Ten Reasons Why Baby Boomers Make Great Entrepreneurs

I read both Inc. and Entrepreneur Magazines every month, cover to cover. I also keep up with several popular startup-related online discussions and blogs. Clearly a new “age of entrepreneurism” has been gaining strength for about a year, primarily in reaction to the lack of available employment. The word on the street is “this is a good time to start a new business” and for the most part I’ve found this to be true.

The focus on these entrepreneurs, however, has been highly skewed to a young generation of 20-somethings. For example, I read an article in Inc. recently about a company called Y Combinator which is essentially an aggressive startup incubator in (where else) Silicon Valley. It provides seed money, office space, equipment, and mentoring to about 40 new businesses a year. This is an interesting, even admirable, mission for a company to have. Y Combinator takes a small equity stake in the startup, and ultimately gets it to the point where it has something to sell. It then helps get VC money, or leads for possible acquisition. Some of these startups have been purchased for millions within a year after launch. There was a two-page spread containing a photo of the Y Combinator founder, Paul Graham, and a dozen or so of his “favorite” past startup founders, all young men. Not a single woman and not a single entrepreneur over 30 (Ok maybe there was one). I won’t even mention the somewhat-creepy similarity to a certain famous painting about a supper from 2,000 years ago.

Until this morning I had no idea what my post today would be about, since nothing that happened this week was really worthy of an even remotely interesting blog post. And then I read this article in the Baltimore Sun about Baby Boomer Entrepreneurs. I so enjoyed reading this article, that I decided to develop a list of reasons why a more senior, experienced person would have a good chance of succeeding at a startup.

Top Ten Reasons Why Baby Boomers Make Great Entrepreneurs

  1. Baby boomers have solid business-related skills, honed over many years of performing increasingly complex tasks, probably in several different companies.
  2. They have good coping skills and have developed thicker skins and better strategies for dealing with difficult people and situations.
  3. They have good credit, having owned a few homes, several cars, and put kids through college. This will make it somewhat easier for them to get a business loan if needed.
  4. Baby boomers have more personal financial resources, having built up cash reserves, investment accounts, pension funds, and possibly real estate equity. All these assets can be used or borrowed against.
  5. Many of these folks are either retired or facing retirement from their current jobs, but they don’t want to stop working. They have time and the ability to pay their living expenses independent of their business profits (or initial lack thereof).
  6. They have a large circle of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances among whom they can either find investors or get referrals for potential investors.
  7. That same network will help spread the word about the new business and generate prospects.
  8. Baby boomers generally have well-developed communication skills and can articulate their business goals and objectives better, both verbally and in writing.
  9. They are generally well-read and well-informed, giving them a good sense of current trends and economics. This provides a good stage from which to launch a viable product or service.
  10. People with more experience have a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, how to leverage their skills, and where to go to fill in the gaps.
  11. (Bonus Reason: They can get their kids to work for free, and they have access to an endless supply of interns with their friends’ kids.)

Personally I’m on the younger end of the baby boomer train, having been born at the end of 1960. I started my first business in 1998 when I was 38. Now, 10+ years later, I am starting my second full-time business, and have since compounded my experience to such a degree that I feel well-equipped to handle the upcoming bumps and bruises I am sure to get with this new venture. Imagine where I’ll be in *another* 10 years.

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16 hour days? No problem!

As I was winding down my last project at Verizon this past March, in preparation for starting my new company I was doing a lot of research on startups. I was reading books, magazines, blogs, anything I could get my hands on. This helped me get geared up and stay motivated at the same time I was feeling a little sad as I was leaving a great group of people I had worked with for many years.

One thing that kept coming up in my reading was that successful entrepreneurs work a LOT of hours and don’t get much sleep. A 60-80 hour workweek seemed to be the norm, with 4-6 hours of sleep each night. I thought to myself, “I can’t work that many hours, that’s crazy, I would burn out. And I need more sleep…” Etc. With all the things I had to worry about, that was one of the thoughts that really scared me. How can I make this project successful without having to put in ultra-long days for months and months on end with barely enough sleep?

Now it’s four months later, and I’ve been working 12-16 hours a day during the week, and at least 10+ hours on the weekends. I am not burned out, nowhere near it. I’m loving it. Every night I go to bed with a smile, thinking about all the things I accomplished that day. I get about 6 hours of sleep (I get in some extra on weekends), and every morning I wake up and immediately start thinking about what I’m going to do that day to keep the momentum going. Every problem I solve, every item I cross off the to do list, every page of requirements documentation I write, gives me an incredible sense of accomplishment. I am building something unique and valuable and worthy of my time. The sense of pride and achievement I feel every day gives me enough energy and optimism to keep me going and make me want to get up and do it again the next day, and the next. And the next.

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Jakob Nielsen Approves Grouvia’s Breadcrumbs (But There’s More To It Than That)

Ok so it’s not the most exciting headline you’re likely to come across today, but it’s pretty exciting for me. For two reasons.

The underlying story is that I had a disagreement with my designer, Brenda, about how to deal with a disconnect we were creating when we allowed the user to click on a link on their home page and get “transported” to a page several levels down. I had a concern that the user would feel disoriented by that and be unsure how to get back. (Remember from many posts ago I swore I would never let this happen and I keep my promises.) After some debate about what breadcrumbs actually represent (I lost that argument), we could not come to agreement about whether to display them. In addition, if we put them here, we now have to put them everywhere, which means it changes every single page. So, we tabled the discussion as it was getting too heated.

Later, I started poking around Jakob Nielsen’s web site looking for inspiration to brainstorm other solutions. On a whim, I emailed him about my issue (his email link is right on the site) and a day later he responded, telling me to use the breadcrumbs and providing a solid reason why.

So exciting thing number one is that he basically solved my problem. Given that he is THE expert in web usability, and it was clear that he “got” my issue, it was easy for me to go with his advice. It didn’t hurt that he vetted my side of the argument ;-).

Exciting thing number two is the more far-reaching, forehead-slapping conclusion that these people are accessible. We are not alone. The experts are out there and they’re willing to help us! David Meerman Scott commented on my blog about buyer personas several weeks ago and gave me a very useful tip. Guy Kawasaki responded to an email from my marketing parter about another topic, the same day. Jakob Nielsen responded to my email and helped me solve a critical problem. It’s amazing, and it’s comforting, and it makes my confidence in these people soar.

I want to be one of them. I am learning other things from them besides how to come up with a buyer persona and whether to include breadcrumbs on my site. I’m learning how to brand yourself, how to help people, and how to use your knowledge and experience and fan base to improve the web experience for all.

It is enlightening. It is humbling. And I am grateful.

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Letting Go of the (Bad) Past

I have this tenaciousness built into me that is extremely useful, both in my career as well as my personal life. It also has a downside — I have a hard time letting go of bad situations. I want to keep going back and fixing it, or making it turn out the way I wanted it to turn out. Letting it go feels like failure. My husband says, “Lisa, you hate to fail.” He’s so right.

But sometimes it’s really not failure. If the situation is truly out of my control, then my inability to move on creates stress and negativity in me and affects those around me.

I can be blind to these situations until after I’ve hit my head against the wall a few times, which knocks some sense into me. Let me try to help you by identifying some tell-tale signs, using a situation I recently had happen to me. Without going into boring detail, we were denied a mortgage on a rental property we own outright. I felt that we were denied it unfairly, and I spent weeks trying to fight this before I finally decided to hang it up. Looking back, I now recognize some fairly obvious signs:

1 The economy… hello? This was a no-brainer. All I needed to do was listen to the news. Lisa! The banks aren’t lending! Ok, got it. [Side note – this was not some little local town bank. This is a huge, national bank. Did I mention that I’ve had accounts with this bank (pre-mergers) since 1978???]

2. The mortage processor took days to call me back every time I left her a message. Clearly she was not going to fight for me or sympathize with me. She’s on the inside and she was giving me some not-so-subtle hints that this is not a battle worth fighting. Lisa, you can’t win this. Move on.

3. The reason the underwriter gave for denying the mortgage was unbelievably vague and not at all on point. This is a bank, not some teenager trying to get out of babysitting his little sister. This professional, trained analyst, with an arsenal of tools and high-powered financial calculators at her fingertips, was dissing us without feeling any need at all to give us a clear reason. [I’m still holding out for written documentation, though.]

4. The mortgage processor’s manager, while he answered the phone at least (unlike his subordinate), had no solutions to offer. Twice he said “I’ll look into it and get back to you”. Guess what? Right. No call.

5. My blood was boiling. Anger is a terrible thing. It gives you high blood pressure, insomnia, and stress. Not to mention it’s a huge time-suck. This is a sure sign I need to replace this negativity with something else, even something neutral.

So, while it still irks me when I think of it, I’m over it. Do I stress over the cash flow issues that this money would have alleviated? Sure, but I no longer feel like I need to fight. I just need to turn my sights to some alternative plan. Which I haven’t developed yet… but I will.

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Train Wreck-norati

My experience with Technorati has been anything but pleasant. As a matter of fact every experience I’ve had on that site has been a disaster.

It’s totally UN user-friendly, the pages are busy and confusing, and the blog claiming process is a complete mess. I finally managed to get the original juntopia blog claimed (I don’t even know how) and now I’ve been struggling for a month with getting the Grouvia blog claimed with no luck and absolutely no help from their support.

Let me show you the sequence of this excruciating process, I promise I’ll make this concise and completely factual without any commentary or diatribe. [Update: I kinda lied here.]

Shortly after I moved my blog from blog.juntopia.com to blog.grouvia.com I attempted to do the technorati claim process. I received an error about my URL being invalid, and managed to enter a support ticket of “other” because none of their choices matched their error message. I received an auto-responder message stating they received my ticket and assigned a number to it. I got nothing after that.

A week or so later I remembered I still needed to do this and decided to try again. I entered the blog url and this time I got a different message. Now the site told me that the claim was “in progress”. You can see this screen here:


This seemed relatively normal and so I waited an hour and the same message was still there. I saw the button that says “Complete the Claim” so I thought “Oh, I have to click that button.” So I did and got this message:

To really appreciate this, you have to see it within the context of the rest of the screen. Look at this screenshot:

Holy cow! (Oops, sorry, that was commentary.) Just pause for a second and look at this screen and ask yourself… what would YOU do next? I tried pretty much everything. I finally decided to contact support because I was getting angry and frustrated. So I clicked on the link in the middle of the error message, the green link that you can barely see, yeah that one. (Oops sorry, I did it again.) And I got this screen:

After selecting “Claiming”, I got this screen:

Technorati5
Uhhh…. Hm. None of those seem to fit do they? So I just blindly picked one and sent a description about my problem, and crossed my fingers that the right person would get it. You don’t even want to see the email I got back from them – oy vay! (If you do, just email me and I’ll be happy to forward it to you.)

By the way this was on June 21st. It is now July 16th (actually I wrote this post on July 11th) and finally got back to this again and the same thing happened, and I sent another support ticket in.

*sigh*

One question I have is this: how does this ultra-popular web application survive with this complete train wreck of a web site??? Am I the only one baffled by this? Is it because all the other ones are even worse??? I shudder to think.

In the meantime, my now-defunct juntopia blog is like number 3,245,761 on the popularity list, or the authority list or whatever the heck that ranking thing is they do. Since Grouvia has little hope of ever getting listed, I might as well just leave the old juntopia one up there and hope a few people stumble upon it. No reference to that OTHER web site intended. Let’s just not go there.

[Another technorati claim code: mpvbjge7hd]

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A New Kind of Garden

I used to spend a lot of time in my garden. When we bought our last home, in Connecticut, it had basically nothing in terms of a landscape. By the time we left, eight years later, I had built up a pretty nice set of gardens if I do say so myself.

Lisa's Garden In CTI spent almost every weekend in the yard digging, planting, weeding, mulching, moving things around, trimming, dividing, fertilizing, and everything else. It was truly a labor of love. I also spent a lot of time just LOOKING at the different plantings. During the spring and summer I walked around the house twice a day just looking at what had changed since yesterday. The garden looks different in the morning than it does in the afternoon — it is constantly changing and never, ever boring. The New England winter covered the landscape with snow but even then it still had a certain beauty and mystery to it.

Where I live now I don’t spend much time in my garden. I have one but it doesn’t feel like mine. It’s also fairly low maintenance (although the weeds don’t pull themselves unfortunately). My garden doesn’t call to me. Now my business calls to me. Grouvia is my new garden, I am constantly planting seeds, fertilizing, nurturing, inspecting, pulling out stuff I don’t want, looking for ways to make it look better, feel better, grow faster. Like a garden it takes a little bit of money and a lot of hard work. I believe it has the potential to ultimately reward me like my old garden did. It is a labor of love.

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Into the Fire

Well, things are definitely heating up on the Grouvia landscape.

I sit here wolfing down tofu curry from Wegmans (delish!) and hoping I can get in a good after-dinner walk with my dog. She really loves our nightly walks and I hate to disappoint her.

I can barely remember what all I did this week, it was a hurricane of activity.

Ok, I finally hired a marketer/copywriter, whom I so-far ADORE. His name is Karl Schmieder and I think I’m pretty lucky to get him. His web site and blog are here: http://www.messaginglab.com/. He gets what grouvia is all about and so far is super-easy to work with and knows all the stuff I don’t know about marketing and advertising that is going to be so crucial to the launch of this product.

I also finished all my mockups to hand over to the IA/designer. I have a colleague working with me to complete these, and she will also work on the functional specs. She is AWESOME and she’s doing me a huge favor by working with me on this. I’m so lucky to have her assistance, I don’t even know how I’d do it without her help.

Ya know, I think sometimes people must think I have a money tree in my backyard or something. Of *course* I’m going to ask for as much as I can get for as little cost as possible. Why would someone be surprised about that? That’s the way bootstrapping works. It’s called “negotiation” — hello???

Well at any rate… it was a stressful but productive week, and I got a lot of little details ironed out. There are a lot still left to tackle, but not as many as there were last week :-).

Oh one other thing, Karl wants me to change blogs. It’s a good idea. I need to move this blog to another domain, and convert this one into one that’s friendlier and more useful to Grouvia’s target audience. Yeah, he’s right. And I appreciate the way he thinks. It was a problem I didn’t know how to resolve. Now I do. Just like that.