I’m about to go live with my first ever business in my 40s and some days the thought of taking the plunge leaves me in a cold sweat. Why would I be risking my hard-earned years of saving? Will it succeed? Looking back on the past few years I can see how I’ve come to this point, but it wasn’t obvious at all while I was going through it.
I’ve written down the journey I’ve gone through so far (let’s face it folks it’s very early days) in the hope that others that wonder if they’re too late for entrepreneurship, may think again.
Recognise entrepreneurship is for everyone
When I went to university in the 90s, the dream was getting a job offer in banking, law, accounting or on a graduate training scheme at a massive corporation. Now according to a new study, 25% of university students either already run or plan to set up their own business.
Like many Gen Xers, becoming an entrepreneur sounded exciting to me, incredibly risky and the sort of thing only people who lived by the seat of their pants would consider or young people with nothing to lose. I definitely had founder envy with others who had set up their own businesses, but thought it was too late.
However becoming a founder has changed. It’s easier than ever to start a business with better access to finance, a ton of info about how to do it (check out How I Built This with Guy Raz) and support networks/ co-working spaces and incubators to help you on your way. In fact with a few more years’ experience under your belt, you have more reasons to believe in your business being a success than if you’re just starting out. An article showing that the average age of the most successful founders was actually 45 was a huge eye opener for me. But it makes sense because you have a wider network and a whole heap of experience and intuition that you can call upon. This isn’t just a thing for young people with no financial commitments.
Savour and use disruptive moments
In mid-life many of us are so entrenched in our careers and locked into mortgages and the hope of the next promotion that it becomes nearly impossible to take a step off and think about what you really want. Many people don’t have the luxury of this time, I’m aware that I’m fortunate in this respect. But if and when your life is disrupted, use it wisely. And if you hated what you were doing, and you can afford to take time out – do!
For me this moment of disruption was being treated for breast cancer a few years ago. I haven’t spoken about it much other than the pretty unpleasant treatment and worrying loved ones, but I see it as a positive moment in my life. It forced me to stop and look at what I wanted to do with the rest of my working life which was to build something of my own – something with a purpose.
Soak up some inspiration
Lots of people know they want to do something different in mid-life but they don’t know what. I was encouraged to not rush headlong into anything but to steep my brain in a stew of lots of different things and let it explore with no real purpose (whaattt?). As a massive planner, this was pretty terrifying but I went and met loads of interesting people and organisations (charities, investors, founders, advisors)… and then when my brain was properly relaxed and jelly-like I suddenly got an idea that I couldn’t stop thinking about.
Find an idea that you think you can boss
My idea came to me during a grocery shop. I like to shop sustainably and one aisle in the supermarket was just not working for me as a consumer. As you walk down the cleaning aisle, on one side are the detergents and cleaning sprays where there are some eco alternatives and some exciting emerging challenger brands. On the opposite side of the aisle are the unsexy, plastic accessories - sponges, cloths, dustpan and brushes, bin liners. Why wasn’t there a more sustainable brand that was widely available and fresh-looking? This was where the idea for Seep was born.
I then waited for someone else to do something about it. I scoured websites, shops, Kickstarter campaigns, demo days and there was nada. Granted it’s not the most sexy of products but I thought I must be missing something. Then I realised that if someone else were to do it and succeeded, I’d be gutted.
The penny then really dropped when I figured out that I had the skills and funding to at least give it a try. I’m a former buyer and strategy consultant, exposed to the best creatives at Selfridges, dabbled with digital and marketing projects and I’ve met and worked with amazingly talented start-ups. Weirdly I’d never thought about it like this, I was just so impressed by younger founders with heaps of energy and motivation that I never thought about how they might view my skill set and experience.
Take the pressure off a bit and enjoy it
I’m only 6 months in (2 years of thinking about it!) and who knows how this is going to go (this post may quickly disappear) but instinctively this already feels right.
What I love so far is the excuse it’s given me to seek support and work with my favourite people - former colleagues, friends, clients, family, bosses. I’m also loving that you’re accountable only to yourself, no executive board to convince or boss to ‘fess up to, just your (honed) instinct and a decision-making muscle that you’ve strengthened over time. I’m sure the flip side to this will be less fun when things go wrong but for now it’s liberating.
So, here is my ode to mid-life entrepreneurship and to others taking the plunge if and when they can. Who knows where it will take me but I’ve finally opened myself up to at least giving it a go.