Starting a business past 50-years-old

In this week’s column, Kehlan attends a startup business conference with difference — on starting a business when you are in your 50s or 60s — and he concludes that age is no barrier to getting a business off the ground.

They say you are only as old as you feel. So what happens when you feel no-one is listening to you, or taking you seriously?

I was at an event during the week where the focus was getting people who were 50-plus to start looking at creating their own businesses. It was inspirational and eye-opening.

As a society, we have a wonderful ability to create obstacles or thought constructs that get in the way of what is good for people. It seems that everybody has their place and that society does its best to maintain the status quo.

In business, what you do when you are young, or middle-aged, or older appears to be set out, or so it appears.

In recent years, however, there has been an increasing need for change. For one thing, there are more opportunities.

People are living longer, families have gotten smaller, and retirement ages continue to get pushed out into the distant future. The number of over-60s in the population will have grown by 50% by 2050.

That’s why we need to start to encourage the over-50s in from the cold. And there is no doubt in terms of business startups that the older cohorts of the population are out in the cold.

The overriding impression from the evening seminar I attended was that the over 50s have no idea where to start in getting a new business on the road.

Many people at the gathering had long held salaried jobs and felt overwhelmed about just where to start with their new business idea.

One of the speakers at the evening was John Brophy from Carrig Solutions. Mr Brophy had started out on his business journey in his mid-50s.

His advice was blunt: “You just have go and do it. People will look at you funny and tell you to relax and just take the pension or the retirement plan.

"It won’t be enough for you. When you have an idea or something that you feel passionate about, you won’t be able to stop those voices in your head till you at least try. It’ll gnaw at you till you do something about it.”

And Mr Brophy said that was the crux of the problem for a lot of people. You just have to do it. No-one else can make it happen. You have to do it, he said.

The older attendees at the gathering were also frustrated by the jargon now commonly used in business. They had little time for acronyms, such as USPs, VCs or awful phrases commonly used by many business commentators such ‘thinking outside the box’.

“Talk to us like people”, one woman said to me at the meeting. “We’re getting old. We don’t have time to stop to try and figure out what something means. If you want us to understand something, then talk.”

Social media was another big talking point. Áine Cuddihy from Limerick talked about how she has used social media to grow her business, the Mini Cake Company.

“It’s where all my customers are, so I have to use it. That was great for me because it made me go out of my comfort zone and make it work for me.

"We have over 2,500 Facebook followers, and it’s growing. When they find out my age they think it’s even better. They trust me to do a great job, like I’m their mammy or something.

“I started out because my husband’s business went under in the recession. Retirement got taken off the table for us. I went out, did what I loved and now people are coming to me. I love to bake and make things that make other people happy. People respond to that,” she said.

They say the surefire way to keep you alive is to do something that scares you. Well at over 50 you’re never too old to start something new, never too old to make that idea a reality.


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