Who comes to mind when we say ‘the Internet’s next great hope’ (or billionaire)? Maybe a male, age 25, an engineer? Wears tee-shirts, jeans and smelly sneakers? If we were to throw into the mix…retiree, grey-haired, bouncing grandkids on the knee would it be the same? Would it be that surprising to find a retired entrepreneur gracing the cover of Wired? Maybe grandma?
The Internet is simply a means to an end. While the current frontier has relied heavily on maths, science and geeky chutzpah (think young men), those with experience can trump with decades of business chops. Who do you think ran the ‘mom and pop shops’ we speak so fondly of. Is it a shock to think they would go digital one day?
History of the Retired Entrepreneur
Of course, an older, ‘retired’ entrepreneur is nothing new. Harland David Sanders (aka, Colonel Sanders) started Kentucky Fried Chicken when he was 65 years old. Ray Kroc was 52 years old when he started McDonalds (with revenues of $38 billion, McDonalds would be the 68th biggest economy).
My mother, retired with four grandkids, bonds over crazy deadlines, Facebook followers and speaks highly of her developers. She decided at 60+ to start an online business. Why not have a second act? My parents go to the gym, travel; there are no plans to sit around. In fact, often unencumbered with the everyday struggles of a younger generation an older generation has more time to hustle.
According to the New York Times, my mother isn’t alone in embracing the flexibility afforded by running an online business. The AARP even offers a program which “helps people 50 and older learn about business plans, advertising and marketing, and social media.”
The Boomers Have an Edge
In the UK, according to the Financial Times, two-thirds of business owners are 50-plus and a fifth are between 61 and 70. When you consider that having some sort of digital presence is necessary no matter what your business, you can see where an older generation starts to compete.
When you also consider the fact that technology resources are becoming cheaper and more readily available, it’s inevitable that Boomers will want to get into the game. And the truth is, they are ‘playing’ and with an edge, According to Ting Zhang, economist at the Jacob France Institute in the Merrick School of Business at the University of Baltimore: “Older people with experience have an entrepreneurial edge in a knowledge-based economy” (source: Business Week)
Surprised? The entertainment industry has no lack of spirited and successful over 55’s – from Jack Nicholson’s swagger to Helen Mirren’s sass – while often marginalized they are an indelible presence. There is no reason why the Silicon Valley, Alley, Roundabouts and such shouldn’t see a few grey hairs in turn.
If I were you, I’d place your bets on our elder statesmen. I myself plan to put my chips on the Boomer generation. When my kids’ grandmother cashes out I will without reservation be the first to party on her yacht.
[A version of this article was first published on Huffington Post UK in 2013. But it’s still so relevant we decided to dig out and dust it off!]