4 Reasons Cross-Generational Startups Rock
When I started Sixty and Me, I had a vision. I wanted to help women over 60 to live independent, healthy and happy lives. After spending most of my life in corporate communications, I was confident that I could find the words to inspire my audience. But, as I looked at what it would take to really get the business off the ground, I saw some big gaps.
For starters, I was missing a few key technical skills such as video editing and website management. In addition, while I had significant business experience, I wasn’t particularly interested in managing the operational side of the business – setting up a company, dealing with contracts and the like. Fortunately, my son believed in Sixty and Me and agreed to work with me to bring it to life. Each of us brought unique skills and experiences to the table and, together, we brought Sixty and Me to life.
My experience with Sixty and Me convinced me that cross-generational partnerships can address many of the common issues that people over 50 have when they set out to start a business. Here are a few of the benefits of cross-generational collaborations.
Finding Complementary Skills
Setting up a new business requires a diverse set of skills. From research and product development to marketing and operations, founders need to wear a lot of hats. As I argued previously, cross-functional experience is actually one of the characteristics that older entrepreneurs have working in their favor. At the same time, no matter how much experience you have, you can’t do everything yourself.
One option is to hire all of the specialists that you need to start your business. But, as many older entrepreneurs have found out the hard way, getting funding for your business after 50 is challenging.
The other option, and the one that I took, is to find people that you trust to partner with. In my case, I found partners in my immediate family, but, there is no reason that you couldn’t do the same thing with your family, friends or people that you have worked with in the past.
Finding Funding Together
When I talk to older entrepreneurs, they say that one of the biggest challenges with starting a business after 50 is finding the money to get their new venture off the ground. Part of this challenge stems from false stereotypes that VCs have about mature founders, but, that’s a topic for another article.
Another benefit of partnering with people from other generations is that you can find creative financing solutions together. This could involve sharing the costs directly, with each party putting in their share of start-up capital. Or, it could involve leveraging each other’s network to find 3rd party sources of money to get your project off the ground.
We can’t change people’s subconscious perceptions, but, we can use them to our advantage. To a VC or bank, the combination of youth and experience may actually be ideal as long as your product idea is also strong.
Benefiting from Differences in Perspective
Each of us has a unique way of looking at the world. Our perspectives are shaped by our experiences, personalities and values. One of the challenges of starting a company by yourself is that it is easy to get tunnel vision. How many new businesses are based on false assumptions? How many good ideas see the light of day because we cannot see a problem from multiple perspectives?
Cross-generational partnerships allow us to benefit from multiple perspectives. They help us to avoid bad ideas and generate innovative solutions to old problems. Younger entrepreneurs may be more up to date on the latest technology trends, but, we can help to put these trends into perspective.
Keeping Each Other Motivated
The road to start up success is long and lonely. One of the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs face is staying motivated. This is especially true for older entrepreneurs, who tend to be impatient to see results. With less time ahead of them to make mistakes, they want everything to happen on an accelerated schedule. Unfortunately, businesses rarely achieve overnight success. As Nick Woodman, founder of GoPro said, his business “was a classic 10 year overnight success.”
Having a team from the beginning helps you to stay motivated and focused. Together, you can celebrate the successes and help each other to bounce back from the setbacks. You can remind each other of the big picture, when each day seems to be all about the boring little details. Together, you can accomplish more than any of you could have as individuals.
A Word of Caution
While there are many benefits to cross-generational partnerships, there are also plenty of things that can go wrong. This is especially true when friends and family are involved.
My advice is to take the time upfront to make sure that everyone’s expectations are aligned. Work with a lawyer to formalize the financial terms of any partnership, including ownership, stock option vesting and roles and responsibilities. As the old saying goes, it’s best to hope for the best and plan for the worst.
That warning out of the way, cross-generational partnerships are a powerful option for older entrepreneurs. They offer the opportunity to build a team with complementary skills. They open up new financing options. Perhaps most importantly, they connect us with people that can enhance our perspective, while keeping us motivated on the long road to startup success.
Have you participated in a cross-generational partnership? What was your experience? What advice would you give to others who are considering doing the same? Please add your thoughts and questions in the comments section below.