Silicon Valley has seriously skewed our perceptions of what it means to start your own business. When someone says ‘entrepreneur’ now, we immediately think of either a frat-house ‘bro’ (Travis Kalanick comes to mind) or a full-on tech nerd starting the business from their mum’s basement (take your pick).
Two quite different stereotypes there, but do they have one critical thing in common. They’re both young.
Like most stereotypes, these are largely unfounded. Most start-ups are not tech businesses, and very few successful entrepreneurs are still wet behind the ears. In fact, according to a leaked presentation from the US National Bureau of Economic Research, the mean age of founders is 41.9, at least in America, while the mean age of successful founders is 45.
MT and Vauxhall Motors, celebrating the launch of the Insignia Grand Sport, have compiled a list of over 40s whose success puts paid to the notion that radical change can only happen at the beginning of your career. Most of them are entrepreneurs.
In many respects older first-time entrepreneurs have significant advantages over their younger rivals. They’ve had the time to accumulate experience, hone skills, build a network and possibly acquire a nest egg to fund their project.
Just as importantly, they’ll have had more time to decide what they really want to do with their lives. Not all entrepreneurs come out of the womb with a clear vision of their future business. A lot of those MT speaks with had only a vague notion – or none at all – of starting their own business when they were young. The idea often emerges only from years of experience, and that nagging sense that they could do things better if only they were in charge.
In other cases, our work lives can become stagnant. After 20 years of the daily grind, it’s hardly surprising people seek out ways of turning their passion into their profession, with a third of 40-somethings wanting to do exactly that, according to original research by MT and Vauxhall Motors.
As our working lives get longer and longer (think 60 years, not 40) to match our rising longevity, the idea of sitting in the same place, doing the same thing will for more and more people become as unpalatable as it is unworkable.
Taking the plunge isn’t perhaps as risky as it once was either. Failure doesn’t have the stigma it once had. Indeed, as business becomes more and more agile, breadth of experience and particularly experience of entrepreneurship are becoming more valuable commodities on the labour market. So what are you waiting for?
5 top tips for wannabe entrepreneurs
1. Take some time to get perspective. ‘Acquiring any new skill, whether it’s surfing or flower arranging or Tae Kwando, creates a shift in your mind. That can be the spur to do things differently,’ says Jo Fairley, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Green & Black’s.
‘When you take yourself out of your comfort zone, out of your day-to-day, and do something completely different, that puts the telescope in your hand. You can look down it at your life and at your job and see how you might do things differently and whether you’d want to do things differently. You’re not going to see that when your nose is six inches from a screen.’
2. Think like an entrepreneur. You can adopt a self-starting mindset even from inside the safety of your current organisation. ‘We always think something has to be my job. If I’m really interested in coding, it can just be something I do as a project outside of work that adds value to my work. You don’t have to ask permission,’ says career transition specialist Skye Robertson, who co-leads The Escape School.
So if there’s something that might add value to your employer, go and get it. You’ll also be adding value to yourself. ‘It’s effectively changing your mindset so you’re thinking like an entrepreneur in your own career.’
3. You’re never too old to get a mentor. ‘I was incredibly lucky to have Anita Roddick as my mentor. She kept my passion blazing and taught me so much,’ says Fairley. ‘People are sometimes scared to ask for that sort of support, yet an enormous number of people actually want to give something back. You should always ask.’
4. Roll up your sleeves. Starting a new business is no walk in the park, as farmer-turned-McDonald’s franchisee Ron Mounsey discovered.
‘Be prepared to work hard, long hours, seven days a week, to make it successful,’ says Mounsey, whose 15-restaurant empire in South Wales now turns over £40m a year. ‘If you’re not willing to do that... then I would say is it the right thing to do, are you in a comfortable position now or do you want a real challenge in your life, excitement in your life?’
5. Don’t be deterred. It can be daunting to start a new business at the best of times, but doubly so when you’re also changing sector. Don’t downplay your own capabilities, however, says Phil Jensen, a former IT manager for Proctor & Gamble who retrained as a pastor before starting Penzance-based cake business Peboryon with his wife two years ago.
‘From my time at Proctor & Gamble, I learned a huge amount about organisational skills, financial management, oversight, vision, strategy. Even working as a minister, people skills, listening. There are always skills you can bring across,’ Jensen says.
To coincide with the launch of the new Insignia Grand Sport, Vauxhall Motors has partnered with Management Today to produce Changing Lanes – a report looking at trends of the UK workforce. Visit www.vauxhall.co.uk/Insignia to discover the stylish new flagship vehicle.