It’s quite a coincidence. Just as I was about to write an article on late-life entrepreneurship, I received a call from my former neighbour and friend, Joseph John, who shared his plans to start a resort on the banks of the Pampa River. I mentioned that this was the subject of my next article. Despite being six years my senior at 67, he’s diving into this venture.
The question arises: Is 67 too old to embark on a new business? This is precisely what we aim to explore in this article.
We often hear inspiring stories like that of Colonel Sanders or David Duffield, who began their ventures at ages 62 or 67, proving that age can be irrelevant. Our take on second-act entrepreneurship isn’t all doom and gloom; it can be both exciting and potentially reckless.
Many retirees default to the standard answer, “I’m into consulting.” However, let’s be clear—this article isn’t about the typical ‘consultancy services’ retirees engage in for pastime. It’s about individuals seriously diving into business, starting new ventures. This is what we refer to as the second act, and that’s precisely why it warrants our attention!

  • Roshan J Mundapallil, Sowmya Lakshmi

The cheerleaders say that it’s never too late to become an entrepreneur; an easy statement, but how many of them have a late start and made it big. Easiest thing to say than done. Now you started to quote Col. Harland David Sanders as an example of late life entrepreneurship. This man failed more than 100 times before he succeeded. He started businesses when he was 64. Col. Sanders and KFC, the ubiquitous success story has been the typical example for a grey entrepreneur.

As the longevity surpasses 80’s you see more and more seniors getting into business. The Graypreneurs (Seniorpreneurs) are on the rise! That’s a fact. The ones who opt into this second act when they’re 50 years or older without a financial safety net to fall back on, this is a perilous journey. Judy Parness, a social gerontologist based in New Jersey, has delved into the realm of self-employment and entrepreneurship among older adults. As I aimed to explore entrepreneurship for individuals aged 60 and above, I reached out to Judy to gain more insights. I wanted to understand her perspective and advice for those contemplating starting a business after retirement.

“I’m not here to claim that entrepreneurship in later years is inherently negative. New businesses contribute to economic growth in any country, generating numerous jobs,” she conveyed. However, Judy added a dose of realism, stating, “What we observe is that more than half of new small businesses end up closing within five years. If you’re retired or nearing that stage, there’s less time to recover from losses,” emphasising the challenges with a touch of pessimism.

According to Judy, “Seniorpreneurs” have two basic motivations. ‘Scholars call it ‘the push and the pull’, she said. “The first type of people are the ones who are “pulled” into entrepreneurship because it is something they were longing to do their entire life. And retirement is the last opportunity to venture out. The second type, are people who are “pushed” into it because they might be out of a job. Chances of a re-employment are grim after 50. Next option is to start something on their own as a way to keep earning an income.” It looks like Judy is not a proponent of “follow your passion” philosophy commonly given to men and women considering launching businesses in midlife or later.

My friend Joseph called me out of the blue this morning. Turns out, at 67, he’s constructing a riverside resort and will be around 70 when it’s done. Despite successfully managing a guest accommodation in Bangalore for decades, he’s now venturing into a different state. His daughters, living abroad with their own careers, might not join in. When I asked why, he said, “I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and if I don’t do it now, it’ll always be just a dream.” The pull of a dream! I realized I shouldn’t discourage him with my doubts. In our chat, it seemed he knows the challenges of starting something new later in life. When my co-author and I discussed this topic, we chose a title without a negative tone: “Warning for Graypreneurs .”

With life expectancies consistently increasing, our retirement years are extending, too. Moreover, today’s retires are youthful enjoying good health. As a result, you may be considering starting a business in retirement to supplement your income or the other reason would be to get engaged. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 42% baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) started a business in order to pursue their passion. For yet another good chunk(36%), because opportunity presented itself. The next category of people is because of the dissatisfaction with corporate life or redundancy.

Many of these “never-grow-old” retirees think their professional contacts, their decades of experience, and accumulated financial resources are an advantage. If you’re contemplating the idea for a longer time, you definitely feel “timing is right”. Next feeling is, “sounds good to me”. Though you feel perfect to start a business, remember you’ve been an employee for most of your career. You’ll need to adjust your attitudes about what constitutes “work” before you can become your own boss. Running a successful business is a different game. Exaggerated optimism is what drives many seniors to businesses.

Expansion and diversification is another tricky situation unless you tread cautiously. Let us tell you a quick story. There was this really successful person. Philip Mohan was his name. In his youth, he built a really successful company. In his hey days, people used to envy his meteoric rise from scratch. He built a biotechnology company with German collaboration and considered as a pioneer. In fact, the company even IPO’d on the stock exchange and came to be worth a lot of money. He ended up selling the company years later for over $7B. Not bad. Philip was 64 years old at the time. Maybe he should just retire or let the younger generation take over. Not Philip.

Buoyed with confidence, cash rich Philip ventured into his second act in an entirely unrelated field. And guess what happened. Unlucky Philip got bitten at the 98th square, and lost everything. Another parallel narrative is about Rajashekaran Nair, a retired PWD engineer who ventured into Hospitality industry. Though his family and friends try dissuading, he thought his professional contacts and wealth is sufficient for a successful hotel venture. In order to complete the massive project, he had to borrow large sums pledging his ancestral property. The hotel project got dragged due to various reasons like mandatory government and local body sanctions and funding issue. To put in a nut shell, he was sucked into the vortex of despair and unable to bear the humiliation, he ended in committing suicide.

Why not some success stories? Husband and wife entrepreneurs Sebastian and Susie went from management roles in a manufacturing environment to opening their own retail home décor and gift shop. They were earlier in Bahrain and after retirement they decided to settle in Kundapura, a costal town in Karnataka. Aptly named Coastal Winds, the store has become known for its unique merchandise, and were able to do good business. ‘We were comfortable with our savings but to engage ourself we thought of starting a furnishing material shop. One of our friend from Bangalore helped us set up our business as we were novice into it. We expanded it to decorative items too.

‘Our children were apprehensive about it in the beginning, but we convinced them about the investment. We explained the risk calculation and they agreed. Today, after four years into business, we are the leading furnishings and home decor store in this coastal belt. Our shop is well known now; so people come from nearby towns to buy,’ said friendly and talkative Susie.

Nambiar had no ambiguity of what he do after the retirement as he was toying the idea of starting “Deepam Consulting,”an insurance consulting venture. Rather than feeling the need to switch over to a completely different field, he decided to continue working in the same field – but under his own terms. He got a young partner who does all the running around and Nambiar did the overall management. Today he employs 14 people at various locations. His company serves the unique needs of small business owners as they explore general insurance options like fire, theft, travel, motor vehicle, and health insurance for their families and their employees.

Few years back after he retired from the construction conglomerate L&T, Sadanand Pai got a call from a young Suresh Hari. Pai remembers the exact day as it was raining and his house was flooded. It was in 2014 and on an October morning. Hari was invited to his house and they had a long chat and that how Brickline Constructions started. Company was a perfect mash-up when they blended 64 year old Pai’s expertise with 41 year old Hari’s investment and management skills. This kind of association have lot of advantages.

A new venture that requires significant startup capital can place a great deal of strain on you if your financial lifeline is at stake. We always caution prospective entrepreneurs over 60 to avoid tapping retirement savings to fund their start-up. It can be pretty risky for their future financial security. If the business fails, your nest egg will go down with it. And rebuilding your savings won’t be easy. Like Sebastian and Susie, risk calculation is a must before one gets into it. Again, better not to venture into uncharted areas. Finally, what’s the point if you don’t have a succession plan.

From the above success stories we have to find answers to these questions. First, decide how much is the investment? Are you going to borrow? What is your expertise in the new business? If failure happens, can you withstand financially? In your absence, who is going to run the business? A start-up means, lot of physical strain too. Are you in good enough shape?

Rajashekaran’s hotel project fizzled out because of the huge capital he invested by borrowing and the delay in executing. Moreover he tried to dabble in a new area where he has no experience. Same with Philip Mohan, though at one point of time he was a successful entrepreneur, later his diversification to an area where he was a novice was his nemesis. On the other hand, Robert and his wife were circumspect in their investment. Pai traded his expertise and joined with a young person as a joint initiative to start construction business. Nambiyar’s Deepam consulting in the stricter terms is not a business, but just consulting and servicing.

We are assuming you have no debts, your home is paid, and you have some retirement income. Spend enough time and energy to do a thorough research for your proposed business. Start with a small or modest investment, and think carefully about what is your minimum level of success and when you should expand. Over enthusiasm and exaggerated expectations may lead you to trouble. You should also ascertain when you plan to close the business if things go wrong. This will help you from throwing good money after bad if things don't go as planned. In short we suggest having a clear idea of purpose and direction of your business even before you start.

Many people have unrealistic goals and figures in mind. Role model may be your previous company. You may not reach the scale and success of a company you used to work for, but as an independent business owner, you have a chance to finally bring some of your own business ideas to fruition.

Keep things simple if you can, hire slowly if you need to. Reinvest any profits in the first two years back into the business (as well as repaying your investment). Then when you're 65 you'll have a nice supplemental steady stream of income, and the time to look after things. If you can, hire a few trustworthy people to look after the day to day, so you can focus on the higher level things working just a few hours a day.

The problem with seniors is that they think they have enough experience and knowledge. So, “why ask anyone?,” attitude. There is nothing wrong in listening to others, especially your well wishers. Lending an ear to others means, you get few tips and advise. Otherwise you miss out on crucial clues. Rajashekaran and Philip never bothered to consult anyone nor they seek advice.

Business is a serious ‘business’. Few people whom we interacted answered that they started the business to escape the rut. Just, time pass. If you are not serious about the business, don’t venture into it. You have plenty of avenues for time pass. Church, temple, travel. volunteering, entertainments, social clubs, hobbies, theatre, reading, writing and so on.

Now, let’s talk about the succession plan. Make sure you set up some succession planning and power of attorney in the event you unable to spend much time on the business. Your children may be working in a different sector, or in a different location or abroad. Few seniors, may force the children to stay back or force them to quit and join the business. We are against this tendency; we ask you to set them free and allow them to follow their passion. What is the guarantee that they run the show with the same enthusiasm? Since it is an inherited legacy, many children take it for granted. A succession plan may not always, include next generation.

Starting and running a business is not a cakewalk for any entrepreneur, young or old. If you have health issues, you should assess them honestly before you venture out to a business. Like a young person, even if you want, you cannot work. So depending upon your physical condition and age related ‘conditions’, evaluate how far you can stretch. Too much strain, emotional and physical, can impact your health. So before diving in, make sure you’re in good enough shape to keep up with the demands and that you won’t push yourself too hard.

As a grey entrepreneur (Graypreneur), time is not your ally. You won’t have as many years left for course correction as compared to someone younger — and the journey is expected to have unpleasant surprises and mistakes. You also won’t have decades to grow your business, unlike someone in their forties. A realistic approach is to avoid exaggerated optimism and accept that success isn’t guaranteed. Once you have this realisation, you are more cautious in every step.
Key takeaway – you’re never too old…if you tread lightly and carefully.