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The past 16 years have been anything but quiet for Dini Petty, who says she has no intention of slowing down. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
The past 16 years have been anything but quiet for Dini Petty, who says she has no intention of slowing down. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

RETIREMENT

Former TV host Dini Petty is starting a business again … at 71 Add to ...

While the rest of us bumble through our lives, going from job to job and house to house before hitting retirement, Dini Petty’s life has more in common with a dramatic three-act play. Emphasis on the drama.

First there were the early years when Ms. Petty was kicked out of every high school she attended (for talking, she says). Only a few years later she would learn to skydive, get married and divorced, and become a single mom.

Then she went on to pilot a Hughes 300 helicopter while simultaneously reporting on Toronto traffic in her trademark pink jumpsuit. More marriages and another child followed.

As most Canadians older than 40 remember, Ms. Petty eventually went on to forge a high-profile radio and television career including CTV’s The Dini Petty Show, a daytime talk show that ran for more than a decade until it was pulled from the air in 2000.

But these past 16 years have been anything than quiet for the now-71-year-old, who says she has no intention of slowing down.

“One of the things I’ve discovered is that we’re born with a set-point of happiness. If there’s a scale between one and 10, I happen to be above the midline,” she says. “Combine that with my greatest gift, my curiosity, and a lot of energy, and I’m happiest when I’m doing things.”

For those who only know Ms. Petty as a media personality, her latest turn as an entrepreneur launching a Kickstarter campaign for a kitty litter box, of all things, might come as a surprise. But Ms. Petty doesn’t find it strange at all. Not only did she invest in the same product back in the 1990s, before reintroducing it to the Canadian market again this year, but she has always been entrepreneurial away from the camera.

As a 10-year-old she sold handmade potholders door to door for 25 cents. Later, she made a mint in the early 1980s with the Quebec rights to a business that advised women what colours they should wear.

“It’s unfortunate that it was my first real business because it was so incredibly successful,” she says. “At the end of every month, the truck would roll up and throw money at you.”

The success didn’t prepare her for the two failed businesses that followed, but Ms. Petty says she always managed to keep an entrepreneurial toe in the water. Her own mother was one of the first talent agents in Canada, and after working alongside her as a teen, she saw how fickle the film and television industry could be.

Even at the height of her fame, Ms. Petty says she wanted to have a backup business plan. Her family depended on it.

“People used to always say, ‘What’s your driving force?’ I’d say, ‘To feed the kids.’”

Her children are both grown now, and it was her son who turned her on to Kickstarter, a funding platform that connects investing backers with projects. She is using it to help relaunch the Luuup Litter Box, which had been off the market for years. A three-tray, scoop-free system, the box sold more than 2 million units in its first incarnation in just 13 months.

Although Ms. Petty was resistant at first to the relaunch, thinking she would need to go through the rigmarole of finding an investor, her son set her straight about Kickstarter.

“He said, ‘No, mom. This is called technology,’” she says now. “So I started looking and I went, ‘My God, that’s amazing.’”

Ms. Petty is the first to admit she continues to work not because she has to, but because she loves it. Retirement savings pay the rent and allow her to travel. Even so, her experience has taught her that it’s important not to sink too much of her own savings into a business idea – not without a hefty amount of research and caution.

She recently met a couple in Ottawa who told her they had invested more than $200,000 of their own money in a product. (She won’t reveal what it is, explaining, “In case he reads this, because I don’t want him to feel any worse than he does.”) She felt crestfallen over the fact that he had sunk so much of his own money into a product she thought wouldn’t fly. “People jump in too quickly,” she says.

Instead, it’s important to find a business mentor, take it slowly and spend time discovering whether people even need what you would like to sell.

“It’s got to be a product that serves a purpose and is filling a niche in the market. There isn’t a cat owner in the world who will not agree that the litter box is the most disgusting thing ever,” she says. Test-product reaction is important.

When asked if she will ever fully retire, Ms. Petty pauses, seeming to consider not just the concept but the word itself. Nope, she decides. As long as her brain is still sharp and she’s got energy to spare, she will keep working and planning her fourth act.

“I’ll keep going because I enjoy it,” she says. “Visiting these retirement communities where people get together every night at 5 o’clock and start drinking? Oh my God, no. I can’t do that.”

The Globe and Mail Small Business Summit brings together the brightest entrepreneurs in Canadian business to share insights for an inspiring day of keynote talks, workshops and networking. Speakers include Ryan Holmes of Hootsuite, Aaron Zifkin of Airbnb Canada, Harley Finkelstein of Shopify, Bruce Poon Tip of G Adventures and many more. The event takes place on April 26 in Vancouver, April 28 in Calgary and May 3 in Toronto. Click here for details.

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