If we’re fortunate to reach the age where our speed slows and needs grow, then we get the unfortunate result of being viewed as an out-of-touch old person. But it doesn’t have to be that way. What if that’s actually an advantage of later life? What if this period produces some of the next great companies?
Often times we think that every great company needs to be founded by some whiz-kid, college-dropout. But those are actually far-and-few between and more likely to fail than elder founders.
Based on the research of 2.7 million startups, professors from Northwestern and MIT found:
- A 50-year-old startup founder is 2.2 times more likely to found a successful startup as a 30-year-old.
- A 60-year-old startup founder is 3 times as likely to found a successful startup as a 30-year-old startup founder – and is 1.7 times as likely to found a startup that winds up in the top 0.1 percent of all companies.
Never Too Old
We’re not just talking about Grandma knitting you some Winter-time gloves and selling a few to the neighbors. At the low end, we’re talking about setting up Etsy accounts, Amazon stores, promoting via social media, and employing peers to help fulfill orders. And at the high end, we’re talking about full-fledged consultancies and service providers. Arkenea profiled 25 examples of entrepreneurs who got started after the age of 50, 60, and into their 70s.
Many seniors just need help coming around to the technology itself.
A non-profit like Senior Planet, which is a coworking space for seniors to learn digital tools, is exactly what’s needed to incubate more senior tech founders.
Roughly one in five arrive [at Senior Planet] wanting to use technology to work and make money—whether because they’ve gotten bored with retirement or to turn a passion into a side hustle. They want Etsy and Instagram, Google Suite and Microsoft Word. They want to process payments on PayPal, and build a Wix website, and email video clips for acting auditions. They want to open stores aimed at older people like themselves, and launch magazines for curvy women, and drive around Harlem in their own dog-grooming van.Lauren Smiley, MIT Tech Review
They may want to reach their goals even more than younger folks do, because when you get to a certain age, “your horizon is shorter—your dreams become more critical and urgent.”
With a base understanding of technology, I think we’ll see many more senior-led companies emerge.
In fact, I believe that there will be a great tech company started by someone over the age of 60 in the next 15 years. Particularly among the Boomer generation, who aren’t oblivious to technology. I’m betting that person will create a company around a Gig that his/her peers excel at – thus unlocking an entirely new profession for people of the retired age.
Maybe it’s a new investment platform that replaces the government bonds we’ve all been gifted by our grandparents. Maybe it’s some sort of consultancy that connects elderly advice givers with those who could use a nice chat.
Honestly, I think a hit idea would be something along the lines of Grandma’s Kitchen. People of all kinds could hire “Grandma” for an evening and learn one of her recipes (that she’s willing to teach) or just get a great meal from a grandma.Ryan
One, I have so many friends – guys and girls – that don’t know the first thing about cooking or could use one of those solid Grandma’s recipes that bring their cooking arsenal to the next level. Grandmas tend to be patient and I’m sure some would love to share their cooking talents with others.
Two, I have many friends who didn’t grow up knowing the cliche’ of grandma’s cooking – those savory meals that warm the heart. Or think of the many people who are alone in a new city and could use a meal from grandma.
This would be a huge opportunity for grandma to earn some money doing what she loves and I think the best founder of a company like this would be a savvy, energetic grandma herself.
The Need Grows
Even if we don’t see a multi-billion dollar, senior-founded company in the next decade or so, we should still all – as entrepreneurs, designers, and service providers – be thinking about designing products with the elderly in mind.
In America, the 65+ age bracket will make up 21% of the population (up from 16% currently). Not to mention, if you make it to 65 then you’re expected to live to nearly 85 (up from 79 in the 1960s).
We’re an aging population, which means we need to start thinking more about designing for the lifestyles of older folks.
Amazon’s PillPack pharmacy, for example, makes their employees go through training specifically aimed at the experiences of the elderly.
They had to pack dozens of pills into a box, known as a pillminder, while parsing through complicated and sometimes vague instructions in tiny script, like “take one tablet Monday, Wednesday and Friday night, take two tablets Tuesday and Saturday. Skip Sunday.” To add a further challenge, they wore oversized gloves to restrict their mobility and thick prescription glasses to duplicate poor eyesight.Christina Farr, CNBC
It’s this type of training that will force them to design better products for their elderly customers.
Then there’s a company like Mon Ami which connects seniors with youthful friends. They’re helping the youth make some extra money and helping seniors fight loneliness with companionship.
And lastly, a company that I truly admire is NanaGram. Grandkids, once a month, can text their pictures to NanaGram, and they’ll print and send the photos to their grandparents. They’ve designed a product that fits the lifestyles of each side of the market. Grandparents want to stay in the loop with their grandkids, but don’t want to go on Instagram. Grandkids take hundreds of pictures a month, but only have the digital files. This is a product that all companies can learn from.
Many experts think that serving the senior cohort is tech’s next big opportunity. I read this and simultaneously see the great opportunity for a Senior Citizen Consultancy to advise tech companies looking to enter this market.