About Face

Profiting From Experience

Not only is the U.S. work force becoming more diverse, but it is also aging, as baby boomers reach their 50s, 60s and 70s. As a result, experts say, the entrepreneur of the future is likely to be older, more attuned to the older population's needs, and more willing to trade some income for a better lifestyle. An SBA study released in 2000, "The Third Millennium: Small Business and Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century," notes that the average age of a worker will increase from 35.9 years in 1988 to 40.7 years in 2008. What's more, corporate downsizing over the past 20 years pushed many midcareer workers out of corporate jobs, enlarging the pool of older potential entrepreneurs. The SBA believes that, between 1996 and 2006, the number of self-employed workers will grow by 50 percent, in part because of these older entrepreneurs. This growth probably will occur no matter whether the American economy as a whole tanks or soars.

Because many of these older entrepreneurs come from the corporate ladder, they may not be willing to start businesses that force them to work like maniacs in occupations they don't love. Mark Henricks, author of Not Just a Living: The Complete Guide to Creating a Business That Gives You a Life and Entrepreneur contributing writer, calls these people who shun overwork and prefer jobs that suit their lives "lifestyle entrepreneurs." These are men and women for whom enjoying their personal life is as important as making a lot of money, and who set up companies in places they like, in ways that facilitate family time and in industries they enjoy. "The percentage of lifestyle entrepreneurs will go up [as the population ages because] your typical lifestyle entrepreneur is someone in midlife who is burned out, has skills and resources, and wants to do something more rewarding," Henricks says.

Indeed, Jane Pollak, author of Soul Proprietor: 101 Lessons From a Lifestyle Entrepreneur, says, "I'm part of the graying baby boomer generation. We don't want to play cards [in retirement]. We're saying, 'What can we do?'" More and more boomers are finding the answer in lifestyle businesses, Pollak says.

Nancy Peklo-Nosal, who left a travel agency she was working for to start her own business, providing administrative services to other travel companies, is a member of this lifestyle entrepreneur group. She says a major factor in her decision to start her company, Design Travel Management Group Inc. in Arlington Heights, Illinois, was "wanting to work from home. I'm more free to make my own schedule."

Pollak also believes the recent ethics problems in large corporations have turned people away from big business, driving them into lifestyle entrepreneurship. Indeed, in the future, lifestyle entrepreneurs may be more likely to create socially conscious companies-ones that pay higher wages or devote resources to community activism, for example-because they focus less on maximizing income and more on other goals. And because many lifestyle entrepreneurs are in their middle or older years, they may be more attuned to aging customers' needs. "We'll see more and more entrepreneurs adapting to an aging population," Marks says. For example, he believes more small businesses will offer flextime not only for parents of small children, but also for sons and daughters of elderly parents who need more care.

Technology and the revolution in business supplies will help facilitate lifestyle entrepreneurship in the coming years. Brett Schulte, 36, is a former dotcom worker who went on vacation to Mexico's Baja California and loved the area so much, he moved his family there. In the Baja, Schulte has set up shop as a Web consultant for local resorts. Speaking with Entrepreneur from a remote beach on a radio phone powered by solar energy, he says: "Technology is making geography less important. [VoIP] is enabling me to have a U.S. phone number in Mexico." So clients can call him in the United States and never know he's working from his laptop on a Mexican beach. What's more, because Home Depot and Staples now carry products for roughly the same prices as suppliers to large companies, small lifestyle entrepreneurs can source their supplies at the same low costs as big firms.

Second Chances

By the time he founded his logistics company, Tommy Hodinh had already succeeded in life-just by staying alive. A Vietnamese refugee who arrived in the United States in 1972 at age 18 with limited English skills, Hodinh managed to put himself through college. He then worked for IBM for 15 years, first as an engineer and later as a member of the management team. But the whole time he worked for Big Blue, he knew he wanted something else. "I always wished I had the money to start a company. I had experience, but I didn't have the capital," Hodinh says.

By the 1990s, the barriers to starting a small technology company had dropped considerably. "It didn't cost that much to start a business [anymore]," Hodinh says. "A small office cost a couple hundred dollars [per] month; you could get incorporated for a few thousand dollars. I could start a business with my own savings." In 1990, he co-founded MagRabbit Inc., a software duplication and logistics firm in Austin, Texas. Growth was slow and steady, but six years later, the company was big enough to get a commercial bank loan; now it has more than 100 employees, nearly $10 million in annual sales and clients around the world.

Hodinh has proved to be an example to many other Asian Americans in Texas. "I was the only Vietnamese American in the software business [in Austin] when I started out," Hodinh says. "But now, the Vietnamese- American business community is much larger. I came here when I was 18, and my English wasn't good, but the [Vietnamese Americans] who were born here, they're well-equipped to compete in business."

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This article was originally published in the January 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: About Face.

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