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Older Entrepreneurs Who Fight Fear Find the Bravery to Embrace Hope Research shows that businesses started by older people, on average, are more successful than those started by their younger counterparts.

By Adam Kirk Smith Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Fear says a lot of things, but the fear that rings loudest for many people is "it's too late." Some people listen to this fear and decide to remain where they are, but others are able to fight fear and find bravery. So, what's the difference between those who persevere and those who don't? The answer is found in hope.

From broke to bank.

At age 52, Carol Gardner started a greeting card company called Zelda Wisdom. She was in serious debt, going through a divorce, and she needed something - anything - to find happiness again. It was actually her divorce attorney that recommended Gardner either find a therapist or get a dog to help her through this rough time. She had always wanted an English bulldog, so she looked for the perfect one and found Zelda.

Shortly after finding Zelda, a friend suggested Gardner enter her new dog in a Christmas card contest. Gardner had fun with this idea, taking a picture of her pup in the bathtub wearing a Santa hat. The photo was a hit, and Gardner and Zelda won 12 months worth of free dog food. Winning the contest gave Gardner the idea of starting a greeting card line. Her hope was to bring happiness to people around the world with her greeting cards. The idea payed off. Gardner's company is now valued at more than $50 million, and it continues to grow. So, is following your dreams at age 52 too late? I'll answer that question with another story.

Related: Why Being 50 (or Older) Is Just Right for Entrepreneurship

Five years later, she's a millionaire.

At age 59, Anita Crook started a handbag organizer business called Pouchee. Her hope was that she could provide people with organizers that she found useful in her own life. With hope in hand, she fought her fears of starting a new business and found success almost immediately. By age 60, she was already growing her business exponentially, and by the time she was 64, Crook had a multimillion-dollar business.

Never too late for greatness.

Charles Flint was 61 when he launched IBM. He was an American businessman who took The Tabulating Machine Company, International Time Recording Company, Computing Scale Company of America and The Bundy Manufacturing Company to form Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, later to be known as International Business Machines (IBM). Flint's passion was innovation, which is what motivated him to continue hoping for a better future. Today, IBM is the 24th largest U.S. corporation by total revenue on the Fortune 500 list. It's a good thing Flint didn't think it was too late to do something great with his life.

Finger lickin' good almost didn't happen.

Another example of someone who chased his entrepreneurial dreams later in life is Harland David Sanders. He had a very difficult journey to become the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Along the way, he worked as a farmhand, railroad worker, insurance salesman, country lawyer, Ohio River steamboat ferry operator, tire salesman, and most importantly, as an operator of a gas station. His last job ended up being his most important one because it allowed him to pursue his passion for business and cooking. He opened his first restaurant in his gas station so that hungry travelers could have a good meal.

Even while his restaurant continued to grow, it wasn't until age 62 that Colonel Sanders franchised his first restaurant. To promote his product, he drove all over the country, cooking batches of chicken for restaurant owners and their employees. His secret recipe chicken was rejected more than 1,000 times before a restaurant finally said yes. The rest, as they say, is history. By age 74, Colonel Sanders had more than 600 franchised outlets for his chicken in the United States and Canada.

Related: How Old Is Too Old to Start a Business? The Answer May Surprise You.

Research backs older entrepreneurs.

These are only four examples of people who overcame their fears, but I could name countless others who didn't listen when the critics told them it was too late in life to begin pursuing huge ideas. It's a good thing they didn't listen because research shows that businesses started by older people, on average, are actually more successful than those started by their younger counterparts.

People in their 50s and 60s aren't the only ones who experience this fear. I have seen this fear play out in the lives of 30- and 40-somethings, too. What these individuals don't understand is that there's even more research telling us that entrepreneurs tend to become better with age. A recent study shows that age 45 is the prime age to start a business. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 55.5 percent of the workforce was 45 years or older and self-employed in 2009. Some of these entrepreneurs have been self-employed for much or all of their careers, but others made the transition to self-employment later in life. And even though many of these people made the transition later in their careers, most people will still fall for the lie that 45 is too late.

Most people between the ages of 35 and 55 feel trapped once they have been with a company for 10 years or more because of the benefits received from tenure. This perception may cause some people to believe that the only option available is to remain enslaved to their present circumstances, which is nonsense. They fall for the lie that the previous 10 years are more important than the next 10 years. They settle in for doing something great "someday," and remain stuck in their complacency. You'll know if you find yourself in a career like this when passion and hope are both nonexistent. Without these two ingredients, risk doesn't seem worth the effort, leaving bravery to only be a mere thought.

Related: Lessons From a 91-Year-Old Entrepreneur That Are Still Relevant Today

So, how do you find hope? You will find hope when you have a reason big enough to put forth your time, energy, and money; a dream so big that your pursuit pales in comparison to your effort. You need hope to find bravery, even when you feel it's too late to be brave. To have a reason big enough to take the first step; to have a reason big enough to take risks; and to have a reason big enough to find bravery -- all of these things stem from the perseverance found in hope.

Whether you find yourself just starting out in business, or you've been in business for years, fear will tell you that it's too late, but hope is fear's nemesis. Don't believe "someone has already done this," or "the market isn't ready for this," or "I'm not ready."

Sure, bad days will come and go, and things you never planned for will happen, but such is life. It is only when you find hope that you will learn to dream a little bigger, fight a little harder, and find bravery sooner rather than later. And even if the fear you are currently facing looks too big to face, know that hope is more powerful than fear could ever be.

Adam Kirk Smith

Entrepreneur, Writer, and Speaker

Adam Kirk Smith is an entrepreneur, speaker and writer. He resides with his family in Colorado. Find out more about Adam at

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