For women entrepreneurs over the age of 50, the odds seem to be in their favor. Recent data shows that the 55-to-64-year-old age group boasts the highest rate of entrepreneurship among Americans. Female founders are on an upward trend, too. Older female entrepreneurs may not meet the common caricature of the spectacled young techie founders running Silicon Valley, but they’re clearly thriving--and with good reason. Middle-aged women are at a time in their lives that’s ripe for innovation and entrepreneurship. Here’s why:
1. We know from personal experience what over-50’s want.
Companies are tripping over themselves to market to millennials, the largest demographic in the U.S., numbering about 80 million. If they can only crack the code to being “cool,” the thinking goes, they’ll reap the financial rewards accordingly.
But their laser focus on the young adult market carries risks. Over-50s hold 80% of the developed world’s wealth, and as more of them make their way to retirement, they’re ready to start spending. And with women making the majority of household purchasing decisions, who better to lead the way in developing new products for the over-50 market than female over-50 entrepreneurs themselves?
2. We’ve spent a lifetime building up our networks.
One critical factor in building a successful business is finding the right people on your team. While a just-out-of-college entrepreneur can hire a headhunter and perform multiple rounds of interviews, it takes time and effort to form an effective group of key employees. Older entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are more likely to have already built a deep bench of people that they have worked well with before and can trust. Drawing from that bench will let them hit the ground running.
Those strong networks built up over the years will come in handy not just for hiring the right people for the job, but also for marketing products and generating excitement and publicity. With a full career behind us and the contacts to show for it, we’re starting two steps ahead of fresh-faced college graduates.
3. The numbers and the research are both on our side.
From Mark Zuckerberg to Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the media loves to tell stories about twentysomethings with fresh ideas building successful enterprise giants from the ground up. It’s interesting, it’s exciting, and it’s dramatic. But when you look at the numbers, these young founders are far from the norm. In fact, they’re actually the ones who beat the odds; there are twice as many entrepreneurs over the age of 50 as there are under 25, and 38% of founders are over the age of 40.
Research shows why those findings make sense: according to a Kellogg study, people are truly becoming more innovative at older ages. It takes time for all of our education and work experience to settle in our brain and trigger new ideas about better ways of doing things. In today’s world, where people are living longer, healthier lives, older entrepreneurs have the energy and the resources to act on those ideas.
4. We’re thinking about building our legacy.
As a general rule, women over 50 are starting to think about building our legacy for the future, meaning that we’re not slowing down--we’re speeding up as we start to envision the finish line off in the distance. Psychology bears this theory out. 50-year-olds are solidly in the seventh developmental stage, “generativity”, of psychologist Erik Erikson’s eight developmental life stages. The “generativity” stage is defined as a time of increased productivity and creativity, as people want to contribute to society and the world around them. Think of it like a “midlife crisis” in the sense that 50-and-overs are ready to take risks and make major life changes--but in a good way, and not actually a crisis at all.
5. We’re pursuing less crowded markets.
Popularized by Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, many modern entrepreneurs aim to pursue a “blue ocean strategy” in which their product won’t have any competition, so that they can expect to capture a greater share of the potential market. With the product landscape targeting tech-savvy twentysomethings oversaturated, that creates a prime opportunity for over-50 entrepreneurs to innovate new products targeting the increasing number of older Americans, a market that is relatively wide open: only 10% of marketing budgets are designated for the 50+ age group, even though they account for over half of all consumer expenditures in the U.S. That’s a huge missed opportunity, and older entrepreneurs are in the perfect position to take advantage of the imbalance.
Keep Your Eyes on Women Over 50
While Forbes touts its youth-focused “30 under 30” list, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the next great innovation will be born out of youthful exuberance; it’s more likely that it will be born out of old-school wisdom, and that that wisdom will come from a woman over 50.