Why Start a Company in Midlife?

Why Start a Company in Midlife?


Uncertainty is inescapable - especially right now.  Figuring out a career destination after a layoff and focusing on ideas on how to launch a business are on many midlife professionals’ minds.  While this group of people tends to have the skills and experience needed to become a consultant, others have the desire to solve a problem with a new product or service.  According to the Kauffman Foundation, data indicates that the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America has shifted to the 55-64 age group, with people over 55 almost twice as likely to found successful companies than those between 20 and 34. 

However, the pandemic may have a negative impact on attitudes about risk-taking and starting a company.  Since small businesses have been hardest hit, some people would rather find a job that provides benefits and steady income.  That’s understandable but several people in midlife are looking at this time as their chance to do something that makes an impact.  If this global crisis has taught us anything, it’s that we only have one life and we should live it to the best of our ability. Obviously, it’s a big jump to start a company. Why would anyone in midlife want to take that leap?  Here are a few reasons:

Make a meaningful impact

Many older professionals are highly motivated to make a positive impact on the world. They might be considering the legacy they’ll leave behind and what they can do now to create change and do something meaningful. Psychologist Erik Erikson wrote about the 8 stages of life and in the 7th stage, he refers to people ages 40 to 65. In this stage, they are driven to engage and be productive and they question where they will derive their sense of self-worth. They have an urge to create, to generate a life that counts and this is what compels people to innovate, even when it’s lonely and scary.

Having clarity and understanding the purpose you want to serve is key. It's never too late to press the restart button on your career and create a work-life you have always envisioned. If you’re unsure of what a meaningful job would look like,  I recommend reading Dream Year: Make the Leap from a Job You Hate to a Life You Love by Ben Arment. In it, he provides a series of questions to ask regarding fears, frustrations, and what you value most.

Space for Transition and Growth

Joining a startup or building a business offers an opportunity to disrupt yourself and begin something new. A person’s identity tends to be tied to what they have done in their career and that’s why pivoting is difficult. Building a company offers a way to take on new challenges, a new role, and new skills. According to Herminia Iberra, author of “Working Identity”, career changes happen through a series of small steps and people mostly learn through experimentation and taking action rather than introspection.  Shifting one’s identity definitely has its advantages if one is willing to put in the work and be uncomfortable.  Illustrating the steps taken in order to make the switch can be accomplished through a blog, a certification, or by getting involved in a related organization to gain credibility in your new domain.

Using Experience and Wisdom

Asking questions such as, “How does my experience benefit and support a new set of skills that I want?”  For example, a friend of mine was in media sales and he wanted to transition to public relations.  It’s a talent to pitch skeptical reporters successfully and he knew PR was actually one type of selling.  He searched people on LinkedIn who have a background in PR and learned about Muck Rack Academy which is a free PR certification course. At 56, he co-founded a media company focusing on healthcare and became their VP of Communications.  He was able to make the connection between sales and public relations and knew having his sales experience would translate perfectly. Creating a roadmap by answering the question, “What steps are needed to make that transition?” will lead to a more successful outcome.

Your Networks are (likely) More Influential

Midcareer professionals tend to have a resource-rich network. Why does this matter?  Your network will have access to other people who are experts in their field and may be willing to help you, join you, or be an advisor.  It’s just as important to network with younger professionals as well and to help others and introduce them to others when it makes sense.  Using platforms such as LunchClub.ai and Shapr are some easy ways to do this during the pandemic.

As Emily Oster, a Brown University economist said in the New York Times recently, “A downturn is an opportunity to revisit inefficiencies.” And the coronavirus is likely to cause a much larger version of this phenomenon than a typical recession.  

What if I Fail?

Many companies actually search for people who have created their own companies because they realize they value that type of mindset. As Andy Chan wrote in his Medium article, “Why You Should Hire a Former Entrepreneur”, “... an individual with such a mindset will experience — if encouraged — a push for innovation, which can especially work well for organizations that underscore continuous R&D, innovation and out-of-the-box thinking...The key is that innovation is easier when there are people on board with entrepreneurial mindsets.” So although it might seem counterintuitive, illustrating initiative and showing your body of work is impressive to many enlightened employers - even if the company doesn’t take off.

Entrepreneurship Without the Risk

It’s not always feasible to take the leap into the unknown and start a company. If innovation is something that drives you and you’re currently working for an employer, it could be an ideal time to explore becoming an “intrapreneur”.  Intrapreneurs are people in the company whose job is to promote innovation and make improvements on processes. If your company embraces new ideas and is open to failure, it’s a perfect opportunity to experiment and illustrate how something new could help streamline, save money, and/or increase revenue.  

A few approaches:

  • A Pitch:  Present your idea with leadership as a proposal on why you’d like to pursue it and how it could make a positive impact for your employer.  If you show insight, initiative, and plant the seeds for something that could take off within your organization, it would most likely be seen as positive.
  • Leverage your Company’s Resources:  If there is no intrapreneur program and your employers are not receptive to innovation, find alternatives. There might be training opportunities in skills like public speaking, WordPress, HTML, or graphics, that could help your company.  Offer to give a presentation to others on your team about what you learned. If they have a learning and development budget (L&D), by all means take advantage of it and increase your skills.


Reviewed & Recommended:

Book:  Why Bother? Discover the Desire for What’s Next by Jennifer Louden

Midlife career change – 3 reasons smart people like you stuck

Entrepreneurs Get Better with Age

5 Entrepreneurs Who Changed Careers at Midlife and Triumphed