This post originally appeared on startupnation.com/start-your-business
Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, “There are no second acts in American life.” If that sentence were true, my wife, Carrie, and I would have never founded a new tutoring business while I neared my fifth decade. But with The House Tutoring Lounge®, that is exactly what we did after a decade of experimenting in associated business models, challenging antiquated practices, studying disruptions in other industries and listening to our customers. It was not the result of a project to design something new. Instead, it was the subconscious aggregation of a quarter-century of experience as a researcher, investor and aspiring entrepreneur approaching his middle age.
The term “middle-age” has a stigma that for some suggests stodginess, status quo and resistance to new ideas. There’s an attitude of, “Shouldn’t you be thinking about retirement right about now?” That’s nonsense. Youth does bring essential energy and imagination to the workplace, but energy and imagination can be further fueled by wisdom and experience (not to mention a 30-year curated LinkedIn network!). In my case, I am thrilled that my entrepreneurial spark came to me at this later stage of my life; my toolbox is much more robust than it was even five years ago.
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I began my career as a molecular biologist before going into consulting. I refer to these as my serial entrepreneur years during which I founded or co-founded consulting companies with varying degrees of success. After several years, I became interested in educational services and founded Chicago Academic, a leading tutoring company. At that time, I was focused on improving the current business model, but in the end, it was just a shinier incarnation of the traditional tutoring model.
The House Tutoring Lounge® was born of a singular spark that would compel myself and my team to blow up that traditional model. That spark transformed this entrepreneur into a startup founder. These are two different things: one involves opening a business; the other is inventing a business, and that takes passion, vision and boundless faith (and in my case, invaluable support from Carrie, who is an immensely successful entrepreneur with roots in the financial industry herself).
Starting and inventing a business is challenging at any age, of course. Doing so as one nears the 50-year milestone has unique challenges that are related to age. The older one is, the likelier they have more life responsibilities to consider such as a marriage, raising a family or serving as caretaker for aging parents.
For me, the biggest challenge of being a later-in-life entrepreneur is avoiding the trap of being an absentee father. I am fortunate, as Carrie is also my business partner, and we share the day building something new together. But our four young children need both their parents’ time and attention. Suffice to say, when she and I talk about the company—a favorite topic of conversation—their eyes tend to glaze over. I have had to learn to disconnect from business when I am with my children. It’s a constant exercise in discipline.
Another challenge is harnessing my energy and passion. I have such a clear concept of what our business can and will be that I find myself racing at full speed. A key member of our leadership team once told me, “You have to stop inspiring people so much; it scares them.”
He was right. Your team needs to have their eyes on the next 10 yards of that drive down the field. It is my job, as their leader, to clearly lay out the game plan to bring them into the end zone.
My challenge is to remember that it is my job to inspire other people to leverage their incredible talent to build something amazing. Inspiration is easy. Not corroding inspiration with frustration is the tricky part.
I am often asked what advice I can offer as a later-in-life entrepreneur.
What I’ve learned is applicable to entrepreneurs of any age:
Offer carrots, never sticks; inspire, don’t demean.
As the founder, I am expected to set an example and work harder and longer than anyone else. But it is counter-productive to use my efforts against team members.
Decision-making can become muddled in prolonged debate, but ultimately, it’s your call.
It won’t always be easy, and it won’t always be pleasant; especially if you are proven to have made a mistake.
Hire the best and brightest
There is a famous story about a popular comedian—it may have been Garry Shandling—who had hired the best ensemble of supporting actors. When someone asked him if it didn’t bother him that others were getting the biggest laughs, he said, ‘No, because all people will be talking about the next day is, ‘Did you see what happened on the Garry Shandling Show’ last night?
By that same token, you should aim to hire the best and smartest people to join your team, and then create a culture that nurtures their talents and expertise and allows them to grow.
It’s OK to be concerned
This is your business. It’s OK to worry; just don’t panic.
The post The 4 Secrets to Success as a Midlife Entrepreneur appeared first on StartupNation.