You've let entrepreneurship remain in your dreams all these years. But maybe now that the kids are grown and you've spent 20 years or more as someone else's employee, your dreams are roaring to the surface. You're in your 40s, 50s or 60s, and you're feeling the undeniable pull of the entrepreneurial life. "Since 9/11, people in general are not waiting to realize certain dreams," says Kris Zeile, business coach and president and founder of The Coaching Consortium in Barrington, Illinois. "People in their 40s and 50s are motivated to try something new because they realize they don't have unlimited time."
Many entrepreneurs over 40 have already embraced the "no time like the present" mentality. To hear these entrepreneurs tell it, starting a business later in life was the best thing that ever happened to them. It was a blessing in disguise to Ron Meritt, founder of Meritt Electronics, when he was laid off from his corporate job at the age of 44. In his former career, he saw a pattern forming. Meritt would get hired by companies to set up service and management processes. Once he'd get the processes up and running--which generally took about three and a half to five years--he'd get laid off. "I worked myself out of a job," says Meritt, now 49. After cycling through the hire/work hard/layoff process this last time, Meritt had an epiphany. He didn't want to find himself in his mid-50s and laid off again. "I thought, 'I'd better take that leap of faith now.'"
The benefits of starting a business at middle age or older are numerous, says Mel Chasen, author of Entrepreneurship Made E-Z. "After having done so many things, you're able to use everything you've learned," he says. All your life experiences, both good and bad, can be harnessed into starting your business. You've amassed experience, contacts and perhaps even a good savings account.
It was certainly perfect timing for Meritt when he started his San Luis Obispo, California, business in 1998. He carried with him the knowledge of the mistakes and triumphs of his former bosses and colleagues in the corporate world. "Most of the bosses I saw who failed did so because they became more obsessed with company politics," he recalls.
Freeing himself from the worry of that kind of politicking, Meritt focused on his passion: designing and manufacturing portable video and DVD units for automobiles. He got the idea while traveling with his children--he envisioned a simple, all-in-one unit that could be plugged into the car AV outlet. Meritt bankrolled the $100,000 start-up costs himself and has built the company to over $40 million in projected 2003 sales.
While he confesses to having had some serious anxiety about starting out on his own, Meritt notes that not trying to do everything himself helped allay his fears during the start-up phase. "Align yourself with other people and do your homework," he says. "Get coaching from other people--including your attorney--to cover your bases."