Life Lessons from 9 Inspiring Entrepreneurs Over 50
by Dayna Winter Entrepreneurship Sep 1, 2017 14 minute read Leave a comment Email Pinterest Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
Every week, we bring you the stories of people across the globe—Shopify merchants of all walks of life, at every age, selling everything from gourmet jam to lipstick to guitars. The uniqueness of the businesses run on Shopify and the diversity of the folks who run them is truly inspiring.
That’s why we’re tireless about our message: anyone—yes, really, anyone—can start a business.
Recently, we spoke to some bright young people who caught the entrepreneurial bug early, launching businesses before even graduating high school. They shared their unique perspectives and advice for the Gen Z set.
Now we’re turning our lens towards a different group. We’ve noticed a trend in entrepreneurship among retired people looking to devote their newfound free time to a hobby business, or to fund their retirement dreams.
The data supports it: the highest rate of entrepreneurship in the U.S. has been among 55 to 64 year olds, and people over 55 are twice as likely to launch successful new companies than those in the 20-34 age group.
We spoke to nine store owners about the benefits and challenges to running a business after 50. The consensus? Years of experience—both life and work—create a great foundation for entrepreneurship.
Here are their stories and their advice for others looking to follow in their footsteps:
1. Mommy Choi
Owner and Chef, Mommy Sauce
Mommy Sauce was born out of a love of cooking and family. Encouraged by her son, a renowned chef, Mommy built a business of her own, selling her secret sauce recipes to the world. She started her business in 2015, when she was 71.
If you have a dream, start now. Wake up and work.
Her age, she tells me, is an advantage in her business:
“I am 73 years old now. A good thing about this age is that I have less stress in general. I wake up with the mentality to work hard and sleep well at night with ease. It’s much easier now than when I was younger. When I had my restaurant Silver Garden, I had a family to support, and it was much more difficult for me. I’m at an age now where I don’t need to worry about paying the bills or saving money or supporting a family. My kids support themselves. My friends support me. I have more confidence and am more clear about my dreams and goals. I am doing what I truly love.”
What advice do you have for other people looking to start a business after 50 or in retirement?
“Don’t think too long on an idea and let it sit. Time flies. If you have a dream, start now. Wake up and work. You have less to lose when you’re older. Your kids are grown. You should have fewer worries. Have a dream that will make you happy for the rest of your life, don’t live to just get by.”
2. Kathy Dannel Vitcak
CEO & Founder, The Blissful Dog Inc.
Kathy started The Blissful Dog in 2003 and 7 years later, in lieu of retirement, it became her full-time job. Her flagship product, a salve for dry dog noses, came to her at a dog show when she dabbed shea butter on her own dogs, and realized its incredible healing power. She began sharing tins of her formulation with friends and through a primitive online store.
Now, the brand has expanded to 2500 SKUS and her products are sold through her Shopify store and via partners in dozens of countries.
“After years after weeping hot tears of frustration into my keyboard with WordPress based shopping carts, I discovered Shopify in late 2015, switched over and the love affair began. Now I have TheBlissfulDog.com, TheBlissfulDogWholesale.com and TheBlissfulHorses.com each on Shopify.”
Kathy was born for entrepreneurship— she loves to work and stay busy—but she didn’t find it until later in life.
“Retirement, what’s THAT? I Googled it and that’s probably not going to be for me. I’ll let you know. We are actively paying off our farm faster and socking away what we can for that mythical retirement time.”
Retirement, what’s THAT? I Googled it and that’s probably not going to be for me.
Before starting The Blissful Dog, she bounced around in many different fields from fashion to graphic design to the nightclub industry. “It was the 80s in Dallas,” she says, “Don’t ask.”
She found her way into the pet industry in management at two major chains, before opening her own pet-friendly fishing resort. The sum of her experiences, she says, has helped her succeed;
“My graphic design and website building experience has been invaluable. The Shopify themes and experts are great and knowing how to tweak the themes and make them look like I want has been a huge boost. Decades of managing various aspects of businesses also gives me a solid foundation of customer service knowledge.”
What wisdom does she have to share with aspiring entrepreneurs at any age?
“First and foremost, have fun! My only qualifier would be to make sure there actually is a need for the products or services you have in mind. OK, I do have a 2nd qualifier: bootstrap as much as you can. Never incur debt if at all possible and if you do, make it short-term (under six months).”
Favorite business tools and resources: Shopify newsletters and blog, Shopify Product Reviews, ShipStation, SEO Manager, EasySlide, Crush Pics, eClincher, Planoly, Adobe CC Photoshop, InDesign
3. Colleen and Jim Seiler
Kushley founders Colleen and Jim had over 25 years experience in the odor control industry, selling and marketing products to many industries. In 2011, when a friend was diagnosed with cancer, she was prescribed medical cannabis to ease her symptoms. She wanted to mask the smell of the smoke, and came to Colleen and Jim for help.
The result was Kushley, a line of organic consumer products to eliminate smoke smell.
In 2013, in the memory of their friend, the couple (both over 50) deferred their retirement plans and started the business. They grew Kushley by “pounding the pavement”, Colleen says, and introducing the brand at trade shows and conferences.
Colleen often muses “If only I had started this company in my 20s…” citing technology as a challenge at her age:
“I would like to believe I have gained a bit of wisdom from the many years of life and business experience. But I do not believe that it gives me any greater edge over the many young entrepreneurs I have had the honor to meet, learn from, and work alongside in this industry. The energy level is certainly not what it used to be, and today’s technology aspect is what has proven to be the biggest challenge and at times quite overwhelming especially with ecommerce.”
Make sure it is a passion at this age. This is a time to enjoy what you are about to embark upon.
The solution? She leans on her community.
“I am still learning this new journey myself but the best advice I can offer is to make sure it is a passion at this age. This is a time to enjoy what you are about to embark upon. It is also a time to embrace and hire the young minds affluent in today’s and tomorrow’s technology.”
Favorite business tools and resources: Facebook, Instagram, Statcounter, Wordtracker blogs, Shopify blog
4. Renee Brown
Vice-President, Weaver’s Coffee & Tea
Renee, along with her husband and partners, run a hot beverage empire based in San Rafael, California. Weaver’s Coffee & Tea, founded under Wild Card Roasters in 2007 (in the middle of the financial crisis), now sells teas and hand-roasted, organic, fair trade coffee to customers across the world. They also operate two busy Bay Area cafés.
Renee stepped in to run operations in 2015, and has juggled sales, marketing, PR, social media, product development, and business development since the company’s inception.
Her wonderfully diverse resume combined over the years to give her the skills she needed to run a successful business:
“I Double Majored in Economics and Political Science, with a Concentration in French, which gave me a great foundation for entrepreneurship. I was supposed to go to law school but I backed out at the last minute and went to sea. I crewed on private yachts for three years. It was the slowest most expensive way to see the world. Travel opened my eyes to different cultures and ultimately gave me ideas about starting my own business.”
For Renee, running a business now in her fifties is an advantage at times:
“Age allows you to be able to say to people in the nicest way, ‘No, that is not going to work for me.’”
But she finds she’s also fighting against stereotypes:
“There are certain preconceived notions individuals have when they see a fifty year old woman working. They assume I am a Barista or a Bookkeeper. We are in the coffee roasting and tea blending business, with a solid ecommerce business, hundreds of wholesale accounts, and two very busy retail cafes in the Bay Area. There is still a preconceived notion that a man runs the company, and they never expect it to be me.”
There are certain preconceived notions individuals have when they see a fifty year old woman working. They assume I am a Barista or a Bookkeeper.
What wisdom does she have to share with aspiring entrepreneurs at any age?
“Do something you love, have passion and commitment, but most importantly persistence. Hire slow and fire fast. Business is about people, and sales and marketing. If you have the right people and excellent sales and marketing then you will be successful.”
Favorite business resources: the Shopify Blog, Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Bloomberg, Reuters, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal
5. Rebecca and Steve Wilson
Owner / Managing Partner, YourBagTag.com
Rebecca started her business in 2006 when a friend came to her with a question: could she make a better luggage tag? The answer was yes. Along with her husband she built her custom bag tag company expanding to tags for scuba and watersports, and now selling in over 300 scuba retail shops. In 2015, they moved the business on to Shopify.
At 46 and 51 respectively when they started, Rebecca and Steve were still raising sons and working at the time, but they do plan to run the business into their retirement.
“The business substantially contributed to putting our two sons through college and has been contributing to our retirement savings now that they have completed their undergraduate degrees.”
Rebecca says that running the business at her age has its ups and downs:
“My husband Steve has had the great advantage of working in the digital arena since before the internet was even a commercial endeavor. The advantage of starting younger is that one has a longer runway in which one can take risk. When you are 25, if you go all-in and fail, you have decades to try again. When you are in your 50s or 60s, that can be a different story. I have become much more risk averse in my maturity and that is not necessarily a good thing.”
What wisdom does she have to share with aspiring entrepreneurs over 50?
“Find that niche that you are really passionate about and don’t be afraid to go after it. You don’t stop dreaming at 50. Stay a life-long learner. Most of our friends are in their early thirties and they help keep our thinking relevant. Find an entrepreneur meetup or mastermind group and be active in the conversations. Be open to having your thinking challenged by people younger than you are.”
Find that niche that you are really passionate about and don’t be afraid to go after it. You don’t stop dreaming at 50.
Favorite business resources: Product Customizer by ShopStorm, Quantity Breaks from Bold, MailChimp, the Shopify blog, the MailChimp What’s in Store email newsletter, books by Chip and Dan Heath (“Made to Stick”, “Switch”, “Decisive”), podcasts (Masters of Scale, The Unpodcast, How I Built This, Indie Brand Builder, and the Shopify Podcast)
6. Jaswant Kular
Co-founder and Executive Chef, Jaswant’s Kitchen
Jaswant wanted an easy way to teach her daughters the art of traditional Indian cooking. She looked for products and found that many contained fillers, artificial ingredients, and lots of fat. At 60, she began preparing spice blends for friends, family and clients of her nutrition business. Urged on by the positive response, she exhibited at a food festival where she completely sold out.
The business, run by Jaswant and her three daughters, moved to Shopify in 2013, and its products are now available in over 100 stores.
While raising her family, Jaswant logged many hours in the kitchen which helped her to refine her recipes, but it was pure life experience that she credits with her success as an entrepreneur:
“I wore many hats in my life before starting this business such as University teacher, homemaker, mother to four children, business manager, realtor, volunteer, community educator, and nutritionist. I dealt with many life situations that tested my abilities to remain patient, work long hours, multitask, learn new skills, deal with difficult people, and stay sane, happy and healthy. Thinking back, I feel quite happy with my journey and the end result. I believe that there is no way I could have done this business when I was younger. I was not even a good cook myself then. I did not know what the world around me needed or that I could be a part of in a big way. I had to have the experience of all these years to get where I am today.”
I really believe that age is just a number. If one is healthy physically and mentally, your age should not be a barrier to starting anything new.
What wisdom does she have to share with aspiring entrepreneurs over 50?
“My advice to other people in their fifties is to not be afraid. You are about to have the best time of your life. No more worrying about looking after young kids, it is finally your turn to live your life the way you want. It is a lot of work but the reward is also that much greater.”
Favorite business tools and resources: Shopify, Retail Store Locator
7. Rob Urry
Co-founder and CEO, Kogalla
After retiring in 2012, Rob bought a 40-foot 5th-wheel trailer and began travelling through his home state of Utah and beyond. While outfitting the trailer with necessary lighting—headlamps, lanterns, flashlights—he was disappointed with what was on the market. He decided to design his own.
Two years later, he emerged from retirement to start Kogalla with a partner, designing high-performance lighting products for adventure and travel.
“I started the business at age 52. After the romance of retirement wore off, I found myself needing to create and build something, so I jumped back into the business world. I had always wanted to start my own business, but I just had a hard time breaking free from the golden hand cuffs.”
After the romance of retirement wore off, I found myself needing to create and build something.
Before forging out on his own, Rob was President of Harman Music Group. His extensive business experience was invaluable in starting his own venture, but age, he says, also has its drawbacks:
“From a product design, document control, supplier sourcing, and branding perspective, past experience is very valuable. We have been able to create a solid, high-quality product at a competitive cost. From a go to market perspective, we have spent a significant amount of time and money un-learning our old corporate models and relearning online sales and social media strategies. The Shopify blog has been a very helpful guide in this respect.”
What wisdom does he have to share with aspiring entrepreneurs over 50?
“My advice is that if you don’t want to jump headfirst into social media, SEO, email, and mobile-first responsive web design, you need to take on a partner who does.”
If you don’t want to jump headfirst into social media, SEO, email, and mobile-first responsive web design, you need to take on a partner who does.
8. Linda Bee
Owner/Founder, Divaland Lights
While Divaland Lights is a relative newcomer to Shopify, Linda has been running the company for three years. The business was thriving on in-person selling in a boutique and at markets, but the move to ecommerce is an effort to expand to international customers.
I think age is an asset when it comes to entrepreneurship.
Divaland Lights are the creation of artist David Mizrahi, and Linda handles growth, marketing, and sales. Unlike many of our other featured store owners, Linda has been an entrepreneur for most of her life.
“I think age is an asset when it comes to entrepreneurship,” says Linda, and she offers some of her own hard-earned advice to other entrepreneurs:
“If the motivation is there, grasp it and run. If you have to push yourself and you are not enjoying it, step back. If you have an end goal in mind, the motivation will rarely wane; just stay focused on it and take one day at a time. I have always invested 2 hours per day into research and learning. The other thing I would suggest is once you start to be bombarded with information (that will result from the research you do when you fill in that form to know more), don’t make purchasing decisions immediately, because those offers inevitably come around again at half the price, or there is someone out there who is willing to sell their expertise (on automation) at half the price of their competitors.”
Favorite business tools and resources: Loyalty Lion, Xero
9. Carole Baskin
Founder and CEO, Big Cat Rescue
Carole’s primary business—a non-profit sanctuary aiming to help end the abuse of wild cats bred and raised in cages—was founded in 1992. The organization’s non-profit store moved to Shopify several years ago and just this year, at 55, Carole opened a second for-profit store to support legislative work to protect exotic cats. “Non profits are tightly constrained in that arena,” she says, “But it’s the most important element of change.”
The business isn’t a retirement project or even Carole’s full time job. She’s been a real estate investor since she was 19 (and still is).
“I am loving dropshipping and Shopify so much that I am looking for ways to convert a 6 million dollar real estate business into online sales. I want to run my life from a beach.”
Carole says that her age is an asset because she’s learned over time what’s really important:
“I think the success of serial entrepreneurs comes from trying and failing. Every time you succeed, you learn a little. Every time you fail, you learn a lot! Both happen over time, so I believe that age helps, but it’s important to try, fail fast if you are going to, and move on. As I get older, I find myself less interested in making money and more interested in making a difference. As a result, the benefits are that I make more money, more easily and can really enjoy the fact that it makes such a big difference.”
Every time you succeed, you learn a little. Every time you fail, you learn a lot!
And what does she have to say to other over 50 aspiring entrepreneurs?
“Do it! The kids are out of the nest. You have figured out what is and isn’t important. Now is time to really dig in and change the world.”
Favorite business tools and resources: CustomCat, Printful, Amazon/Shopify integration, Bold apps, podcasts (Online Marketing Made Easy w/ Amy Porterfield, SEO 101, The Amazing Seller, and more)
Did you start a business after the age of 50? Tell us your story and share your advice in the comments below.
“Everyone has something that they are passionate about. It could be buried deep down inside us. We need to find it in ourselves, make peace with our fears, and let the universe unfold itself.” – Jaswant Kular, Jaswant’s Kitchen
About the author
Dayna Winter is a Storyteller at Shopify, curious about the humans behind the brands and the moments that motivate them to create. She follows more dogs than humans on Instagram and isn’t a real redhead.