Satisfying long-held passions, tapping into industry expertise and finding a new lease of life are all motivations for these older business owners.
Entrepreneurship is often regarded as a young person’s game, with a few years in finance leaving a fresh-faced, 30-something ready take on risk with an ingenious new way to solve an old problem.
However, according to a study of 2,000 small business owners commissioned by Sandler Training, the average age for an entrepreneur is 47 (46 for men and 48 for women).
And with a generation of professionals in their twenties who can now expect to be working until they’re 70, starting a company later in life is a trend that could be set to stay.
After all, if aged 50, you’re faced with another 20 years of the office grind, becoming your own boss might seem quite tempting. So what’s it actually like to set up shop later in life?
Finding a better work-life balance
Julian Patrick, 54, worked in stove installation and plumbing for seven years before spying an opportunity to create his own blog and then company, Stove Fitter’s Warehouse. When he started a blog in 2013, Mr Patrick decided to tap into an underserved niche in the burgeoning stove retail market: DIYers, architects and professional building traders.
His model developed into a stove retail service that offers more than a click-to-purchase e-commerce approach; it capitalises on his industry experience by offering free installation advice to meet building regulations, and matchmaking with trained stove fitters.
“I thought that if the resource was free and comprehensive – and I was ‘there for people’ – then maybe a percentage of them would buy the products that I recommended via my online store,” he says.
The response far exceeded Mr Patrick’s expectations and while the enterprise has proved demanding, overall it has dramatically improved his quality of life.
“I love my work; I’ve taken up surfing, we have a holiday home in Cornwall, and my wife has stopped working and is studying art," he says. "[Now] if I have a week off, the income stays the same.”
Cherry Harker, 76, has always been an entrepreneur so setting up bikini venture, ZwimZuit, later in life felt entirely natural. “Starting a business in my 70s was a continuation of what I’ve always been doing," she says. "I started with a deep litter chicken farm at the back of our family home when I was 17, because I wanted a gap year before I started secretarial college.”
Starting later in life gives you an increased interest in life generally
Moya Connell, The Barn at Roundhurst
Always a fan of sun and surf, Ms Harker spent holidays among a smart set of celebrities, such as Brigitte Bardot and Grace Kelly, in the south of France during the Sixties.
As an active young woman, she was frustrated by an inability to find swimwear that made it both easy to tackle water sports and appear elegant. “I pretty much learnt how to waterski one-handed, with one hand on the tow-handle, and one holding my briefs up.”
Irritated by the lack of progress, she decided to take action. Collaborating with her daughter, Tamarisk, Ms Harker developed bright designs in wetsuit fabric neoprene – a material that’s highly supportive and offers the close fit required for water sports. She generates most of her sales via social media and focuses her marketing efforts on Instagram in particular.
While she occasionally has to accept that she can’t do quite as much as she would like on any given day, Ms Harker isn’t slowing down.
“It's so important to have a project later in life, to keep you on the ball and feeling young. Retirement for me has a negative image – why stop? Why not go forward if you’re fit and well? I don't buy into the ‘you're too old’ stuff.”
Finally realising your dream
Moya Connell, 61, had always dreamt of running a hotel. She had a career in education, and a sideline in property, before deciding to make it a reality. Six years ago, she set up The Barn at Roundhurst, a luxury boutique hotel in West Sussex, with her husband, Richard.
Having a grown-up family and the spare capital to finally set up her dream enterprise, Ms Connell now employs six staff full-time.
While she sometimes wishes that she had taken the plunge into hospitality earlier, Ms Connell is sure that there are advantages to starting a business as a senior professional. “Starting later in life gives you an increased interest in life generally. I’m learning new skills, dealing with people from different walks of life, and facing new challenges.
“You feel new, although I hesitate to say ‘young’ – I don't think I could have done this when I was young. [Now] people take you seriously.”