Startups are the Place to Find and Use Baby Boomers

Richard Branson image via Wikipedia

The buzz from startup executives, especially high-tech ones, has long been that startups are no place for Baby-Boomers (1946-1964) – you must have the high energy and crazy determination to work 20-hour days to succeed. Only the under-35 age group need apply.

I will argue that times have changed, and you better take another look. First of all, the Boomer demographic is currently the single largest, mainstream pool of experienced talent in the market today (76 million people strong). They have worked with high technology and computers for at least 20 years, are highly educated, and highly motivated. Last year, nearly 40% of the total workforce was Boomers.

Most surprisingly, according to a report from the Kauffman Foundation, the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America shifted about three years ago to the 55–64 age group, with people over 55 almost twice as likely to found successful companies than those between 20 and 34.

In addition to being startup founders, like Richard Branson, founder of more than 400 companies and still going strong, there are several other key roles that I see Boomers taking more often these days to drive successful startups:

  1. Advisory Board. How can you beat finding someone who has been there and done that, able to mentor Gen-Y, has lots of connections to people in your industry, and is often willing to work for equity alone? Most actually have the time and inclination to help you, rather than compete with you.
  2. Angel investor. Almost all angel investors are “high net worth” individuals who made their money running a successful business in your domain, and they will mentor your team as well as demand the discipline you need to make your business work. Boomer angels won’t squeeze you for every dollar; they want to see your joy in success.
  3. Interim executive. Startups can rarely afford or even attract the young superstar C-level executives they covet – these people want big salaries, big staffs, and big budgets – who are also known to push founders out of the way. What you need is an experienced executive, who is willing to work for equity, and will happily step aside in a couple of years when your revenues exceed $20M.
  4. Customer service. Who better to run your customer service than an experienced professional with a little gray hair, who is firm but calm, soft-spoken, and credible around your customers? They know how to arbitrate immature tantrums, and lead by example.
  5. Executive Assistant (aka Secretary). Here you want someone who knows the ropes, never gets ruffled, always shows up on time (no kids to drop off at school), and knows that their retirement depends on doing this job well. They have the maturity and sophistication to deal with your demanding executives and partners.

Of course, there are other positions were Boomers are sometimes not the best fit:

  • Leading-edge technology architects, designers, consultants, and engineers.
  • High-travel sales and buyer positions.
  • Retail sales to Gen-X and Gen-Y.
  • Construction and heavy labor jobs.

With the current difficult economic times, when companies fold, merge or cut back, more workers of all ages find themselves in search of new jobs. While everyone around you is snapping up the younger workers, my recommendation is that you think carefully about the job requirements in your startup before you follow the crowd.

In my view, there is an obvious opportunity here for a win-win situation by bringing together the best of Boomers with the high energy and crazy determination of the under-35 crowd. The crowd of Boomers won’t be going away any time soon, and more and more of them are finding that taking another bite of the apple is a healthy step for them. Join them today.

Martin Zwilling , Founder and CEO, Startup Professionals
December 31st, 2012