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Age is just a number on the road to entrepreneurship

By Glenn Burkins
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, an online news site targeting CharlotteĀ’s African American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Charlotte Observer business editor.

Someone asked me recently whether I had any regrets about leaving a job I loved to walk the lonely and uncertain path of entrepreneurship.

Well, that question defies a simple “yes” or “no” answer.

Although I harbor no regrets in aggregate, I never imagined that at age 50-plus I would be working so long and so hard when many of my contemporaries have set their sights on coasting into a comfy retirement.

Some of you reading this column know exactly what I am talking about, because 50-plus baby boomers now make up the leading edge of Americans who are starting new business ventures, according to the Kauffman Foundation, which promotes entrepreneurial education.

Michele Markey, vice president of Kauffman FastTrac, said her observations have led her to put boomer entrepreneurs into three buckets:

• Those who start businesses out of necessity because of economic downsizing (the smallest group).

• Those who start businesses as a way to augment retirement income (the second largest group).

• And those who start businesses because they are not ready to retire and believe they have something valuable left to contribute (the largest group).

“Years ago, entrepreneurship seemed like such a big and lofty sort of thing,” Markey said. “The reality is (that) becoming an entrepreneur has become more achievable. The brass ring doesn’t seem so far away today.”

What boomer entrepreneurs often bring to the table are financial resources, extensive work experience and deep roots in their communities, Markey said.

“The thing that they don’t have,” she said, “is the luxury of time.”

With less time to recover loss, Markey said older entrepreneurs must be relatively sure that they can recover what is invested in a business venture. It’s also key that they go into business with a clearly defined exit strategy.

Markey said boomer entrepreneurs also must be intentional about engaging with like-minded groups and individuals.

“Successful entrepreneurship typically is not a solo endeavor,” she said. “It is typically a team sport in terms of guidance and discussion.”

While that advice certainly applies to entrepreneurs of any age, Markey said older people, because of their experience, might be more tempted to forgo relationship building and networking events.

So with all the risks associated with launching a business, what advice would Markey offer to an older person contemplating such a move?

“The one thing I love to tell boomers is, ‘There is no time like the present,’ ” she said. “You don’t have to look back and say, ‘I wish I had done it then.’ I would say to them, ‘Let your someday be today.’ 

Which brings me back to this: Do I regret stepping out to start a business so late in my career?

No. And here’s why:

Although I had daydreamed for years about a second act, it wasn’t until my mother died in 2005 that I actually found the courage.

Death has a way of doing that. It reminds us like nothing else that our time on Earth is short, and that all we hope to accomplish must be done through a narrow and ever-closing window.

When confronted with my own mortality, I came to realize that failure, for me, would be far less painful than accepting the fact that fear had kept me from trying. I would not be stymied by what others might think or say.

In other words, I finally came to truly appreciate that life is about the journey, and that no outcome in life is guaranteed but death. On that day, will it really matter whether I failed or succeeded in business?

No. Win, lose or draw, let it be said that I enjoyed the ride.

Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, a news site for Charlotte’s African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Observer business editor.
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