Success at Any Age

If you’re looking for excuses for
not pursuing your dream, just count
the candles on your birthday cake. Of
course, there will always be plenty of
reasons for not following through. But
ask successful entrepreneurs what’s
the right age for launching a business,
and they’ll say: right now.

Your age (whatever it is) can work in your
favor, says Jean Biri, author of a blog on early
stage entrepreneurship. “It’s never too early.
Youth allows mental flexibility and a fresh
perspective,” says Biri, whose small-business
consultancy, Groupe Bire, advises small businesses
on strategy, marketing and branding.
“And it’s never too late. Mature self-starters
have an edge in minimizing risk and in
being taken seriously by investors, lenders,
customers and other stakeholders who
value experience.”

Still scared? Good. “Fear, anxiety and stress are universal to all ages. I don’t believe a business can survive
without them,” says Don Bracken, author of Career of Gold, a primer for starting a new business or career after
age 50. He should know. Now 70, Bracken recently launched his own company, History Publishing.

“Fear of the unknown is natural. If you don’t have that, your emotional system is on the blink. Dealing with
it is a question of courage, confidence, acceptance of what life throws at you and the willingness to deal with
it,” Bracken says. “Anxiety is necessary to compete. And stress—well, without it, not much is happening.”

Too young? No such thing. Too old? What’s that? Just ask these entrepreneurs.

‘No One Takes Me Seriously’
“My biggest fear was not being taken seriously,” says Elizabeth Frank, who was 24 when she launched her New
York City event-marketing firm, Eye5. “Potential clients felt they had the right to ask my age, or say my business is
‘so cute!’ ” So she took her photo off her online bio and used her masculine-sounding last name.

“Anxiety
is necessary to compete.
And stress—well, without it, not
much is happening.”
—Don Bracken, author

She also made a point to always appear ultraprofessional. “I’m careful about my wardrobe, my e-mails and every
aspect of running my firm,” she says. “Most difficult was interacting with employees—who were often older than I
was. I had the challenge of presenting myself in a managerial role without alienating my team. With the help of a
crash course in interpersonal relations, I mastered the technique of conveying the same respect for my staff as I do
for clients.”

After almost seven years, Frank’s age is no longer an issue. With revenue doubling each year for the first four
years, her firm has grown to six cities. “The first half of 2008 has been our largest-grossing yet,” she says.

Anne-Marie Faiola launched her soap-making business, Bramble Berry, out of her living room in 1998 when
she was 20 years old. From the get-go, she took her company seriously—even going back to school for an MBA
for formal business training. But vendors often joked about her
company as merely a phase. Well, you know what they say about
sticks and stones…. “I combated their stereotypes with hard
numbers,” Faiola says.

Her greater challenge was lack of capital. “Bankers treated
me like a little girl who was playing business—even after I had
grossed my first $1 million,” she says. “But that turned into a
blessing because we have been self-funded, debt-free and profitable
for 11 years. I was forced to grow my company slowly, through
cash flow from operations rather than do the traditional big loan,
long payback.”

Today, with more than 2,500 products, Bramble Berry has a
nationwide customer base, plus a retail store, Otion, in Bellingham,
Wash. Annual sales top $4 million.

‘I Don’t Have the Energy Anymore’
After 21 years as a financial writer for the Dallas Morning News,
Scott Burns was offered a buyout that would have allowed him
to settle into a leisurely retirement, with ample time to scribe the
occasional book. But the idea for an Internet-based investment
business kept buzzing in his head.

At first, he worried about the rigors of entrepreneurship. “I’m
healthy and energetic,” he says, “but I don’t have the reserves I had
at 40 or 45. My fear was that I would not be able to keep a balance
between the new business demands and a personal life.”

But the more he thought about it, the more
he wanted to take the plunge. “The attraction
of starting an investment-advisor firm was
enormous,” he says. So a few months shy of
his 66th birthday, he launched AssetBuilder.
Within two years, the company secured
more than $125 million in business from 300
clients in 24 states.

“Yes, it’s a massive commitment of time and
energy, but it’s an entirely reasonable thing to
do since I never learned to play golf,” he jokes.
“Being engaged this way is far better than
being disengaged.”

One thing he’s learned over the years
is that one person shouldn’t—can’t—run
a business alone. “It helps that we’ve built
a great team,” Burns says. “Many younger
people have the illusion that they can do
everything themselves, but ‘silver entrepreneurs’
know that teamwork is necessary to
grow a business.”

A few decades ago, Burns thought his 67th
year would be ‘a placid time,’ he says. It’s
turned out to be anything but that. “Those
closest to me say I look healthier and happier
since my ‘retirement’ from a major corporation,”
he says. “I am.”

‘I’ll Go Broke!’
Entrepreneurs of all ages share the fear
of financial failure. Twenty-somethings fret
about debt or losing their chance at a high-paying
corporate career; older entrepreneurs
lose sleep at the prospect of seeing their nest
egg disappear.

Kevin Beardsley was barely of drinking age when he
had the idea of bringing Cachaça, a smooth rum made
from sugar cane, from Brazil to the United States. He
recruited Steve Diforio as his business partner, and
together they created Beija Cachaça, incorporating the
company in 2006. They were both 22.

Bankers didn’t exactly jump on board behind the
college-aged duo with a dream and a drink. “We
bootstrapped our operation by working
night jobs,” Beardsley says. “We maxed out
our credit cards and flew to Brazil to meet
suppliers. We each had several thousand
dollars of high-interest debt hanging over our
heads. We were literally all in.”

But the partners stayed focused. “We
broke down the big picture into smaller goals
and tackled them one by one,” Beardsley
says. “We set timelines. Accomplishing each
step boosted our confidence.”

Beija is already a hit in Boston’s trendiest,
elite bars. “The first seven months after our
launch, we sold 392 cases (2,352 bottles)”
an incredible number for a new brand,
especially since 90 percent of our sales are
re-orders,” Beardsley says. Beija is now also
sold in Connecticut, and the company will
expand operations to New York in the coming
months and other markets next year.

That’s Too Big of a Risk
Money was also Quency Phillips’ biggest
worry. At 28, he was earning an enviable
salary as a senior account executive for a
pharmaceutical ad agency, but he longed to
strike out on his own. But as the primary
breadwinner for his family—mother, siblings
and their kids—he was afraid to lose that
paycheck. “I was a poor kid from Chicago’s
South Side, and I never wanted to face
poverty again,” he says.

Then a friend reminded him of past job
offers he’d received. “The realization that
I could always secure a position gave me the confidence to make the leap,” he says. In 2006, Phillips
launched Fuzion, a New York City-based marketing
and artist /athlete-management
agency, which posted revenue of
$1 million last year.

But if relinquishing future wages
is daunting, think how much
scarier it is to risk hard-earned life
savings. Older entrepreneurs lose
sleep at the prospect of seeing their
retirement funds vanish.

I Can’t Grow That Fast
“When you’re 25, you think you can’t fail—but if you
do, you have 50 years to recover,” says Naomi Fenlin,
who at 50 opened Cosmopolitan Skin Care Studio in
Philadelphia, which specializes in treating adult acne, aging and
scarring. “But I only have 15 working years left in me. If I didn’t do
it right on the first try, I’d be honoring my debts with my retirement
fund. That’s scary, especially because in your 50s you also have a
family and all the obligations that come with that.”

Fenlin decided to limit her risk by making purchases in small,
thoughtful steps. “In my business, there’s a laser for every body
part, every wrinkle, every pimple and every scar,” she says. “Each
one comes with an enormous price tag. So, rather than filling my
office with all the equipment at once—like I would have done if I
was 25—I let my patients drive every purchase. Before every equipment
investment, I asked myself, ‘Does my patient base need it, or
is this procedure just a fad?’ ”

Thanks to her patient-focused philosophy and careful financial
decisions, Fenlin has been in the black since she opened her doors
in 2007, and her business has grown to 100 patients.

Bracken, the septuagenarian who launched a publishing
company two years ago, admits he faced similar qualms. “The fear
of losing one’s retirement fund strikes at the very heart of one’s
security. Those negative emotions certainly battled it out in my
inner depths,” he says. “I had to kick-in the positive emotions of
gain, focus and belief.”

He tallied what he had going for himself: a lifetime of experience
and business contacts, finely honed decision-making skills,
better judgment than when he was younger and the opportunity
to do something meaningful. With that perspective, his
worries subsided.

“When I was in college, I intended to go into publishing, but
life got in the way,” he says. “Now the roadway is clear for this
chapter in my life. I’ve a 20-year plan for developing History
Publishing—and have factored in early retirement at age 90. When
I am 91, I will miss it.”

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