The winds of change are blowing. Over the last decade there has been a steady rise in the number of women who have moved away from the beaten track and started up. According to some of the leading accelerators, there has been an uptick in business pitches received from mid-age women-led ventures to 15 – 18 per cent from 2 – 3 per cent in 2007. As a startup nation, we still have a long way to go. As per a survey done by Washington-headquartered Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute (GEDI), of the 17 countries surveyed in a women’s entrepreneurship-focussed survey, India ranked 16, just above Uganda. This was in 2013. But even if such a survey were to happen today, India may have improved its ranking by a notch and that’s not enough.
It is heartening to see a section of educated and semi-skilled women taking the plunge, but what is more exciting is to see starting up is no more a youngsters’ game. In an entrepreneurship model, the number of women starting up in their 40s and 50s is a fast-growing segment.
Shalan Dere, Founder, Potter’s Place, started her pottery venture at 45. Prior to this, she was running a small scale-manufacturing unit for over three decades. Vishakha Singh, Founder, Red Polka, an online fashion discovery platform, also started up at 41. She is a shopper-behavior and a marketing expert, having worked in marketing and strategy roles for close to two decades. She thought of starting a venture where she could leverage her domain knowledge.
These two varied examples sum up the kind of ventures mid-age women entrepreneurs opt for – passion or domain. A small number of women switch gears from their forte and startup in an area they are passionate about, while a section of mid-age women entrepreneurs feel it is a logical step to startup in the segment where they have worked for decades and can leverage their network and relationship to grow the business faster.
Remember ladies, as clichéd as it may sound, ‘it is never too late to start up’. Don’t listen to those mentors and investors who say starting up is a 20s phenomenon. And investors should take note that a mid-age woman entrepreneur is any day a better bet than 20-something entrepreneurs because
- They have work experience of decades behind them
- They are well networked in their industry
- They are capable of investing a good amount of seed capital to start a business
- At 40 plus, they are most likely through with early years of motherhood and have independent children
- Since age and maturity is on their side, they are less likely to fail and sink your money
Be it passion-led or a domain-expertise-led venture, mid-age women entrepreneurs face a unique set of challenges ranging from lack of confidence, and attracting talent to raising funds. Here are a few challenges that may come your way and possible solutions that will help you cross any hurdle to realise your dream:
- Unlearn: With years of experience behind, you may think leveraging them will give you an edge. Beware, it may backfire too because the rules of the game have changed since you joined the startup party. Your expertise should marry the ecosystem to have a recipe for success or at least a longer survival.
- No baggage: You may have been a corporate bigwig in your previous avatar, heading a large team, mingling with the crème de la crème corporate crowd, and now you are a startup. Now you are required to travel to prospective clients’ companies only to meet a junior resource to make the first pitch. Many women who have worked in leadership roles find it difficult to adjust to a more grounded life of an entrepreneur. I know of some who would refuse to meet a junior resource or send a representative from her office to meet a prospective client. We all know how that ends usually. Thus, it is important for you to not shy away from feeling miniscule and don’t let your inner self become your enemy. Put yourself out there for everyone whose business you want.
- Clients jittery: If you are woman entrepreneur in you 40s or 50s, there are chances that prospective client may be nervous about signing up for your product or service because they may think age is directly proportional to your drive and ambition may not match their expectations. Hire a right blend of young and energetic people along with senior and experienced professionals to fend away such inhibitions on the clients’ part
- Cross the fund-raising hurdle: It’s sad but true, many VCs may shy away from putting their money into your business because they only know one set of entrepreneurs, – 20 something engineers from premier institutes. The idea has never been a realistic one to start with. You don’t have the luxury to wait for this wave to wash off before VCs take note of this fast growing group of women starting up in late stages of career. Mid-age women entrepreneurs should use their professional network and not hesitate to reach out to strategic investors who are now beginning to look at startups as a serious asset class. They would be more open to investing in your business at a seed stage than an institutional fund. If you manage to bring an established name from the corporate world on board as an early investor, VCs will evaluate you more seriously when you enter the market for raising Series A.
So don’t hold back. It is never too late to follow your heart and chase your dreams. Remember age is just a number. I want to end with lyrics from a popular song by an Australian Band – AC/DC — ‘It’s a long way to the top, if you wanna rock n roll’
Lady do the hard sell
Know the reason why
Gettin’ ripped off
That’s how it goes…
It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll
If you wanna be a star of stage and screen
Look out it’s rough and mean
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)