Business

Retiree startups more often under radar

Risk-averse? Clueless as to what P&L means? You, too, can be an entrepreneur.

Not the hard-driving type who makes the business news pages. Rather, the laid-back, come-what-may variety. Many of these entrepreneurs are part of the first wave of America's 76 million baby boomers who are taking early retirement and turning their hobbies into small businesses. Very small businesses.

They say their microbusinesses are a way to give focus to a favorite pastime, get more zest out of life and make a little money. The best part is they do not care if the ventures fail.

For all their insouciance, these quasi-entrepreneurs display some of the symptoms that drive their mainstream brethren. Their compulsion to escape the restraints of the workplace before they turn 65, for example, reflects their desire to run their own show.

Carl Boast, owner of Peaceable Kingdom Photos in Moneta, Va., was making a hefty salary in New Jersey as a neuroscientist in the pharmaceutical industry when he decided he “wasn't a fan of working for a living” and began plotting his departure.

Against the advice of his financial adviser, who worried about how much money he was letting slip away, he quit his job five years ago at age 55 and moved to a 5-acre property on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia.

He says he is too busy hiking, boating, reading, writing songs and traveling to fit the definition of an entrepreneur.

What really motivates him, he said, is “sharing my pictures to convey the idea, ‘Wasn't this a neat moment?'”

And yet, he displays entrepreneurial traits. He had that a-ha moment many entrepreneurs describe when his wife, Linda, asked what he planned to do in retirement and he blurted out, “nature photographer.”

Soon after, he bought photography equipment, learned to cut mats and read guides like “The Business of Nature Photography.” He marketed his products at craft shows held by his employer, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. He felt the jubilation of making his first sale.

His sales usually run a few hundred dollars a year, he said, though they peaked in 2003 at more than $1,000 after an insurance company bought 20 photos to put on its walls. He also makes and sells calendars displaying his artwork, and he sees possibilities in the 2,600 photos he and Linda took on a recent trip to Australia and New Zealand.

Jan Oudemool of Harwich, Mass., is, if anything, even more relaxed than Boast about his venture. Oudemool, 65, retired five years ago from a job as a special-education teacher and not long after began making decorative mobiles in his home.

Last year, he sold about 35 for close to $4,000, more than double the revenue of his company, Cape Cod Art Mobiles, in its first full year. He is delighted by the growth – not because he needs the money, but because he does not want his creations to gather dust in his basement.

He, too, shows the trappings of the entrepreneurial personality. He calls himself the chief executive, and has named his wife, Sharon, who does much of the painting, the “creative director.” He has a Web site and business cards. And his smart choice of a niche market – “nobody else makes mobiles” – gives him easy access to craft shows, his main outlet for sales.

Exhibit No. 3 for my thesis is me. A former New York Times editor, I took early retirement two years ago and redirected my creative juices at freelance writing projects and, twice, giving speeches.

I do not know a whole lot more about the mechanics of running a business than Boast or Oudemool. But I guess I'm a quasi-entrepreneur like them. I'm doing this for the fun, not the money. I love being (mostly) my own boss and I am even tempted by the delusion that I may make it big some day.

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