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The pros and cons of starting a business when you're over 40

"Age should never be a factor - passion and knowledge should be the main considerations.” Bambi Price - Fifth Institute

After running businesses for more than 20 years, Bambi Price decided to start something new.

That’s when the lessons really began.

“I learnt very quickly you need to surround yourself with a team with complementary skills. In my failed startup we had three people who were all very similar,” she says.

Bambi co-founded Fifth Institute, a LaunchVic funding recipient that works with people who have at least 10-15 years experience in the workforce and are looking to start their own business.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Briefly, what’s your background?

I’ve had various jobs in the IT industry, including running a  recruitment agency and, later, a consultancy firm. About four years ago I decided I needed another change so I looked at moving into the start up world. Eighteen months ago I met my business partner, Michelle Homa, and we co-founded Fifth Institute, which focuses on helping small, scale up and start up businesses connect, collaborate, understand and market their business, to promote their best chance for success. 

One of your previous businesses folded. What did you learn from the experience?

My first venture as a start up was one of the biggest learning curves of my life. I learnt very quickly that you needed to surround yourself with a team with complementary skills. Often I find people tend to gravitate towards like individuals (people who have the same passions and traits) but to work well you need to find others that balance and complement, rather than mirror, your skills. In my failed start up we had three people who were all similar.

We didn’t understand that our offering was not a priority purchase for many organisations and when money or funding was cut we were often first on the chopping block. While our clients appreciated our services,  the companies did not see it as part of their essential offerings.

How did you go from having no business to starting again?

Once we got over the battering that our egos took, we regrouped and decided to split up the association. I went back to consulting for a while, but I knew this was not what I wanted to do. I started attending meetups on starting businesses. It was then that I realised most of the information was focused on technology start ups. While I love technology, I see it as a tool to be used in all businesses, not just something to base a business around.

How did you get the confidence to try again?

I don’t think it was confidence as much as determination. I had run a company and yet starting a company from scratch was entirely different. You don’t have staff to work with. You and your partners have to do everything - from accounts to websites to writing content to marketing. There is no one else in the earlier stage. I wanted to share my learnings with others and not have them suffer the same hurdles.

Your business, Fifth Institute, works with people who have had at least 10 - 15 years’ experience in the workforce who are looking to branch out into something new. Why are you targeting this demographic?

Most people have commitments - financial and personal - and they like to feel comfortable before starting something. Other people have seen something and realise it is an opportunity they could capitalise on to start their own business. 10 to 15 years gives people skills and their subject knowledge has been enhanced with real experiences.

We started Fifth Institute for people to increase their business knowledge, to have the ability to network with other people, to hear from others about what worked for them and as a venue to promote their own business to others in the network.

Good ideas are meaningless unless they are actioned.

How hard is it for people over 40 to start from scratch? Is it harder than if you’re in your mid-20s?

I think starting a business is hard no matter what your age. If you are younger you tend to try anything, if you are older you have experiences that you can draw upon.

What are the pros and cons?

If you are younger you may have less commitments and more time to allocate and yet your business experience might be minimal. If you are older you probably have family commitments, less time to devote to the business but more business experience.

Age should never be a factor - passion and knowledge should be the main considerations.

What advice do you have for someone who is, say 40-50, and looking to take a chance? Should they put it all on the line financially and back themselves?

No matter what your age you need to validate your idea to determine if it is an idea or opportunity. This is a common mistake people make - they assume that if they want a product or service then others will also. This is not always the case.

Networking with others and advancing your business knowledge will all help to get you started on the right path.

What are the most common mistakes you see people make and how can they avoid them?

The biggest thing I see that happens with people starting up is their unwillingness to chase business. Unfortunately sometimes you have to be the hunter rather than the gatherer. If the demand isn’t finding you – go out and find it.

Are you ever too old to start a business?

Everything is moving forward, children are leaving home later, people are starting families later. People are starting businesses later. Currently, the average age of a business owner in Australia is 45. The retirement age was established in 1908 based on a scheme established by Otto von Bizmark. The retirement age was really established in line with life expectancy and would not require much government funding. Now, 100 years later, the retirement age is the same and yet life expectancy has dramatically increased.

Many times people are not in a position - financially, knowledge-wise or confidence-wise - to start a business until they are in their forties.

What’s wrong with retirement?

There is nothing wrong with going into retirement, but think if you were to retire at the age of 65 - and live to the age of 95 - there is a 30 year window of opportunity that is lost.

My sentiments are that if you want to retire, find something you love and give it a try – even if it’s only two days a week. It doesn’t need to be paid either. I think there is more to life than money. Yes of course it pays the bills, but being engaged and interested in something whilst getting the satisfaction from helping others is just as important, too.


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