A growing number of Canadians are ditching retirement to launch new businesses, with many of them seeing more success in their later years than in their 30s and 40s.
According to the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, people who are at least 50 years old are running 30 per cent of Canadian startups. While research from two MIT Sloan School of Management professors found that the most prosperous entrepreneurs are pushing retirement age.
“Age indeed predicts success, and sharply, but in the opposite way that many observers and investors propose,” they said in their report. “The highest success rates in entrepreneurship come from founders in middle-age and beyond.”
“There’s a very large segment of seniors who have no desire to retire,” John Hamblin, a former Halifax-based technology CEO who has gone on to start several ventures later in life, says. “Seniors tend to have networks, they know how to balance their bank book and they’re looking for something rewarding to do.”
With people living longer, having potential savings that can be used to fund a new venture and a desire to continue working, it’s likely even more older Canadians will start their own companies. The Globe and Mail spoke with three Canadians who launched businesses in their retirement years to see how it’s done.
John Hamblin: The startup guy
Retirement was never on John Hamblin’s radar. The Halifax-based executive spent years as president of Clarke Inc., a publicly listed information technology company. It was a demanding, fast-paced job, which he loved. So, in 2014, when he turned 65, rather than leave the working world, he parlayed his IT expertise into a number of new roles.
That year, Mr. Hamblin founded Startup Canada’s Halifax Community, as part of the Startup Canada organization. He also launched the Halifax chapter of Aging 2.0., a global network of innovators who are trying to address aging’s many challenges and opportunities. He set up his own consulting business, JH-IT Consulting, which works with companies to redesign assistive devices for seniors in retirement homes.
Finally, he mentors seniors who are interested in launching their own startups via boot camp seminars.
While that may seem like a lot of work for Mr. Hamblin, now 72, he’d much rather be working full-time than hanging out on a beach. “Many of us in our early 70s don’t feel like sitting around cutting flowers in the garden or going on trips,” he says.
In many ways, retirees make the perfect entrepreneurs. They have decades of experience working in a variety of fields, and because of that they’re able to identify opportunities that newer workers can’t. They have also built up years of contacts, and many have additional savings they can put toward a new venture. According to a study by researchers at Kellogg School of Research and MIT a 50-year-old business owner is 2.5 times more likely to succeed than someone who is under age 30.
As successful as he’s been, Mr. Hamblin wants to keep going. “I don’t plan on retiring for many, many years,” he says. “I enjoy doing this. If I can do something with a social benefit and make money doing it, then I’ll look at it.”
Marcia Proctor: The travel agent next door
Marcia Proctor is used to changing careers. She started off in law, then went into journalism and next spent 12 years in human resources consulting. But in 2015, seeking a change, she decided she would capitalize on her communication and networking skills while doing something she loved: travelling. That year she launched her own business, The Travel Agent Next Door.
“My husband and I had always travelled and our friends would ask us about our trips,” says Ms. Proctor, who lives in Cambridge, Ont. “I wanted to plan travel wherever I am in the world.”
Ms. Proctor, 62, taps into a more niche element of travel – customizing itineraries with people’s unique interests in mind. For instance, she recently planned her brother’s honeymoon, combining his love of history with his love of music. He wanted to research their family’s roots in Scotland, so she hired a guide who is well versed in Sottish history to help her brother learn more about where their family lived. As well, because she knew one tour operator is a musician, she has arranged for her brother to join him onstage for a performance in a Scottish pub.
She and her two staff members, one of which is her husband (he specializes in golf vacations), handle all aspects of vacation planning. This includes initial client interviews, bookings, personally managing schedule changes and any issues that may arise during a client’s trip. She also travels frequently to check out travel operators and destinations in person to ensure they’re suitable for her clients. She recently returned from a nine-day trip to Tuscany.
Ms. Proctor says doing something she loves makes her work much easier, though the hours at trade shows can be long. She also enjoys meeting new clients and finding out how their passions can be parlayed into unique vacations. “It’s much easier to sell if you’re enthusiastic about it,” she explains. “And as you get older, you have more confidence as well.”
One piece of advice Ms. Proctor has for other would-be entrepreneurs is that you don’t have to know everything about a business going in. “Don’t figure that you need to know it all,” she says. “Take advantage of the learning opportunities – and take advantage of help. Your business will succeed.”
Jerry Puhl: “Uber” for seniors
Jerry Puhl had a long career as a commercial insurance broker. But when business began winding down in 2014, and he needed some extra income to fund his Toronto lifestyle, he decided to augment his insurance renewals by launching a new venture. “Living in the city is very expensive,” says the 76-year-old. “If you don’t make $4,000 a month, it’s tough to do anything.”
With many of his retired friends needing lifts to doctors’ appointments, Mr. Puhl saw an opportunity to drive seniors around who need rides on a regular basis. While they could take Ubers or cabs, many want a consistent and reliable driver they can trust and relate to.
He started driving around a predominantly senior clientele, ferrying regulars to medical appointments and airport runs. “Their kids are working and they don’t have anyone to drive them to the doctor,” he says. “Most of my clients are in their 60s, 70s and 80s.”
His company has about 155 customers and he’s on-call five days a week. “It’s been working well,” he says. “A lot of seniors are wasting away watching TV when they have some good years left in them.”
While Mr. Puhl has always been an entrepreneur, he says, it’s not for everyone. You have to like the business side of it – seeking out clients, doing paperwork – and you need to be flexible.
As well, like any business owner, if no one’s buying what you’re selling, or if you want to take time off to do the more typical retirement things, like golf and travel, then you’re not making money. “When I’m booked, I’m booked. And when I want to go away for a trip, I’m down for two weeks,” he explains.
Mr. Puhl now wants to grow his business and hire more drivers, ideally fellow seniors. “It’s a gamble,” he says. “But the driving has added a lot of flavour to my life.”