Younger generations dominate the world of start-ups, but there is no age limit to being an entrepreneur
Suzanne Noble admits that some people think she looks more like a technology entrepreneur’s mother than a tech entrepreneur herself. Her 24-year-old son even suggested that he take the helm of her money-saving app to tackle the ageism she has faced.
Ms Noble demurred. “I’ve consciously made a decision to be the person that’s at the front of this because I recognise that without a marketing budget that was going to be the easiest way for me to [attract attention].” But it is a double-edged sword. “I’ve had prospective investors say to me: ‘We wouldn’t normally invest in somebody like you.’ Meaning somebody of your age.”
At 55, the chief executive of Frugl is one of a wave of over-50s starting businesses or launching themselves into self-employment later in life. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor has found that entrepreneurial activity among people aged 50 to 64 has increased by 65 per cent since the financial crisis of 2008.
Some over-50s are turning to self-employment out of necessity, having struggled to re-enter the market after redundancy, yet Kate Hamblin, of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, says that there is a larger group for whom it is a positive choice.
“They’ve reached a point in their career where they would like a bit more control, they would like a bit more flexibility,” Dr Hamblin says. “They’ve got a little bit of cash behind them and sometimes it’s about having the right networks, or just serendipitous opportunity coming their way.”
After 20 years in public relations, Ms Noble wanted a career change. “I watched my kids leave home and sold my house and had a bit of cash and decided it was now or never.” She launched Frugl in 2014, raising £72,000 in investment from friends, family and professional “angel” investors.
Her app, which has 30,000 downloads to date, originally pointed people towards cheap events in London. “The challenge has been how do you monetise something like that? Although you’re providing a good service, [investors] find it difficult to see where the money is.” So Frugl is undergoing a revamp and is set to relaunch in the next two months to cover cities across the UK and offering more than just events. Ms Noble is coy about how the app’s “big pivot” will bring revenues in, saying only that it involves collaborating with all the big deal sites. “We want to come out with a bang.”
She believes that her age makes her a better entrepreneur. “The biggest difference between myself and a younger entrepreneur is that there are a lot of things I find easy and understand. I know how to set up a company and I’ve done my accounts. I know how to hire people and find services without spending a fortune.”
Louise Chunn, 60, launched Welldoing, her online therapist directory, in March 2014 and is in the middle of testing a new version of the platform. Only once that is complete will she raise her first round of external investment.
“That’s something that is to do with my age, that I want to personally believe that it really can work and it’s worthy of people investing in,” she says. “I think younger people look at me a bit askance when I talk like that.”
She realised she needed investment after a residential training programme in Silicon Valley, sponsored by Google Ventures, the investment side of the web search giant. She spent two weeks with 19 other founders from around the world. She was the only Brit and “most definitely the oldest person there”.
She says there are fewer networking opportunities open to older entrepreneurs. “We’re not all slices of pizza and beer at ten o’clock at night. I want to be a start-up without having to live like a student in a dorm.”
Ms Chunn launched her business after nearly 40 years in journalism. It has been a rewarding experience, she says, and she would recommend entrepreneurship to other over-50s. “I’ve grown an awful lot. I’m out in the world much more. I run my own life. There is no time sheet.”