before launching a company.
For Volk, the thing that keeps her going is the love she gets from customers. “They'll be driving down the road, they'll honk at me and hold up a bottle of my lemonade,” she says.
Don’t neglect your retirement. You’re likely to throw all of your energy at your new business, but that doesn’t mean you also should toss in your life savings. New companies can be risky‡‡, and it can take years§§ to see regular profits from your hard work.
Shapiro says it’s best to separate your retirement funds from the money you use to start the business. And whenever possible, you’ll want to continue putting away what you need to retire.
When considering how much to invest and to borrow, seek advice not only from your mentor but also from a bank and a banker that you can trust. Both can help you to think about starting a business, including how much you’ll realistically need. The kind of business you plan to start can determine how much cash you need up front. The SBA has a guide to calculate your startup costs, which can be a good place to begin.
If you’re thinking about entrepreneurship or starting a business after retiring, let us help get you started–contact your local Huntington banker today! Just like David, Lori, and Beth, you too can turn your passions into a new career.