Celebrating the people behind British small businesses
 

Maturepreneurs: starting a business when you’re over 50

Last week we spoke to some awesome young entrepreneurs – but this week it’s time for a shout-out to some maturepreneurs: those over fifty who’ve started up their own businesses.

There are tons of reasons why starting a business later in life can be a great idea. You might have more time, your kids have probably flown the nest, you know what your passions are and most likely have a whole bunch of useful experience. Here are three brilliant maturepreneurs who are giving the UK small business scene a kick up the proverbial:

The fashion innovator: Sally Allen of Wizard Jeans, started at 50

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Sally Allen started up her business, Wizard Jeans, after talking to family and friends about the difficulty of finding stylish jeans that flattered the figure – so she decided to sell them herself! She’s no stranger to entrepreneurship, having run a boat business in Barbados in the 80s, and definitely knows her stuff.

Have you encountered any prejudice?

Loads! After I ran my boat business in Barbados for 3 years in the early 1980s (also with great difficulty because I was a woman on my own), I returned to the UK and became Financial Controller for the National Cricket Association at Lord’s Cricket Ground – a tight male preserve.

Things have thankfully changed a lot now, and it is much easier for women than it used to be. However, I do feel that a considerable number of men are still nervous around women in business.

What’s been the hardest thing so far?

The Government’s lack of support and the economy. When I started I had my jeans made in China, but I always wanted to produce a UK product. Now we manufacturer Wizard Jeans in the UK but it took me over a year to find someone, and we got absolutely no help in any respect from the Government, despite them always saying that they help small businesses. Sadly I have never ever seen any evidence of it, and I have asked and asked. The internet side of my Wizard Jeans business is working well but the trade side is abysmal and boutiques are still closing down every day – although the Government says things are getting better. Clearly they have not asked small businesses on any high street in the UK.

What do your friends/family think about your business?

All my family from my grandmother onwards have been keen on running their own businesses and my brother runs a very successful international design company specialising in banks. My husband is also a retired international businessman. So they are all extremely supportive – and they all wear Wizard Jeans!

Can you give us some tips for other entrepreneurs?

Never ever give up. Every time you get a body blow you just have to learn from it and keep going. Learn from your mistakes and move on – don’t let it fester in your mind, as you need to be clear-headed at all times. You have to want it more than anything, otherwise you will give up too easily.

The technology whiz: William Agush, CEO and Founder, Shuttersong, 58

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Shuttersong is a new app that we in the SBH office can’t get enough of – it lets you combine an image with up to fifteen seconds of noise, whether that be a song, a giggle, or a message. This is William’s third attempt at a technology business, and if the app is anything to go by the lessons learned in previous ventures is paying off big time. Find them on Twitter to keep up to date with the developments!

What were your previous business experiences?

My first business venture was back in 1975 after leaving Rochester Institute of Technology where I studied Photographic Science. I tried to use computers and networking to manage the quality control of film processing labs. While the idea was well received, the technology at the time was just too primitive and costly for the business to succeed. My second try was in the dot-com era, when I created a marketplace where people who needed problems solved could find team of experts to solve them. Again, a well received idea, but in this case I started the business just as the dot-com bubble burst. It’s taught me an indelible lesson – any new product needs to come out at the convergence point of timing and consumer need!

What’s been the hardest thing so far?

The hardest thing so far has been raising capital. Despite the fact that the world is awash in investable money, many investors have developed phobias against certain kinds of applications, business models and even where businesses are located. You need to understand what motivates them to invest and how to instill confidence in them. But fundraising never stops, and so I’m back at it again.

What’s been the most amazing experience so far?

The most amazing experience was hearing back from a 14-year-old in our beta testing group who pronounced the app “cool.” But truly, the amazing experiences are plural – from getting investors to buy into the dream, to seeing the product come to life, to watching the download count keep going up. If you can’t find an amazing experience in every single day, you probably can’t be a success on your own.

What hacks you off the most about running your own business?

Nothing really hacks me off, because this is what I’ve chosen to do. Businesses have all kinds of regulations, documents, good workers, bad workers, vendors and competitors. But overcoming the things that normally bother you is essential to having the right mindset to succeed.

Can you give us some tips for other entrepreneurs? 

Here are my tips in no particular order:

1)    Learn how to work with and leverage young workers. They have always been my source of connection to the prevailing culture and they bring vitality and energy to everything. I’ve had more than a few interns become marketing rock stars because I took the time to listen, understand, be flexible and respect them.

2)    Research is essential. It’s so easy to create surveys and get them to a lot of people through Facebook or Twitter that there’s no excuse to not thoroughly research the business you want to start.

3)    Forget how old you are. It’s irrelevant. Be confident in your idea and your experience. Rehearse your answer to the question of age or adaptability to current ideals or technologies and say it with pride.

4)    Never react to the daily ups and downs because your team will start behaving that way. You want people to focus on the longer term and not treat each problem as a reason to re-engineer the product or service.#

The beauty maverick: Jayne Mayled of White Hot, started business in her early 50s

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When Jayne started noticing her grey hairs coming through she decided to embrace it rather than dye it. The former communications director for Boots was inspired her to start up her own haircare range, White Hot, designed for women rocking white, silver or grey hair – and it looks amazing!

Did you always know you wanted to start your own business?

I’ve spent most of my working life in big businesses and made a big change 7 years ago when I joined a creative agency as MD and subsequently did a management buyout 3 years ago.  I went from an organisation of 80,000 to a company of 80. It was not part of a ‘career master plan’ but as a ‘maturepreneur’ I’m fortunate to be able to combine my big business experience with the freedom and flexibility of a small business.  Having done that, the next step has been to launch our haircare brand, White Hot.

Have you encountered any prejudice?

I’ve never encountered any prejudice in business. Younger women tell me that sometimes they feel they are underestimated and I advise them that in my experience that can be very useful, particularly in negotiations!

What hacks you off the most?

Nothing hacks me off – it’s probably the best fun I’ve had in my whole working life.  The only small thing is the assumption from some people that as I am now running my own business rather than having a ‘big corporate job’, I must be free to pop out for coffee or lunch at the drop of a hat – sadly not true!

What do friends/family think?

My friends and family are very supportive and are constantly on the lookout for women with grey hair to ‘greydar’.  They all carry our ‘greydar’ cards and are constantly accosting lovely grey-haired women telling them their hair looks great and they should join our community!

Tips for Entrepreneurs

Don’t try to come up with something purely to enable you to make money. Start from a burning passion and an idea that you just can’t shake out of your mind.  Don’t tell yourself that if it was such a good idea someone would have done it already. Do spot the signs that you’re ‘onto something’ – all your conversations about it bubble over with infectious energy. If that doesn’t happen, it might not be the right idea.   Finally, remember that profit is the life-blood of a business – but not the meaning of life!

The risk-taker: Bryher Scudamore of autodotbiography, 63

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It was tragedy that led to Bryher’s decision to quit her job and start up her own business; after her mother died, she came up with the idea of autodotbiography, a way for people to make their own hardback autobiographies simply through answering questions and uploading photographs. Now her business is widely acclaimed and has won awards, including ‘Best New Digital Enterprise’ from the Prince of Wales Initiative for Mature Enterprise.  autodotbiography is part of Accelerator, the specialist businesses incubator specialising in business development programmes for growing businesses in media, design and technology.

Did you always know you wanted to start your own business? 

Absolutely not. I never dreamed I would run my own business.  I worked in journalism and ran multi-million pound programmes for the BBC, but nothing prepared me for running my own business with my own money.

It was the untimely death of my beloved mother 14 years ago that inspired me to start up autodotbiography, and then it took until 2011 working hard on the idea before it was ready to launch. I resigned from my full time job to work on autodotbiography in 2007 and just weeks later was diagnosed with breast cancer – I felt even more compelled to get the business off the ground because I knew it would bring joy to millions of families.

What has been the hardest thing so far?

Working on my own.  I am used to working in large noisy offices with lots of lively colleagues, but now I work in my office on my own and I find it strange not having the hubbub of noise around me. For some reason risking my life savings wasn’t hard because I passionately believe that autodotbiography is going to make me a fortune at some point in the near future.

The other thing I have found the hardest is selling – I spent most of my previous life exposing crooked salesmen, and so I am fanatical about making sure that I do not over-promise and that I have excellent support for my authors.

What do your friends and family think about your business?

My fabulous husband of 38 years, Paul, has been amazingly supportive.  At first he didn’t really get the idea because he, at that point, had never used a computer and didn’t ever want to.  But over the years he has become more and more enthusiastic about the idea and is constantly giving me ideas.

All my friends have been supportive and this network has been invaluable in running the business.  Some of them have a business background and helped me put the business plan together; some of them are in my target age group and have thoughts on my marketing; and some of them bought an autodotbiography for a relative as a way of supporting me. I cannot thank them enough for their kindness and if they think I am mad, they haven’t said so.

Can you give us some tips for other entrepreneurs?

I was lucky and I was able to get onto the Accelerator Innovate London Business Bootcamp which was invaluable in helping me understanding how to run a business.  Sadly that course is no longer running but Start Up Britain has links to all kinds of support. Be prepared to be lonely – running a business can be isolating, so make sure you use your network of friends and colleagues. Most of all, never give up, keep going, keep focused, and enjoy yourself.  You’re working for yourself, so make sure you are a good boss!

Want more entrepreneur goodness? Check out the rest of our posts in our entrepreneur series!